Rabin’s Legacy: Peace or Democracy?

One of the single most meaningful, inspiring and all round positive memories I have from my Shnat year in Israel is attending the annual Rabin memorial rally in Kikar Rabin, Tel-Aviv. The energy in that square was electric, the sea of the blue chultzot and red strings made me feel part of something truly special. We were joined by representatives from Meretz, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) Hashomer Hatzair, Avodah, the list goes on. The Israeli left had united and created something truly memorable. We heard speeches from the likes of Shimon Peres, the whole crowd bellowed out Shir LaShalom, as a kvutzah we got a strong rendition of Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (Saalam) going, it was a truly fantastic experience, and one that I will never forget. The fact that it happened to be the 15th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination only served to add an extra sense of occasion.
Today, amongst those Israelis still proudly working towards carrying on the legacy of Israel’s slain Prime-Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, there is increasing debate as to what that legacy actually is. On the one hand, some argue that Rabin’s legacy is one of peace, that his commitment to finally ending the age old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is what caused his assassination, and that therefore every year, particularly at the annual rally in Kikar Rabin,  the message of reaching a peaceful resolution to that conflict should be the emphasis. This is largely why signs saying “No Security Without a Solution” were so prominent at this year’s rally, the 20th anniversary. On the other hand however, is the argument that his legacy is one of democracy, that it was not his pro-peace stance which killed him but rather the breakdown in Israeli democracy which occurred in the run up to his assassination. The democracy camp cite pictures of Rabin drawn up as Hitler, the grotesque incitement lead by the Israeli hard right and silently accepted by Netanyahu, as the main reasons why Yigal Amir decided it was OK to undercut Israeli democracy and vote with a bullet, as opposed to the ballot. This camp decides to emphasise cross-communal unity, a renewed commitment to Israeli democracy and democratic values as the focal point of how Rabin should be remembered.

But which has got it right? In a least copout-esque way as possible, both of them. There is no doubt that Rabin’s commitment to reaching a peaceful solution with the Palestinian leadership, going as far to shake the hand of Yasser Arafat, made him deeply unpopular with the Israeli right. There is also, no real reason to doubt that Rabin’s commitment to peace was based on the recognition that a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only in line with Israel’s national interest, but a vital facet of it. Therefore to recognise those two factors would naturally lead one to argue that yes, the legacy left behind by this “soldier of peace” is to further the prospects of that ever elusive solution to the greatest extent possible. On the other hand however, the peace platform is one that divides rather than unites Israelis, and makes the prospects of healing the wounds in Israeli society which were revealed in the run up to Rabin’s assassination all the more difficult. This is where the strength of the democracy camp’s argument comes in, that the best way to honour the legacy of Rabin is to fight incitement, promote dialogue and at a grassroots level, reaffirm democratic norms. If more of this was going on during the Oslo process, then maybe the incitement wouldn’t have reached such despicable levels, maybe Rabin wouldn’t have been so vilified, maybe he even wouldn’t have been killed.
In the same way that both have got it right however, both have got it deeply wrong. Emphasising the need for a genuine peace-process with the Palestinians, and emphasising the need for a healthy, vibrant and civil Israeli democracy are simply two sides of the same coin that is Rabin’s legacy. To choose one over the other misses out one of the two things that Rabin fought, sometimes literally for. An Israel who is strong, secure, democratic and at peace with its neighbours. As a movement, when talking about Rabin’s legacy, we need to make sure we take both into account.

Aleh Vehagshem,