Rabin the Peacemaker?

Jewish Currents – the radical and indeed unmissable journal and website and  in the States – offers a weekly Shabbat Reading List.

This week it has chosen to focus on Yitzhak Rabin, or rather on the myth and mystique that has surrounded Rabin as peacemaker since his dreadful assassination in 1995.

Here they offer a variety of responses, triggered by Congress Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s decision last week to withdraw from an event sponsored by the liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now (APN).

A teaser: Ayman Odeh, Palestinian leader of the Joint Party, cited by Yair Wallach, who has chosen to describe Rabin as “a brave leader who refused to submit to the anti-democratic stance that decisions must rely upon a Jewish majority . . . [and] was murdered for promoting equality and peace.”

Dear Readers,

This week, in lieu of the Shabbat Reading List, we’re going to try something different (don’t worry; reading recs will be back next week). As a general rule, Jewish Currents refrains from publishing “hot takes” on our website. When major news breaks, we like to wait a bit, discuss our feelings as a staff and a community, and assign articles to writers who can find a fresh angle and make a meaningful intervention.

That said, we do have opinions—and, of course, we don’t always agree. We’re interested in using the newsletter to share our quick takes with you periodically. This is a new format and a bit of an experiment, so we welcome your feedback (in particular, please send us your cleverest ideas for what a JC hot takes roundup should be called!).

The topic for this first round is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s decision last week to withdraw from an event sponsored by the liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now (APN). AOC pulled out of the event under pressure from Palestinian rights activists, and partly in response to a tweet by Jewish Currents Contributing Writer Alex Kane, who then reported on this controversy for +972 Magazine. The event was intended to commemorate the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Jew 25 years ago. Rabin is remembered by some as a martyred peacemaker for his role in pursuing the Oslo Accords with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, and by others as a key participant in the Nakba, which forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into exile in the midst of Israel’s 1948–1949 War of Independence.

AOC’s decision set off a wide range of reactions from across the Jewish political spectrum. On the website, we republished Amjad Iraqi’s article in +972 on “The Myth of Rabin the Peacemaker,” which examines Rabin’s complicated legacy. Below is a selection of responses to this incident from the Jewish Currents community, as well as special guest Yair Wallach, a scholar of Israeli Studies.

Best,

The Editors

Mairav Zonszein (contributing writer): AOC’s withdrawal from a memorial for Rabin hosted by APN marks another step in the end of the liberal Zionist hegemony in American discourse. Her decision cannot be divorced from the current reality, in which the US and Israeli leaderships are all but formalizing apartheid and erasing Palestinians from the equation. Still, her claim that the event was presented to her team differently than it was promoted seems disingenuous and unfair to APN, which publicized its event weeks ago as a Rabin Memorial event. The whole incident is sad, because APN, as the sister organization of Peace Now in Israel, does important work monitoring Israeli settlement growth and is the only American Zionist organization that has explicitly supported a boycott of settlements. By inviting AOC, APN was normalizing her call to condition US aid to Israel based on its annexationist practices. At the same time, AOC has not clarified what happened, and should own up to the fact that it appears she changed her position based on Palestinian pressure, and not as a result of a misrepresentation. That would get the point across much more clearly that it is important to listen to Palestinian voices, and to tip the scales of US discourse and policy to champion Palestinian human rights.

David Klion (newsletter editor): Rabin’s attempts to make peace with the Palestinians were inspirational to many people, if deeply flawed in both conception and execution, and his murder by a right-wing Israeli—a murder arguably incited by Benjamin Netanyahu for the sake of his own cynical political advancement—was a tragedy, one I remember shaking my own Jewish community. But long before he was a peacemaker, Rabin personally ordered the expulsions of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians from their homes in 1948. Palestinians are under no obligation to mourn Rabin, and pro-Palestinian activists have every right to demand that politicians like AOC not participate in a commemoration of someone who committed ethnic cleansing. The most notable thing about this incident is that AOC, who many believe has statewide ambitions in New York and presidential ambitions down the line, chose to listen to Palestinian rights activists, something that rarely happens in Washington. But the performative outrage on Rabin’s behalf by certain Jewish pundits who have defended Netanyahu at various points in the past 25 years is an especially rich detail.

Yair Wallach (Senior Lecturer in Israeli Studies, SOAS University of London): Rabin’s involvement in military violence against Palestinians is rightly pointed out—from the 1948 expulsions of Lydda and Ramleh, through his role in 1967 to the suppression of the First Intifada. It would also be naive to suggest that as prime minister in 1992, he went through a total transformation into a “man of peace.” But it would be equally wrong to downplay the dramatic break he made with Israeli political tradition, not only by recognising the PLO, but also by incorporating Arab Palestinian parties into his working majority in the Knesset. No Israeli prime minister before or after him considered Arab Palestinian parties as legitimate political partners. The right wing, headed by Netanyahu, used this fact to incite against Rabin’s government and to present it as illegitimate, leading to his assassination. Rabin should not be idolized: Oslo was deeply flawed, and his neoliberal policies had devastating long-term consequences. But we should not present him as no different from Israeli prime ministers before or after him. There was a reason he was murdered. In 2020, Rabin’s relevant legacy is not the debris of the Oslo process, but his willingness to see Palestinians as equal citizens—a principle that remains crucial for any equitable future in Israel/Palestine, whether in one state or two states. It is this legacy which Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Party, has chosen to highlight, describing Rabin as “a brave leader who refused to submit to the anti-democratic stance that decisions must rely upon a Jewish majority . . . [and] was murdered for promoting equality and peace.” The concept of civic democracy remains the biggest challenge to the neo-Zionist hegemony ruling Israel.

Jacob Plitman (publisher): At my summer camp, the dining hall sported a large plaque bearing Rabin’s image and the lyrics of the song “Shir L’Shalom,” which were found bloodied and crumped in his pocket after his assassination. One summer, underneath that plaque, we held a color war in which the team representing Lehi, the self-defined “totalitarian” Zionist organization, triumphed over the three other teams representing three other paramilitary groups. The irony of the looming plaque was lost on everyone, including (and perhaps especially) me. I am forced to wonder: What good has venerating Rabin done? What good can it do? Maybe we are better off confronting Rabin’s full life, the failures of Oslo and our own failures—which will likely require us to seek guidance from other corners of our experience.


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Comments (3)

  • George Wilmers says:

    In my opinion JVL would have done better to publish the article by Amjad Iraqi referred to with a link in the above text rather than the apologetics of David Klion and Yair Wallach. Notwithstanding the diplomatic characterisation of Rabin as “murdered for promoting equality and peace”, by the Palestinian member of the Knesset Ayman Odeh, this does nor accord well with the historical record. As Ali Abunimah noted recently in his comment on the glorification of Rabin as a martyred “peacemaker”:

    “A few years ago, Israeli media revealed that in December 1994, Rabin’s bureau issued a formal letter stating that “The prime minister is of the opinion that there is no room for a Palestinian state.” …His position [on the Oslo accords] was always clear to anyone paying attention. The most that Rabin ever thought Palestinians would get from Oslo was a “state-minus,” according to Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli negotiator and foreign minister. “This was Rabin’s expression,” Ben-Ami told Democracy Now in 2006. “He never thought this will end in a full-fledged Palestinian state.” Ben-Ami conceded that the Oslo accords had always been an “exercise in make-believe.” “

    Why is AOC honoring an Israeli war criminal?

    Two years after the Oslo peace accords were signed, Noam Chomsky described them as “A triumph of the American indoctrination system”. A quarter of a century later that indoctrination is wearing very thin, but its residues are still all too apparent.

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    The just-published and brilliant history of the IDF, “An Army Like No Other’ by Haim Bresheeth, also makes mincemeat of the claims of Shimon Peres to be a peacemaker. It is clear that Peace is a term which has been used strategically and as part of an offensive strategy. ‘The mind behind the military-industrial strategy was Shimon Peres’.

  • Dr Rodney Watts says:

    I agree with George Wilmer’s comment, and +972 Magazine is well worth supporting in any event.

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