Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Rabin Murder

Blogger provides archives only to 1999. Certain articles of note that appeared prior to then will at times be posted. The following column was originally published in the New York Jewish Week in 1995.

As if another and so vile an example were needed, the Rabin murder illustrates how evil begets evil. The foul deed was preceded by foul language which tarnished the listeners who did not protest and it has already produced new verbal nastiness, much of it directed at religious Jews caught in a McCarthyistic web of guilt by association.

It will not do to deny that words spoken here and in Israel contributed to a climate in which murder was accepted, although I doubt whether there was a causal relationship between what was said and what happened. Other elements, primarily the growing desperation, even paranoia, among some who opposed the Rabin government, contributed far more to the act of murder. Causality or not, the language used by a minority of Rabin’s critics was reprehensible.

It is always a difficult question to decide the ethical responsibility of people who hear loathsome words which they do not share, yet who do not protest. The pat view that protest is always a moral imperative runs counter to social and psychological realities, especially when the hateful sentiments are expressed by a relative or in a setting which makes protest awkward, perhaps graceless. We listen at times in silence to sentiments which we abhor because the alternative is not appealing. At times, we hate ourselves for this, but the experience does not mark the listener as a racist and certainly not as an accomplice to murder.

Now that blood has been shed, those who defend or excuse the murder of Israel’s Prime Minister - and shockingly there are such people - speak words which are despicable and there is a higher obligation than before on listeners to reject what they hear, even at the risk of upsetting the social applecart.

Too much of what is hateful has been uttered by religious Jews who claim to speak in the name of G-d and Torah and who profess love for the Jewish people and their land. If this is what they mean by love, we can do without it. Their love and their hate are one and both are stained by the blood of murder.

The implication of one and perhaps several religious Jews in the assassination and the larger number - but certainly not large number - who have condoned it has triggered a wave of scapegoating that should fill the heart of any bigot with joy. I am told that the Washington Post has been worse than the Times, although our newspaper of record has made its distinctive contribution to legitimating guilt by association. Its low point was reached shortly after the murder with a Z’ev Chaefetz op-ed column. Chaefetz - and I write this with care - has used language in writing about Judaism which parallels what Louis Farakhan has said.

In the present mood, Orthodox Jews, especially in Israel, are in for a rough time, the mea culpas of Rabbis notwithstanding. In the present mood, Arafat is to be embraced, Netanyahu scorned. In the present mood, civil rights are for one end of Israel’s spectrum, not the other. In the present mood, a large majority of Israelis appear ready to sign on the dotted line and to give back everything in the name of securing a lasting peace.

In the present mood, it is easy to forget that while thousands of Jews applauded Rabin’s murder, millions of Arabs cheered. It is also easy to forget that the PLO charter continues to advocate the destruction of Israel, that Egypt is steeped in anti-Semitism, that throughout the Arab world the strong sentiment is that peace agreements with Israel are interim strategic measures, that all of Israel is actively coveted by its neighbors.

In the present mood, it is convenient to downplay much of what happened prior to November 4. In the midst of an adulatory eulogy in the Times, Thomas Friedman wrote something that is telling, though in his characteristic smugness he got it wrong. In contrast to President Clinton who, he wrote, “is always hugging people” and “feeling their pain, Yitzchak Rabin never hugged anyone outside his own family. He did not feel your pain. He gave you pain.”

Is this to be the new standard for elevated political leadership? It is one thing for a president or prime minister to tell his people that tough times are ahead and that the pain has to be shared through tax hikes or budget cuts and something quite different for the head of a government to inflict emotional pain, to feed the fears of those who have reason to fear and to demonize his opponents. That’s political sadism, not political leadership.

If Israelis are willing to strike a bargain with the PLO, they ought to have the capability and the decency to reach out to and be tolerant toward Jews who live in real, not imagined, danger, Jews who for a generation provided buffer and protection for the heartland of Israel, Jews who have sacrificed much because of their devotion to Israel. In all of the torrent of negative writing about the Hesder yeshivas attended by a handful of these newly-dubbed religious fanatics, not a word has been said about their military service and about the disproportionate and devastating casualties they have suffered through service in the tank corps.

Instead, they have been depicted as an outlaw group. As they have been marginalized through brutal suppression of their demonstrations and, more compellingly by being labeled as fanatics, a sense of desperation has taken root and some have said or done awfully wrongful things for which they should be punished. Overwhelmingly, however, these people have been the glory of the State of Israel - a view expressed often by Yitzchak Rabin - and so they remain.

There is also the need for self-examination by the settlers and their avid supporters. The frame of mind which instructs that every inch of land under Israel’s control cannot be yielded in a peace agreement is the breeding ground for fanaticism and then for irrationality and paranoia.

What Israel urgently needs now is an internal peace process in which all sides yield.