This week it is twenty-five years ago that Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel was assassinated. The murder was the culmination of months of incitement against Rabin by his political opponents and by the religious establishment. And no matter what is being said and written about the assassination, Israel never recovered from it, and sometimes it appears she never will.
It is not even relevant that the reason for the incitement and hatred was Rabin’s attempt to make peace with the Palestinians. While it may (have been) a lofty goal, many believed that it could not be achieved and that the attempts by Rabin (and Shimon Peres) where doomed to failure and were a danger to the State of Israel.
Political opposition is one of the core values of democracy and must be respected and taken into account. But twenty-five years ago, two disastrous phenomena rapidly gained track in Israel and caused the demise of the Israel we knew as well as the chances to rebuild it, unless very drastic measures are taken.
The first disaster is called Religious Fanaticism. While the Jewish religion has always played a disproportionate role in Israeli daily life as well as its politics, the Oslo accords signed by Rabin, which called for the formation of a Palestinian State, brought out all the ugly aspects of it and the hatred knew no bounds. The fact that Rabin had agreed to give up part of “The Land of Israel” (i.e. the occupied West Bank) unleashed a tsunami of religious resistance, with numerous Rabbis inciting their followers to resist and others to even invoke what is called “Din Rodef”, which in fact means that the person the “Din” (Ruling, or Law) was invoked on, is a danger to you and the punishment is death. The calling of the rabbis for a “Din Rodef” on Rabin in fact was a green light for religious fanatics to kill him.
Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, took this death penalty serious and decided that it is his duty to carry it out. The rabbis knew very well that fanatics in their community would take their rulings seriously but apparently that was their aim from the beginning. After the assassination, intense investigations took place to establish to what extend religious fanaticism and “Din Rodef” influenced Amir and others, but of course no clear answers were obtained and no steps were undertaken to curtail the influence rabbis have on their followers.
The second disaster is called Binyamin Netanyahu. Twenty-five years ago, Netanyahu was leader of the opposition in the Knesset and in political rallies incited endlessly against the Oslo Accords and the man behind them. While political rallies are acceptable, even when the tone is raucous and no effort is spared to insult and discredit political opponents, Netanyahu went much further than that. From addressing a rally in Jerusalem where his followers showed pictures of Rabin in an SS uniform, Rabin as Adolf Hitler, and Rabin with a Kefiya (Arab head dress), while they were screaming Rabin Murderer, Rabin Nazi, and Rabin traitor, to leading a mock funeral procession where a coffin and a hangman’s noose were carried around while the demonstrators called for the “Death of Rabin”.
Seven months after Rabin’s murder, Netanyahu was Prime Minister of Israel. While his first term was only three years, in 2009 he was again elected and has been Prime Minister ever since. And Netanyahu has used his years in power to break down everything that was achieved by Rabin (and Peres) and while (again) from a political standpoint this is legitimate the methods he used definitely are not. While in 1995, before the assassination of Rabin, Netanyahu used incitement freely and rallied people around him under a banner of hate, in the past ten years he has used incitement to cause a schism between different groups in the Israeli population that has become so deep that it will take great effort and many years to heal, if that is at all possible.
While the Jews in Eretz Israel, from the early days of the State, had serious and sometimes very harsh disagreements about almost everything, one thing was always clear. They will disagree on anything, but within the realization that the good of the country is not in dispute.
Netanyahu changed all that. The hatred and disdain for “the other” has never been more pronounced, and Netanyahu is taking advantage of this in every possible way. Today, looking at his reactions to the demonstrations against him is enough to be worried about what will happen soon, because he is inciting his followers against the “Anarchists and Leftists and Spreaders of Disease” and violence already has occurred and undoubtedly will escalate when the date for his trial comes closer (Netanyahu has to stand trial for Corruption charges).
These two disasters often also work together to further their goals and the Corona crisis is a good example where Netanyahu time and again will give in to Religious demands to assure their support for his divisive tactics.
At least we may hope that the disaster called Netanyahu will, at some time, vacate his place, and this may be an opportunity for a new start. However, Netanyahu has lined up a number of possible heirs that are good examples of the student overtaking the master. With people like Miki Zohar, Miri Regev, David Amsalem, etc., the future definitely looks bleak.
The disaster of Religious Fanaticism is a much more serious threat to Israel, now and in the future. If we will not be able to curb the destructive influence of the religious establishment, Israel will continue its slide into the Dark Ages of Religion and we should take as good look at Iran, not just as a possible enemy, but as country that is ruled by religious fanatics, and it should enlighten us as to what we will become unless we stop this now.
I hope you found this article interesting and I welcome any comments you may have.
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