Thursday, 4 November 2010


By Jonny Cline, Modi'in Israel, November 1, 2010

When someone feels the need to look at you in that certain way, lower their voice, and say, "Let me tell you the truth...", don't you feel that you are about to witness an inversely proportional relationship between the truth and the words on their way to your ears?

That is the uneasy feeling I have on two issues that are running through my brain on this, the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.

The first issue is one that has bugged me annually for the last fourteen years.

The first  annual memorial demonstration  was held on the first anniversary of the murder, in the square where it happened. I do not use the word "demonstration" without reason.

Yitzchak Rabin was a legend of Israel, a military man since before the founding of the state, the man responsible for the road to Jerusalem during the pre- and post- independence struggles. He was the Prime Minister of the country, the whole country, even those who did not see fit to help him get the job. The government he formed, the policies it promoted and the day to day running of the country it facilitated was, on the whole, for my good as they understood it. Following that line of reason, his murder was my loss, the turmoil that followed it affected me, the way society reacted and counter-reacted was something I suffered - therefore, should its remembrance not also be for me?

The traffic on the way to the square that night was horrific, even by Tel Aviv standards. I ended up walking the last mile or so, with the crowds of people growing more dense as I approached the main site. The graffiti underneath the stairwell next to which the shots were fired had been covered with perspex to protect them, the marking of the actual site had not yet been properly designed as it is today. The square itself was twice as crowded as it had been for the demonstration held that night.

So there I was, Jonny, the religious young Zionist, recently released from my service in a fighting unit of the IDF, studying at Bar Ilan University (a profile not entirely unlike that of the Bar Ilan University law student who wore a kippa and had recently been released from his service in a fighting unit of the IDF, who had pulled the trigger a year before). I came to join my fellow countrymen in remembrance of our collective tragedy. I came around the corner just as Yossi Beilin began his speech.

"Let me tell you the truth," he preached, "We don't blame all of the religious community, we don't even blame all of the students at Bar Ilan..."

In one foul swoop I had been labeled, branded, ostracized. I had no place there. I had no share in the commemoration of the most profound event that had happened in Israel since I had received my first blue passport.

This has not changed. For the next few years I would watch the broadcast of the memorial "concert" on channel 1 Israeli television , hoping that the speeches would be more of a call to unify than a vilification of half of the population of the country by a small group who had hijacked our national heritage. After a while I gave up. The day on which I remember Rabin, and contemplate  the lessons that are to be learned, is the 3rd of Tishrei, the Fast of Gedaliya. I had no real appreciation of this fast until Rabin was killed - Gedalia was a Jew who administered the Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel, and was killed by Jews who disapproved of his policies. Sounds familiar, no?

A couple of years before his assassination, a couple of students were arrested and tried for having passed out car stickers (Israel's most effective media for ideological expression) stating that Rabin must be killed. As part of their punishment, the court demanded that they write an official apology to Rabin.

This year the National Archives published some documents relating to Rabin and his murder. One of these was the letter that Rabin wrote in reply to these two.

It was a powerful letter, concise and moving. In his own, recognizable, way, Rabin officially condemned their actions. He wrote that on another, personal level he could understand the strength of conviction that would lead them to suggest such a course of action, but that he felt that taking such steps would negate the very strength of our being - the ability to tackle difficult issues in a manner that facilitated the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State.

The Declaration of Independence had stated it, Herzl had written about it, Jabotinsky had sworn by it - everybody knew that the fundamental principle of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State is the very core of our raison d'etre, the imperative guiding line of our society, the essential basis for our existence as Israel in this neighborhood of the world. It is obvious.

So why do we need to have it said?

Are we not sure? Do we need to hear it over and over? Could it be that it could be said and not meant?

Why is it so important to have the discussion about the wording of a pledge of allegiance at this point in time? Why does it matter? I mean, of course it matters, of course all citizens of the State should be loyal, but since when has reading a declaration changed the speaker's way of life? ...and what are we so afraid of?

In America (not normally my chosen icon of normalcy, but needs must) one can burn a flag as a student, not inhale, and still become president! Oh, I forgot to mention that a law pushed through quietly on the same day was one defining the damaging or destruction of the symbols of the state as a criminal act.

Do me a favour! Even my 4 year old can quote Thumper! "If you can't say not'n nice, don't say not'n at all!"

Why can we not keep sight of what is actually necessary? Should we not be seeking to disarm those who are actually out to break laws that cause actual damage? Why introduce a farcical dramatic act instead of actually leading the State to a place where it may actually inspire loyalty and pride among its citizens?

More importantly:
Have we so completely lost sight of our fundamental principles that we need them plastered in populistic slogans rather than serving as the wisdom that guides us?
Are we so short sighted that we can allow for cheap political tricks to undermine our sense of self protection and will to survive?
What the hell is wrong with us, and when are we going to learn?

Three years after the assassination of Rabin, the first time I felt able to write about it, I concluded by stating that I did not make Aliyah in order to live in the Israel of today - with all of the good that there is to say about it, the modern miracle of our survival, there are some aspects of our behaviour that are really nothing to write home about - I made Aliyah in the hope that others with the same belief in what we could be will join me, and together we can create the State of Israel of which we all can be proud.

I am still here. I still believe it can happen.

What are you waiting for? For the work to be done by someone else, or for it to be too late?

Come on, already!

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