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Israel Cannot Afford to Ignore Lessons of Rabin’s Murder

The dangers of unbridled nationalism, and religious and political fanaticism, affect us all. Let us mourn the capacity of Judaism to be co-opted as a servant for nationalism instead of as its guide and source for values and moral excellence

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Fifteen years ago Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. For 15 years, official Israel and parts of Israeli society have mourned. For 15 years, Israeli society has wasted the tragedy and failed to use it as a vehicle for introspection, and national tshuva.
Countries, religions, ideologies, and political movements all need and use heroes as icons and representatives of their cause. A tragic hero, an individual who died for the cause, is even more significant. Rabin, as the tragic hero and victim who died for peace, was co-opted by the Israeli political left as their representative. The Rabin who is remembered is the Rabin who advocated for peace and territorial compromise, and as such reflects the political aspirations of only one segment of Israeli society. His death has become a tool both to raise a particular political flag and attack its opponents.
It is therefore no surprise that the country is neither united in mourning nor capable of deriving a common lesson for us all. The day commemorating Rabin’s death is not supposed to be a day to commemorate his life, nor what he stood for. Israeli society is a deeply divided one and while Rabin’s death was tragic, it cannot serve as grounds for undermining the legitimacy of his political opponents.
The day is supposed to commemorate his murder, a crime that has stained our society and will continue to do so unless we learn from it. Rabin was killed because there had grown a culture in Israeli society of political, moral and religious arrogance which allowed people to believe that they had a monopoly on love of Israel, love of the land, and commitment to its security.
Rabin was killed because members of our society believed that their national fervor and convictions were more important than the duties of morality. Rabin was killed because, for some, nationalism became an end unto itself, and not a means, and as a result could draft everything and everyone in support of its cause, regardless of the consequences. Yigal Amir pulled the trigger; the political and nationalist culture prevalent in Israeli society served as the gun.
If we are to truly transform Yitzhak Rabin’s death into a national day of memorial, it must be separated from all sectarian, political overtones and one-upmanship and be given back to us all. It must be a day in which all Israelis recommit to the democratic principles that must stand at the foundation of our society. It must be a day in which the relationship between Jewish nationalism and statehood must be re-explored. It must be a day in which we recommit to the deepest objectives that must stand at the foundation of our society, as outlined in our Declaration of Independence, to be a society "based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel."
The lesson of Yitzhak Rabin’s death is that unbridled nationalism and the idolatrous certainty that it provokes is something that we, too, are capable of and must fear. A Jewish democratic state is not a political slogan to be bandied about or to be used to beat up others. It is a commitment to build a Jewish state for the Jewish people grounded on a fundamental commitment to maintain the rights of all members of our society, majority and minority alike. Instead of loyalty oaths, declaring fidelity to the slogan of a Jewish and democratic Israel, Rabin’s death teaches us that we need a deep and profound understanding as to the relationship between Jewish and democratic within our society.
An Israel which is not the homeland of the Jewish people is not the country we aspire to create. An Israel without a commitment to democracy and to ensuring that national aspirations are always viewed as means and never as an end is also not the country we worked to found. The State of Israel must be as Jewish as democracy allows and not as democratic as Judaism allows. When the two are in conflict, democracy must prevail. When nationalism and our values are in conflict, our values must prevail.
Yigal Amir is not the issue. We can achieve a broad consensus condemning him and the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. We cannot, however, reach any consensus on a commitment to the democratic principles of the State of Israel and its aspirations to treat all of its citizens and all of its political and religious ideologies with equal respect, dignity and rights. The dangers of unbridled nationalism, and religious and political fanaticism, affect us all – right wing and left wing alike.
Let us unite and mourn our capacity to misuse our love of Israel and concern for its security and future to undermine the moral depth and greatness of our Zionist aspirations. Let us mourn the capacity of Judaism to be co-opted as a servant for nationalism instead of as its guide and source for values and moral excellence. We can no longer afford to ignore the lessons of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder. This year, let us unite to do this no more.

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