Today is observed as Yom Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin Day in Israel. It marks the yahrzeit of the general and prime minister who made peace with the Palestine Liberation Organization and was assassinated by a Jewish extremist 25 years ago. I remember the day vividly as we in America heard the tragic news on a Saturday night. I quickly went online searching for information on the early Internet during a chaotic time.
Much has happened in the decades since, including the transformation of Rabin’s legacy. In the immediate aftermath, Rabin was hailed a warrior for peace, someone who was willing to risk his life to give a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. Bill Clinton famously ended his eulogy with the words “Shalom, chaver”, “Goodbye, friend.”
As Israelis and Palestinians have become disillusioned with the peace process, if not with peace itself, Rabin’s image has shifted. For many on the left, he was a monumental figure who embodied the desire of a generation to end war and occupation. They focused on the final years of his life. This was Rabin the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
But of course Rabin was more complicated than that. He was a war hero, a general who took part in the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from the town of Lydda. As the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, he oversaw the victory of the Six Day War in 1967, although it led to a nervous breakdown on his part. He famously declared that the IDF should “break the bones” of Palestinian protesters during the first Intifada.
This picture of Rabin the founding father of Israel and warrior is one that is embraced by those on the right who condemned what they consider his grievous mistake of shaking PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s hand on the White House lawn in 1993. Ironically, after 25 years of failed peacemaking, many on the left choose to remember the militaristic side of Rabin as well.
For this year’s 25th yahrzeit, American’s for Peace Now held an event to celebrate Rabin’s legacy, and they invited New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. At first she accepted the invitation, but then, under pressure from Palestinians and other progressives, she withdrew. It is amazing and disheartening how far the quest for peace has fallen in 25 years. A man who was once an icon of the search for harmony and reconciliation, who literally died because he was willing to give land for peace, is now considered, in some circles, just a colonialist oppressor.
Fortunately, there were some other progressives at the Americans for Peace Now virtual event, albeit lesser known. Rabin’s example of transformation and hope is not dead. In fact, his life should be an inspiration for us at a time when Israelis and Palestinians seem locked in place with no solution on the horizon. If someone with Yitzhak Rabin’s past could overcome war and violence and say “[e]nough of blood and tears”, then anything is possible. You never know who might step forward to be the next hero for peace.