In memory of Yitzak Rabin

November 5, 2020 by Peter Wertheim
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Yitzhak Rabin was one of the giants of the cause of Zionism and the State of Israel…writes Peter Wertheim.

Peter Wertheim and Senator Kristina Keneally

Throughout his life, whether he was serving as a military leader, a diplomat, a head of government or international statesman, Yitzhak Rabin was renowned and respected for his outstanding personal qualities: incisive powers of analysis, deep integrity, devotion to duty and unfaltering courage.

He worked tirelessly for a secure Israel, at peace with its neighbours.  He would have been delighted, as we all are, by the recent normalisation of relations between Israel and three additional Arab states, and astonished and elated at the idea of an Israeli and an Emirati Ambassador sitting together at a Jewish community event in Australia in honour of his memory.  How fortunate we all are to see such a day.  There is indeed hope for the future.

Yet even now, 25 years after he was cruelly cut down by an assassin’s bullet, the pain and the shock we felt at the news of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder remain a vivid memory.  His sudden, violent loss shook Israel, the Middle East and the entire world, but above all it shook the Jewish soul.

Yitzhak Rabin

The spectacle of a Jew murdering a fellow Jew, solely over differences in politics, religion and ideology, struck at the very heart of our self-perception as a people, violating Jewish teachings over two millennia which warn us against the evils of sinat chinam ­– baseless hatred.

Let us not fool ourselves into believing that Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin was an exceptional case, a deranged killer, a malignant excrescence on the Israeli body politic.  On the contrary, he anticipated the kind of world we are now living in, a polarised world dominated by binary antagonisms, real and imagined.

Dave Sharma, Natalie Ward and Peter Wertheim

The thoughts and passions which drove the actions of Yitzhak Rabin’s murderer are all of a piece with those of fanatics everywhere, whether of the political right or the left, or of racial supremacists, or ultra-nationalists or religious or anti-religious zealots.

Twenty-five years ago we would not have dreamed that the extremists who were then confined to the far fringes of discourse in western societies would ever be taken seriously by the mature mainstream.   We were convinced that humankind had learned the lessons of the twentieth century, with its vivid memories of the horrors of totalitarianism, and would not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Yet here we are, living in a world that has been poisoned, not only outwardly by a deadly virus and environmental degradation, but also inwardly by dark passions that move people to incite hatred and violence, and sometimes to initiate violence and commit murder, solely on the basis of an abstract idea.

Yitzhak Rabin understood the danger and tried to warn us.  In an address to the Knesset, directed at murderous fanaticism among our own people, to whose service he had dedicated his life, he stated: “You are not part of the community of Israel… You are not part of the national democratic camp which we all belong to in this house… You are not partners in the Zionist enterprise. You are a foreign implant. You are an errant weed. Sensible Judaism spits you out. You placed yourself outside the wall of Jewish law…you are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.”

We should have heeded Yitzhak Rabin’s words back then.   We should certainly heed them now.

Peter Wertheim is the co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. An abridged and modified version of this article was delivered as a speech at the opening of the ‘Unity’ Exhibition about the life of Yitzhak Rabin at B’nai B’rith on 4 November 2020.

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