An as­sas­sin’s bit­ter legacy

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Jonathan Freed­land

IN AMONG THE ret­ro­spec­tives and tributes timed for next week’s 20th an­niver­sary of the as­sas­si­na­tion of Yitzhak Rabin, there’s a rather re­mark­able hour-long edi­tion of the much-ad­mired This Amer­i­can Life pod­cast. De­spite the name, this pro­gramme fo­cuses not on the US, but on Is­rael — and on one cu­ri­ous as­pect of the fall­out from that ter­ri­ble day in Novem­ber 1995 when a Jewish ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist gunned down the only Is­raeli leader who has gen­uinely seemed both will­ing and able to solve the ap­par­ently end­less con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans.

It’s be­come com­mon­place to com­pare Rabin’s mur­der with the Kennedy as­sas­si­na­tion 32 years ear­lier — the shock, the pub­lic griev­ing, the can­dlelit vig­ils — but one as­pect comes as a sur­prise. In Is­rael, there is a cot­tage industry of JFK-style con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the mur­der, claim­ing among other things that Yi­gal Amir fired blanks and that Rabin wanted to stage his own death to dis­credit the Is­raeli right. Even Rabin’s own daugh­ter was suf­fi­ciently puz­zled by a hole on the front of her fa­ther’s bloody shirt — odd, be­cause Amir shot him in the back — that she handed the gar­ment over to the pro­gramme’s reporter for foren­sic test­ing in the US. (It turned out not to be a bul­let-hole at all.)

I lis­tened to all this in­trigued, of course, but also with a sense of great sad­ness. It struck me that th­ese the­o­ries — all of them ab­surd, on a mo­ment’s re­flec­tion — were not re­ally about the me­chan­ics of the 1995 shoot­ing at all. They were in­stead the signs of a so­ci­ety that can’t ac­cept what hap­pened 20 years ago, that on some level still re­fuses to be­lieve it. And who can blame Is­rael if that’s so? For Yi­gal Amir was surely the most ef­fec­tive as­sas­sin in mod­ern his­tory. He wanted to de­stroy the peace process, then real and un­der way, and he did so. Oslo is a dead let­ter. The peace camp, as it used to be called, has shrunk with each pass­ing year. Once main­stream, it is now con­fined to the mar­gins. Of the 20 years since Rabin’s mur­der, Rabin’s Labour party has ruled for just over two. The dom­i­nant fig­ure has been Benjamin Ne­tanyahu, who Rabin’s own widow al­ways blamed for breath­ing oxy­gen into the ul­tra-right fire that even­tu­ally de­voured her hus­band, and who will soon be the longest-rul­ing pre­mier in the coun­try’s his­tory.

It means that Is­rael is still pay­ing the price for that killing. It has been left with a leader who is ut­terly vi­sion­less, a fact cap­tured exquisitely by that pho­to­graph of him sur­vey­ing the land­scape with a pair of binoc­u­lars, the lenses still cov­ered by rub­ber caps. A leader who has breezily ruled out the two-state so­lu­tion, even though that path re­mains the only way out for a coun­try faced with a fu­ture as either an apartheid state or a bi­na­tional en­tity fated to never-end­ing in­ter-eth­nic vi­o­lence, of the kind so grue­somely pre­viewed in the last few weeks of stab­bings and shoot­ings.

Be­fore Rabin’s death, a dif­fer­ent kind of fu­ture seemed to beckon for Is­rael. Surely peace would come, just as it did in the 1990s for South Africa and North­ern Ire­land. Is­rael would come in from the cold. The two peo­ples would live side by side. Any­thing was pos­si­ble. But once Rabin was gone, all that seemed like so much naivety. To­day, Is­rael is iso­lated, shunned as a pariah this very week by le­gions of ad­vert-sign­ing aca­demics. Tempt­ing to dis­miss such ges­tures, per­haps, but they might be a har­bin­ger of the in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion that is on its way.

So I un­der­stand why Is­raelis might lap up the­o­ries that say it wasn’t so. They know that a lot more than one man was gunned down that bit­ter Novem­ber night.

Is­raelis know a lot more than a man was shot that night

Jonathan Freed­land is ex­ec­u­tive editor of the Guardian

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