December 10, 2019

On What Date Was Rabin Assassinated?

Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated 23 years ago on Cheshvan 12, by the Hebrew calendar: Nov. 4, by the Gregorian calendar. If you remember this day, in the fall of 1995, you know what it was like. If you don’t remember, you must believe me that it was awful, shocking and depressing. 

Cheshvan 12 is a little over a week from now. That’s when the official Memorial Day for Rabin is marked. Nov. 4 is three weeks from now. That’s when the main rally in his memory will take place in Tel Aviv.

This small difference in dates has meaning. Israel marks national dates using the Hebrew calendar. Pesach is always on Nissan 15. Hanukkah is on Kislev 25. Independence Day is on Iyar 5. Similarly, Rabin’s Day was marked for Cheshvan 12, as is appropriate for a day of national mourning. 

But here is the problem: Rabin’s assassination was not just a national tragedy. It was also a political earthquake with aftershocks that still rattle the country. Many in Israel’s left-of-center still treat the assassination not as a day that merits national mourning, but rather as a day that justifies finger pointing. Rabin was murdered by an opponent of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. He was murdered when Israel was torn apart over these agreements and their consequences. He was murdered when the rhetoric against him and his government from the right was vitriolic and irresponsible. 

So every year, Israel goes through the same ritual as it prepares to mark this day of mourning. Left-wing activists demand a politicized rally, an ideological rally. Right-wingers warn that a rally such as this will alienate more than half of Israel’s population, and make Rabin’s Memorial Day a divisive date on our calendar. Some years, the organizers try the consensual approach, and some years they go for politics. 

Of course, if the date coincides with an election campaign, the temptation to politicize it is even more pronounced. If the date falls when a right-wing government is in power, and the left is in disarray, the temptation to use Rabin’s memorial as a battle cry event for a frustrated political camp becomes more appealing. 

The date is a subtle yet significant manifestation of this unresolved issue of how best to remember Rabin. A more secular left, estranged from the Hebrew calendar, does the natural thing as it marks Rabin’s assassination on the date that most people remember. The rally this year is slated to take place on Motzaei Shabbat, Nov. 3. 

Practically, this doesn’t make much difference. Who cares if a rally takes place in mid-October or in early November? In fact, choosing the date based on the calendar that most people use in their daily lives makes a lot of sense. It makes the date easier to remember, it makes events easier to coordinate.

And yet, subconsciously, the date matters. Choosing to stick to a secular calendar, matters. It paints Rabin’s Day as different than all other days that Israel marks. It paints Rabin’s Day as a day that is not part of a Hebrew calendar. It paints Rabin’s Day as a day estranged from Israel’s tradition, from the Jewish tradition. 

Not all Israelis would agree with my conclusion, but I strongly believe that as long as Rabin’s Memorial Day will be marked on Nov. 4, it could not become a real day of solemn, consensual, national mourning. And yes, the is also the question of who handles the rally (this year, it is a left-wing activist movement), and there is the question of who speaks at the rally (this year, we are told, only leaders of parties who are not members of the current government), and there is the question of general atmosphere (in two weeks, we could be in the beginning of another election cycle), and the question of what signs are raised by the attendees of the rally, what speeches are made, and what messages are communicated. 

It is basically a question of welcoming. Do the organizers want to have a rally in which all Israelis who mourn the murder of a leader can feel at home? Do they prefer to utilize this tragic event to advance a certain ideology and a specific political camp? Both options are available for them. For now, the zigzag.