Rabin Assassination: A Jewish Passion Play?

What do the arts tell us about the era we’re living in? A performance last week at New York’s Lincoln Center Festival brings that question back to mind.

The multimedia work Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination treats the same subject that its creator, Amos Gitai, explored in his film Rabin, the Last Day (2015). Here he uses live actors and musicians, together with video montage, to tell the familiar story of the tragic events of October-November, 1995.

The production brings to mind the Christian Passion play, an Easter tradition that tells the story of the trial and death of Jesus. Indeed some of the music in Chronicle is by Johann Sebastian Bach, whose Passion According to St. Matthew is one of the greatest musical Passions. It’s a natural model for telling the tale of a redeemer who fell victim to a political execution.

In a Passion play the story may be told by a narrator called the Evangelist. Here that role is filled by the words of Leah Rabin, spoken as news footage of the time unspools on giant screens at the back of stage.  The hopes surrounding a Labor Party peace rally in Tel Aviv build in counterpoint to the rage against Rabin at a Likud Party rally in Jerusalem’s Zion Square. Some in the angry crowd call for “Death to Rabin”; in the St. Matthew Passion the chorus cries, “Lass ihn kreuzigen” – “Let him be crucified.”

Any morality tale needs a villain, and both stories have a betrayer. In Gitai’s narrative it’s Benyamin Netanyahu, who stepped up to address the Likud rally, and who became prime minister a year later. Gitai implies that history might have been different had Netanyahu not added fuel to the flames that night.

Gitai’s creativity falters as the work reaches its final moments. He borrows gravitas from Shakespeare, quoting Mark Antony’s words over the body of Julius Caesar as if it were a prophecy for Israel. Antony foresees “domestic fury and fierce civil strife…Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge…shall cry ‘Havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war.” The show concludes with other words we know: the verses from the book of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes about “a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”

In a Director’s Note for this production Amos Gitai writes, “For me, the best tribute an artist can give his own culture is to be critical.” He’s not alone in that view, of course. But if an artist becomes critical by reflex, won’t he or she lose some originality and independence of thought? Chronicle of an Assassination rehearses a familiar view of a pivotal event. If Gitai expresses something different from his peers’ sympathy for Rabin’s aspirations and dislike for Netanyahu, that wasn’t apparent.

But perhaps Gitai is not to be blamed. In this historical moment, it’s become the norm to recycle accepted ideas—perhaps in a louder voice, in a more urgent vocabulary, or with more extreme expectations—but recycle nonetheless. We seem headed for what the poet saw a hundred years ago: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Yeats continues, “Surely some revelation is at hand.” After decades of expressing views about the arts and society that have become predictable, can our artists challenge their own assumptions and surprise us by revealing something new? It seems about time.



At Rabin rally, calls to pursue peace and defend democracy

Some 100,000 people joined together in central Tel Aviv on Saturday to pay tribute to slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but they were divided over what exactly they were rallying for.

The demonstration, which marked the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination by a Jewish extremist incensed by his government’s efforts to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians, was called “Remembering the murder, fighting for democracy” — a nod to the slaying’s universal lesson of respecting the rule of law and the country’s elected leaders, no matter their politics.

But some of the event’s speakers were interested in a different cause. The top-billed speaker, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, devoted much of his address to praising Rabin’s dedication to the peace process, and he concluded with a call to finish Rabin’s work.

“The next step will be determined by whether you decide that Yitzhak Rabin was right,” Clinton said. “That you have to share the future with your neighbors, that you have to give their children a chance, that you have to stand for peace, that the risks of peace are not as severe as the risks of walking away from it.”

President Barack Obama struck the same chord in a video address, where he lauded Rabin for relentlessly pursuing peace. The Obama speech sounded like a thinly veiled jab at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently told lawmakers that Israel would not withdraw from territory in the foreseeable future and would “live forever by the sword.”

“Yitzhak Rabin understood the dangers Israel faces, but he also said the Palestinians are not to be ruled over forever by force,” Obama said. “Like a true statesman, he was willing to exhaust every opening, every possibility for peace. In these difficult days, his life, his dream, can inspire us.”

Former U.S. President president Bill Clinton speaking at a rally in Tel Aviv to mark 20 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)Former U.S. President Bill Clinton at a Tel Aviv rally remembering Yitzhak Rabin called on the crowd to finish the slain prime minister’s efforts toward peace. Photo by Gili Yaari/Flash90

The addresses that did focus on social solidarity and respect for democracy in turn made little mention of the peace process. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin thanked Israelis for their resilience and — having himself received death threats — declared that leaders fighting extremism are not afraid. But in praising Israeli democracy, he also obscured the distinction between Israel and its West Bank settlements.

“Even in the midst of the current bloodshed, even in the face of the heinous terrorism which does not distinguish between Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion, Beersheva and Kochav HaShachar, Israel’s democracy has not ceased to realize its strength and resilience,” Rivlin said, naming a pair of Israeli cities and a pair of settlements. “And for this we are today filled with pride.”

Even the signs in the crowd were split. Some stated “It is forbidden to raise a hand against democracy.” But others, sponsored by Peace Now and Israel’s left-wing parties, carried slogans like “Rabin understood: two states,” or a sign with Rabin’s face and the word “leadership” on one side, and Netanyahu’s face and the word “cowardice” on the other.

Tal Segev, 15, a member of the Scouts youth group holding a Peace Now sign, said he came to the rally “to emphasize that the message won’t be forgotten, the message of peace.”

But Eliad Avreki, 35, one of the few men in the crowd wearing a kippah, said the rally was “not a matter of right or left.” The focus, he said, should be on promoting civil dialogue to prevent extremist acts. A coordinator for the religious Zionist, pro-settlement youth group Bnei Akiva, Avreki said he went to anti-peace process rallies before Rabin’s assassination, but sobbed when he heard about his death.

“I opposed his path,” Avreki told JTA. “But I opposed his death even more.”

Personal Reflections on Rabin and his Strategic Overview

Twenty years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, with Israelis and Palestinians still mired in the same conflict, hurling the same accusations against each other, once again suffering violence, I keep re-thinking my experiences with him, wondering how the situation would have been different had Rabin lived on. 

I had a date to meet him on the day that the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians was announced on August 20, 1993. I expected him to cancel in view of the momentous announcement, but instead found him sitting alone in his office willing to share with me his fears about whether the Israeli team negotiated the deal effectively. Still, despite his concerns, he was determined to move forward with the deal, because he saw it as part of his overall strategy for securing Israel’s position in the region. 

Long before most others, Rabin understood the threat from an Iran with nuclear weapons capability seeking hegemony over the Middle East. Because of the relationship between Israel and Iran before the Shah was deposed in 1979, Rabin whose first term as prime minister, 1974-77,  came while the Shah still ruled Iran, knew that the Shah asked for Israel’s help in developing a nuclear weapon and Israel refused.

I first heard Rabin express his concern about Iran with nuclear weapons in 1992 at a meeting in New York with a small group from the American Jewish Congress. He told us there was a window of opportunity of three or four years during which time Israel must try to make peace with the Palestinians. A year later he expanded on his view to me during a private meeting:  “If we have nuclear weapons and Iran threatens us with nuclear weapons, which one of us will blink? We, who care about life or the mullahs who do not care about life?”  

As he explained, to be prepared to defend against the threat from Iran and be secure in the region, Israel first had to have a peaceful relationship with the entities on its borders – Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians. Israel already had a peace agreement with Egypt forged in Camp David by Begin and Sadat. And Rabin had built an ongoing relationship with Jordan’s King Hussein, who had trusted Rabin enough to meet him in secret even while their nations were at war, leading to a peace treaty signed in October 1994.  The third leg of Rabin’s strategy was to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Those of us at the Oslo Accords signing ceremony (the “Declaration of Principles”) on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993 saw how reluctant Rabin was to shake the hand of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Yasser Arafat.  Yet, we could not hear Rabin’s words without being moved: “Enough of blood and tears. Enough.” 

As a result of his years as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, 1968-1972, Rabin became convinced of the importance of Israel’s relationship with America and the role of the American Jewish community as an integral element in that relationship. To implement his strategy of making peace with the Palestinians, he wanted the support of American Jewish organizations, but he was not comfortable relying on the existing American Jewish organizations, particularly AIPAC. During a meeting in his office we discussed establishing a new American Jewish organization to generate American support. With his backing, several American Jewish leaders, myself included, founded the Israel Policy Forum (IPF)

In June 1993, when we both were awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Bar Ilan University in an open-air ceremony, we heard the voices of Israeli protestors denouncing him. What I didn’t realize then was the ominous quality of the protests; how the extremist religious nationalists were being inflamed by their religious authorities to consider Rabin a criminal and that the political leaders on the right not only made no effort to calm things down but actually attacked Rabin’s peace making efforts. Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, at the end of a rally to support the Oslo Accords by Yigal Amir, a radical Orthodox Jew who had been a law student at Bar Ilan University and who opposed Oslo.

I can’t presume to predict how the course of history would be different if Rabin had not been murdered, but I am convinced that his assassination changed the future dramatically. Rabin’s strategic overview called for peace with the Palestinians to link with peace with Egypt and Jordan.   That, in turn, would have strengthened Israel to confront Iran.  Rabin’s years in the Israel military, culminating in his position of Chief of the General Staff, taught him the importance of avoiding fighting on two fronts.

His military experience also earned Rabin the trust of the Israeli public to protect Israel’s security so they were likely follow his leadership. Similarly, his innate sincerity would have had a positive influence on any Palestinian leader. This combination of trust and sincerity coupled with his strategic overview, would have led Israel to a far better place than where it is today. 

Robert K. Lifton has served as President of the American Jewish Congress; Co-Chair of the Middle East Project of the Council On Foreign Relations and Chair and presently a Board member of the Israel Policy Forum.   He is the author of “An Entrepreneurs’ Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy.”

Rabin: A hero’s life’s work

If a hero's life's work is subsequently rendered largely irrelevant, is he or she still a hero?

20 long years since the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Israelis have accepted the thesis of their leadership that peace is a far-flung, undesirable goal.  Though the state of Israel, the greatest experiment in Jewish history, has proven its ability to survive, Rabin believed it could achieve more – he believed it could thrive. 

Tonight we celebrate his life not because he helped engineer the euphoric triumphs of the War of Independence and the Six-Day War as a chain-smoking soldier with the weight of our people’s lives on his shoulders, but because he sought more than military victories.

The young Yitzhak Rabin was famously hawkish in his dealings with Israel’s Arab neighbors.  As Chief of Staff he led their humiliation in 1967, and in the 1970s, as prime minister, he began setting the West Bank. As defense minister in the 1980s, he commanded soldiers to break Palestinian bones during the intifada.

Despite the heroic narrative, Yitzhak Rabin did not turn an about-face, dramatically reversing the momentum of his life's work from war to peace – as always he researched, analyzed, and anticipated developments with discipline and a clear mind; simply put, he led.  This modus operandi spurred him to act on his long accumulated belief that the occupation was undemocratic and un-Jewish. 

Looking at Yitzhak Rabin’s last speech on the night of his demise, in front of an unprecedented surge of 100,000 supporters, he seems strikingly driven by the earnest hope to leave behind his gruesome duties as a warrior. With white hair and a widow’s peak, this 70-something-year-old man moved beyond animosity for Arabs, shrewdly treating hatred as a sunken cost.

Rabin's legacy, maimed as it was by his assassination, hobbled one last time ten years later when Ariel Sharon fought to withdraw Israel from the Gaza Strip.  Sharon, a less affable member of the first, war-weary sabra generation, faced similarly vocal critics as Rabin; ultimately, he ran circles around them with his tactical magic, outmaneuvering them in the back rooms and hallways of the Knesset.

As Sharon faced down the others, Benjamin Netanyahu had an air of desperation, trying to thrust himself in front of the public eye.  Ultimately, Sharon and his wiles engulfed Bibi and won the vote.  Even if Sharon saw fit to carry on Rabin's mantle, his brain did not cooperate.  His eventual stroke gripped the grief-weary nation with severe apathy…and opened the door for a previously outmatched leader.  

The apathy that surrounded their demise was opportunistically pounced upon by Benjamin Netanyahu.  

Always waiting for a chance to thrust himself into the public eye, he has remained remarkably consistent in fomenting this apathy and an existential fear of Israel's destruction.  Sometimes the word “peace” appeared in one Bibi election slogan or other, but always cynically.  It should be noted that both Rabin and Sharon held Bibi at bay during their lifetimes.  Bibi was never as smart as they. 

The success of Bibi's formula, consistently resonating with the majority of Israeli voters for so long as it has, is impressive…and damaging to the soul of the State of Israel.  His tenure has defined the twenty years since Rabin, and so it seems fair to put a substantial chunk of blame for the violence and fear on his shoulders.  There's a security wall and a huge Shabak presence in the West Bank to protect Israel from the angry Palestinian populace, so it takes all the more antagonization to incite East Jerusalem's normally demure residents.

Whether with Iran, the current East Jerusalem intifada, or mufti-gate, he is a boy who cried wolf, and we can only sit and wait for our comeuppance. 

The limpid sprit de corps that Netanyahu cultivates amongst Israelis is dangerous, lacking any sense that a better fate exists.  Yitzhak Rabin's vision was apparently not achievable, but it was more than empty hope – it was philosophical.  He posited that Hatikvah, the Hope – to be a free people in our land – להיות עם חופשי בארצנו – is not enough.  HaHalom, החלום, the Dream, is to live in peace on that land.

Far from a lofty Oseh shalom bimromav – a dreamy peacemaker – we had a grounded leader in our midst.  We appreciated his deep voice, his humility, his social awkwardness, his calm authority, and his grandfatherliness.  But mindfulness and gratitude are not enough; appreciation of these qualities is not bullet-proof. 

Now, tonight, this occasion is the opportunity to answer the question about heroes.  A hero's sacrifice is not in vain if a minyan can memorialize it.  Rabin’s life's work was a credit to the Jewish people, even if we feel powerless to carry out his vision.

Ben Lehrer received an AB in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University – he works in architecture and sings the Song of Peace with his son, Gabriel.

Vicious cycle of terrorism is madness

As I sit in my home in Jerusalem, venturing out only when necessary, shivering with each ping of the cellphone that alerts me to some new horror, I wonder how this place survives and how we come out of it on the other side of despair. I don’t have answers, I have questions.

How do children pick up weapons and strike innocent people on the street, at a bus stop, on their bicycles? Just kids, with ideas not fully formed, bred on despondency and humiliation; desperate acts caused by desperation. It’s hard to remember this when hour after hour there is another report on yet another stabbing, shooting, car ramming — not only in Jerusalem and other seam-line cities, but in the heart of Israel, in Raanana, Holon, Tel Aviv. It comes rushing back as in the past, the fear, the anxiety, a mother’s dread until her children return safely home each day. And the suspicion — everyone you pass a suspect.

How to maintain humanity alongside the desire for revenge? How quickly we become animals, kicking the terrorist who has been “neutralized,” lying on the ground amid shouts of “Kill him! Shoot him in the head, not the leg.” It matters not that the terrorist is a 13-year-old boy, and although he had just attacked another 13-year-old boy on a bicycle, he is still a child. What have we — what have they — become? What have our leaders offered in moral clarity and vision, denouncing and calling for moderation? What we do have is more power to suppress the powerless, more hatred to put down the humiliated. And yet, Israeli citizens must be protected: A 78-year-old man must be able to ride the bus with his wife without fear that two young men from the neighboring village will get on the same bus and shoot him dead. A child must be able to ride his bike without fear of landing in the hospital with critical wounds that threaten his life. Commuters must be able to ride the light rail to get to work or school without fear of being run over by a homicidal driver. This is legitimate, basic and essential to all citizens of a functioning society. 

And what is this neutral term “neutralizing” about? That is what we call here the taking out of a terrorist. But neutral suggests without an opinion, not on either side, without judgment. The neutralizing of the attackers, of course, is anything but. They are dead, and their neutral state is flashed across TV screens and social media posts across the territories and the region. They hold funerals where more and more young people rise up to cry for jihad and revenge. 

How can this interminable conflict be so misunderstood by both sides? How can we all cling so faithfully to our own narrative, not just regarding historical claims but in the retelling of events now occurring? Reality has flown out of the window and some weird parallel universe has arisen whereby Mahmoud Abbas is seen by the Israeli government as the primary instigator, directing the terror at all times; never mind the declarations by Israeli security officials who say that Abbas is in fact trying to quell the terror in spite of inciteful public rhetoric. Or the Palestinian contention that the women and young men who attack Israelis with knives are innocents who were merely holding a cellphone or candy in their outstretched hands; never mind the videos taken in real time that graphically show bloody knives raised against unsuspecting targets. This vicious cycle of murder and lies only serves to deepen the black hole of hopelessness, creating an abyss so deep that no one can pass. 

There are no answers; there are only tears. We are paralyzed by fear, existing in a fog of despair, unable to see how this ends well for anyone. As we approach 20 years since the death of Yitzhak Rabin, the only thing clear is that the assassin Yigal Amir murdered both the man and the vision for a peaceful resolution to this tragic conflict. For those living here now, and for the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians, this terrible cycle of hatred and murder threatens any hope for coexistence of any kind. Without another leader like Rabin willing to stand up in these horrendous days and state loudly the need for a political process, for an “intifada” of ideas and proposals rather than an intifada of rocks and knives, we will see more acts of terror; we will build more concrete obstacles to block off Palestinian villages; we will call upon more Israeli civilians to arm themselves whenever they leave their homes; we will watch more children on both sides become both victims and martyrs — and for what? This is not the Zionist dream.

Roberta Fahn Schoffman is Israel Policy Forum’s representative in Israel.

Born after Rabin’s death, Israeli teens see in assassination the perils of extremism

About a year before Guy Ben-Simon was born, his parents attended the Tel Aviv rally where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

It was a night of shock and sadness, they recalled for him while he was growing up. They had called all of their friends, telling those who had not heard that the prime minister had been killed.

“They cried,” said Guy, 16, repeating his parents’ story. “Everyone cried. It was very hard to unite after that, because something bad had happened.”

Today, Guy is a member of HaNoar Ha’Oved V’HaLomed, a leftist youth group traditionally tied to Rabin’s Labor Party. He’s also part of a cohort of Israelis born after the Nov. 4, 1995 assassination who have no firsthand memory of Rabin’s killing and are learning about it as part of history.

Seventeen years on, Rabin’s assassination is refracted through the lens of contemporary Israel, taught and remembered in different ways depending on who is doing the teaching. In youth movements and in schools, Rabin’s killing offers a lesson in the dangers of ideological extremism.

“You don’t really talk about Rabin the person,” said Hadar Pardo, 23, one of Guy’s youth group counselors. “You talk to them about seeing peace and trying to make peace even if it’s not part of your everyday life.”

In a sign of the changed political landscape in Israel – where even the left has shifted away from emphasis on negotiations with the Palestinians — Rabin’s official commemoration this year emphasized not peace but the importance of the democratic process. Attended by 20,000 people, the rally highlighted the dangers of the “price tag” movement — a group of extremist Israeli settlers who deface and destroy Arab property and holy sites.

Pardo, who attended the rally, said she, too, focuses on democracy rather than peace in discussing the Rabin assassination with her students.

“When you don’t believe Arabs are equal to you, that they’re second-class citizens, you can’t have peace,” Pardo told JTA. “You talk to them about the democratic rules of the game. Even if there’s no assassination now, there are a lot of things in society that break the rules of the game.”

The principal of Tel Aviv’s Orthodox Torah U’Melachah High School, Yehoshua, also emphasized tolerance and the importance of stable government during the school’s commemoration of the assassination. Though Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, hailed from Israel’s Orthodox community, Yehoshua said he does not shy away from condemning the religious incitement that led to the murder.

“This is very important – why was there anger?” said Yehoshua, who declined to give his last name because the Education Ministry had not authorized him to talk to a reporter. “We talked about having conversations about things you don’t accept, and how important it is to safeguard the government.”

Yehoshua said that though teachers talked about “the desire for peace,” they did not focus on the peace process.

“We don’t go into politics,” he said. “It’s not just political. It affects every person.”

Some of Yehoshua’s students say they don’t attribute much significance to the assassination.

“I don’t take any lesson from it,” said Vova Baronov, 14. “It’s sad, but God must have wanted it to happen.”

Guy, who is also a youth group counselor for 11-year-olds and will be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces in about two years, said his students were “very interested and very mature” when he discussed the assassination with them.

Pardo said many of her students are deeply affected when they learn about the assassination.

“You understand the difference between good and bad at every age,” she said. “When you talk to kids, even though they weren’t born yet, they feel hurt by it.”

Hagai Amir, freed Israeli brother of Rabin gunman says he’s “proud”

Hagai Amir, the brother of the man who assassinated late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, said he was proud of his own role in the murder plot after he was freed from prison on Friday.

Amir was released after serving 16 years for helping his brother murder Rabin, considering such plans as rigging his car with explosives and poisoning him before deciding to shoot him in a crime that shook the Jewish state.

Protesters gathered outside the prison. He greeted them with a “v” sign.

Amir planned to spend his first Sabbath after his jail sentence with a friend at the Shave Shomron settlement, although media quoted its residents as saying he would not be welcome.

On his release, Amir, who was also found guilty of planning attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank and later handed an additional one year term in prison for threatening to kill the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was defiant.

“I am not regretful. I am proud of what I did,” Amir, an Israeli Jew, told reporters as family members whisked him into a car and drove away.

Dozens of left-wing demonstrates gathered at the prison in central Israel to protest his release. “We will not forget, we will not forgive,” they chanted.

Yigal Amir is serving a life sentence at Eshel prison in Beersheba. Another coconspirator, Dror Adani, completed his sentence in 2002.

Reporting by Rami Amichai; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Osborn and JTA

Begin, Rabin to appear on new Israeli bills

The images of the late Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin will appear on new Israeli currency.

The late writer S.Y. Agnon and poet Rachel Bluwstein Sela, who was known simply as Rachel, also have been chosen for the honor.

The Bank of Israel announced the new series of banknotes, and its honoring of the political and cultural history of Israel, on Sunday.

Begin and Rabin were chosen for signing peace treaties with Israel’s neighbors—Begin with Egypt and Rabin with Jordan and an interim agreement with the Palestinians—Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said.

The image choices require Cabinet approval.

The new currency, in the form of 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekel bills, is scheduled to be issued in 2012 and will include advanced anti-forgery methods.

Reflecting on Rabin

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League:

“Yitzhak Rabin left Israel with a twin, interconnected legacy that remains even more relevant today than in his lifetime. First is the need for Israel to be strong – militarily, politically, psychologically – because without such strength there can neither be security nor a chance for peace. Second, there is the legacy of the willingness, out of strength, to reach out for peace.

This offers hope to the people of Israel and reassures the citizens that if they must defend themselves, it is with the knowledge that Israel has done everything possible to achieve peace. As the country moves through these difficult times, it is vital that Rabin’s twin legacy remains alive.”

Todd Morgan, chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles:

“It’s ironic on the anniversary of his assassination that we would be facing the serious issues today that are even more volatile than the day before his assassination. Five years forward, you’d think we’d have peace right now. It shows you how deep and serious the issues are. We need a minor miracle to help us reignite the peace discussions.”

Richard Dreyfuss, actor:

“I have never regretted anything so much as I regret Rabin’s absence. I believe his singular presence that turned the impossible into the probable might have made the difference for these two peoples, and for the unnecessary dead. It wasn’t just naiveté that made us think peace was close, it was his hardheaded realism. As they begin to say, ‘I told you so,’ remember him. Rabin was more than a great man, he was opportunity lost. While we turn back to fury and blood, let us remember what might have been, had Rabin lived.”

Robert Greenwald, film director:

“The assassination five years ago had a deep impact on me in a profound way. It’s an upsetting, reinforcing reminder – one we understand all too well now – that violence begets violence and killing begets killing. It’s a reminder that any other solution than brute force must be found for the current conflict.”

Cynthia Ozick, novelist:

“Rabin’s legacy has been a Jewish tragedy. He drove a population into utopianism. It is very clear that it was a mistake from the beginning. We are more disillusioned now because it was an illusion beforehand. We imagined we had counterparts also willing to compromise, but there never were, not for Shimon Peres, not for Binyamin Netanyahu and not for Ehud Barak. We wanted it to be one land with two nations. We hoped it was. We believed it was. But from the other side it was always jihad, holy war. This is not said in the spirit of ‘I told you so,’ but in the deeply tragic spirit that all Jews now share.”

Rod Lurie, film director:

“As a child, I remember Yitzhak Rabin visiting our home in Israel. He was a friend of my parents, and I vaguely remember him sitting for the official portrait that my father painted of him in our garden. Not having anything more interesting to do, while sitting for his painting, he looked at me with his light-blue eyes, and it was the first time I registered to myself that a person can smile with his eyes. Later, when I was a teenager, I met him when he visited our home in Greenwich, Conn., and had a chat with him about the Middle East. I was fascinated to find out how much I learned about the psychology of that region from a gentle person with a mind like a steel razor. The Middle East would look different today had he not been assassinated, and the political situation would be much more defined and coherent than the tumult that engulfs it now. He is the closest that an Israeli leader ever came to John Kennedy in charisma, style, decision-making and even looks. They even departed this world in the same unfortunate way. The impatient gods wanted them early, for themselves.”

Remembering Rabin

Sharon was always inspired by Yitzhak Rabin. Twenty-three when she moved to Israel from the United States in 1980, she went to peace rallies and rejoiced when Rabin won in 1992. A year later she exulted over the Oslo peace breakthrough.

After Rabin was shot to death by a Jewish assassin on Nov. 4, 1995 – she was at that peace rally also – she did not lose hope. She kept it alive through three years of foot-dragging on the peace front by hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it burned brighter for her when Ehud Barak triumphed in 1999 on a pledge to continue the Oslo process.

But now, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, Sharon, who asked that her last name not be used, says her confidence has been shaken by the violent, bloody showdown between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers over the last month, in which 21 Israelis (13 of them Arab Israelis) and more than 140 Palestinians have been killed.

Oslo, she says bleakly, “was supposed to build a framework for peace in future generations. But now 13-year-old Palestinians – the future generation – are out on the streets throwing stones. Our partner seems to have chosen a path of violence. That’s not Oslo.”

Like most of the left, she still believes there is no military solution to the Mideast conflict and that Israel cannot continue to rule over another people. But for someone who has so long resided in the peace camp, she has started to think the unthinkable – that for the near future, peace may not be attainable.

Since the bloody “al-Aqsa intifada” began Sept. 28, much of Israel – and much of the Western world – has also begun to reappraise the legacy of the prime minister who staked his reputation and ultimately his life on the premise that Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian people would be a reliable partner in peace, worth trusting with land, with economic ties, with arms.

In past years the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination was focused on the impact the murder had had on the fabric of Israeli society or whether the religious right had sufficiently grappled with the fact that the assassin had emerged from its midst. But now, with the anniversary falling during the worst crisis ever in the peace process, it is likely to be viewed almost solely in term of the bitter left-right argument over what to do with the fruits of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with their 2.5 million Palestinians.

‘He Was The Worst’

For many it is a saddening and surprising change, but not for the Israeli right. They say the violence of the past month proves the Palestinians cannot be trusted and that the Oslo process threatens the very existence of the state of Israel. They say the fact that Palestinian policemen and militia gunmen have been firing on Israeli soldiers, on Jewish settlements and even at Gilo, a neighborhood on Jerusalem’s outskirts, is incontrovertible proof that Rabin’s legacy is fatally flawed.

“We helped Arafat set up a militia in the territories, and now he is using it against us,” says Yuval Steinitz, once a strong supporter of Rabin, who became disillusioned with the Oslo process, moved over to the right and is now a Likud Knesset Member.

“I worked to get Rabin elected in 1992,” he recalls, “and I celebrated his election. But the truth is that he was the worst prime minister we have had in decades, and he is to blame, first and foremost, for the present crisis. It’s a direct result of Oslo.

“What’s happening today is not so much Barak’s fault,” he continued. “Both Netanyahu and Barak have had to contend with an impossible situation, which they inherited from Rabin.”

Not everyone agrees that the core logic driving the peace accords has actually imploded. The basic tenets of Oslo – that if Israel is to remain a Jewish and democratic country it cannot continue to rule over another people – remain relevant. Part of that logic, says Zehev Tadmor, chairman of the Tel Aviv-based Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, is that Oslo itself is part of a process, starting with the Begin-Sadat Camp David summit in 1978, “of the Arab world coming to terms with Israel’s existence.”

Oslo, he adds, “has brought us to the heart of the conflict. There are ups and downs. And we do have difficult neighbors. At the moment we are in a trough. But anyone who thinks that we can live in perpetual war for another 100 years, in a global world which does not want local conflicts, is taking a big risk.”But the perception of Rabin’s legacy, on the left and the right, is hardly monolithic.

Yisrael Harel, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Ofra and is a former head of the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, has a much more charitable view even these days of the Rabin inheritance than many of his fellow settlers.

He says Rabin was skeptical of the Oslo process and adopted it only after becoming convinced “that the nation was weak. Look at the Gulf War,” says Harel. “People fled Tel Aviv during the Scuds. They couldn’t take it. So Rabin agreed to the process almost unwillingly. But he was very realistic and never fully trusted Arafat. Psychologically, he never allowed the Palestinians to feel that they could achieve all of their goals.”

On the left, there is also criticism of Rabin, by those who believe he was overcautious and could have forged ahead much quicker with the peace process, exploiting the feelings of hope and reconciliation radiated by both Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of the signing of the Oslo accords.

In fact, the very structure of Oslo – a five-year interim agreement before the fundamental issues, like the future of Jerusalem, were to be discussed – gave extremists on both sides ample time to waylay the process. They took full advantage both the Hamas suicide bombers and Yigal Amir.

“Rabin was very cautious, but he could have gone faster,” says renowned Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua. “He was very worried about the reaction of the right, about dismantling settlements. Yes, he did have only a narrow majority in the Knesset. But his fear of the security dangers overcame his diplomatic daring.”He argues that the many delays in the process during the past seven years created the bitterness that fuels the current violence. “It’s not Rabin’s legacy that’s to blame for the present situation,” Yehoshua said, “but the way in which his vision has been implemented.”

Inflated Hopes

Some of the disenchantment with Oslo among Israelis might stem from Rabin having inflated the immediate prospects held out by the agreement. By presenting Oslo as a “peace process” to his people, he raised expectations almost messianic in their magnitude for a final end to all conflict with the Palestinians.But Rabin, ever the pragmatist, must have viewed Oslo as an instrument for reducing the level of conflict – in essence, an armistice that would one day lead to the two peoples being able to really hear each other. But Rabin had to sell the idea to the public, and “peace” was always going to be a more compelling political message than “conflict reduction.”

Yaron Ezrahi, a political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, says Rabin oversold the process for political reasons. “Perhaps that was a mistake. This isn’t peace based on love, but the gradual process of moving away from the dangers of war.”

Nevertheless, for Israelis, the hope of a conflict-free future held out by the Oslo process has been compelling. By signing the accord, Rabin fundamentally shifted the balance in the Israeli polity, extinguishing the right-wing dream of a Greater Israel and shoving the political goalposts significantly to the left.

Only eight years ago, when Rabin came to power, it was still illegal for an Israeli to talk to a member of the PLO. Now, Arafat controls large swathes of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And opinion polls consistently show that a sizable majority of Israelis believe that an independent Palestinian state is inevitable.< /P>

Consequently, there has been a narrowing of the ideological chasm between Labor and Likud. The right, when it returned to power in 1996, was not able to beat back the Oslo tide. Netanyahu presided over the transfer of most of Hebron, the city of the Patriarchs, to Arafat. And, along with the ex-general and then-Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, he negotiated the Wye Plantation agreement in October 1998, in which he agreed, however unenthusiastically, to hand over a further 13.1 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Even today, while Israelis may be thoroughly disenchanted with the Palestinians, opinion polls still show over 60 percent supporting a peace process.

One enduring impact of the assassination has been a greater sensitivity among large sections of the public – at times an oversensitivity – to what is considered harsh, insightful rhetoric. In the months leading up to Rabin’s assassination, those tones, on the right, became poisonous. Rabin was labeled a “traitor” and likened to the Nazis. Placards bearing pictures of him in a keffiyeh were paraded at rightist anti-Oslo rallies.

Today, the right-left public discourse has moderated by Israeli standards. Despite the far-reaching compromises Barak was prepared to make at Camp David, there have been few right-wing demonstrations, and the prime minister has not been subjected to the same vitriol as Rabin.

Dozens of right-left, religious-secular dialogue groups have sprung up, notes Harel. “People shout less and talk more.”

Enduring Shift

It is unclear whether Rabin ever did have a clear, distilled picture of a final deal with the Palestinians. A document drawn up by Oslo architect Yossi Beilin and chief Palestinian negotiator Mahmud Abbas (Abu Maazen) in 1995 was said to be tailored to Rabin’s general vision of a final settlement: It called for clear borders between Israel and the Palestinians and as few Palestinians as possible under Israeli rule. But Amir got to Rabin before Beilin could.

“Rabin had some ideas in his head,” says Tadmor, “but no clear outline. When you go into negotiations, you can never tell at the outset where you are going to end up. It’s too dynamic. It’s impossible to know what he would have decided. I don’t think even he knew.”

It may well be that the Oslo format, with its myriad of security and economic arrangements, is no longer workable and that an alternative framework needs to be sought. But that framework will ultimately be hammered out at the negotiating table, by Palestinians and Israelis.

If anything, this is the cornerstone of Rabin’s legacy – that violence in the Middle East has proved highly costly and inconclusive. And it is Rabin, a military hero whose worldview was forged on the battlefield, who most represents the dramatic shift in the Israeli psyche away from a military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and toward a negotiated one.

A Requiem for Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin, by Peter Max

Writing, producing and arranging music for the likes of TinaTurner, Aretha Franklin and Carly Simon is what Aaron Zigman is bestknown for. So what possessed the 34-year-old Angeleno to spend sixmonths pouring his heart and soul into a serious classical work? Hewanted to offer a deeply felt musical response to the 1995assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Zigman explained in a recent phoneconversation.

“When I was watching CNN, and they showed the lyric sheet of thesong, ‘Shir L’Shalom,’ that [Rabin’s] speechwriter pulled from hispocket, it was such a poignant image to me,” Zigman said. “Being asongwriter and musician, to see blood on a beautiful piece of musicwas such a shock and symbol. It really affected me.”

The 35-minute, five-movement orchestral work will have its worldpremière at a Jewish Federation-sponsored Chanukah celebrationat the Westside Pavilion. The gala is scheduled to follow the TikkunL.A. afternoon of volunteerism on Christmas Day, the second day ofChanukah. The work, entitled “Rabin,” will be performed by the LosAngeles Jewish Symphony under the direction of Noreen Green.

Zigman said that after having watched the news of Rabin’s death onTV, he awoke early the next morning with the notes of his openingmovement coursing through his head. He jotted down the music andplayed it for his good friend, artist Peter Max, who encouraged himto expand it into a major piece.

Zigman read everything he could about Rabin and transformed whathe learned into musical form. The resulting work combines a modernclassical sound with familiar Jewish melodies of prayer andcelebration. It is, by turns, sad, passionate, joyous and reflective,as Zigman evokes the feeling of loss occasioned by the assassination;the love and fulfillment of Rabin’s relationship with his wife, Lea;the martial strains of the many battles in which he participated, andthe perpetual conflict over the land of Israel.

Zigman recalled being particularly moved by the Israeli primeminister’s speech at the conference with Yasser Arafat and hisreluctant handshake with the Palestinian leader. “He reminded me ofmy father. There was something about him that was so warm, yet hewasn’t perceived as so warm. He was shy, yet he had such strength forhis people.”

Zigman said that he is far more used to being a “behind-the-scenessort of person,” and had no illusions of becoming a world-renownedcomposer with the unveiling of “Rabin.” Still, he is gratified thatpeople will have a chance to hear the work played.

A few months ago, he presented the CD to Lea Rabin. ThePhiladelphia Orchestra has shown some interest in the work, butZigman’s greatest satisfaction would be to have the IsraelPhilharmonic perform it.

“Rabin” will be performed by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony atthe Westside Pavilion during a Chanukah celebration that begins at3:30 p.m. on Dec. 25, following Tikkun L.A. For more information,call (213) 761-8241.

Aaron Zigman