As peace hopes fade, so do Israel's memories of Yitzhak Rabin


McClatchy Newspapers

TEL AVIV — A dozen students on a field trip stood in front of the Yitzhak Rabin memorial in Tel Aviv on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the former prime minister's assassination.

Several smoked cigarettes and stole glances at the shop windows across from the black slab of stone that marks the spot where Rabin was shot as he attended a rally in support of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians. A few hours later, fewer than a dozen members of Rabin's former government stood in the same spot to honor their murdered leader.

Their numbers were in stark contrast to 16 years ago, when millions of Israelis filled the square as the country stood still, shrouded in mourning for the popular leader of Israel's peace camp.

Today, Rabin's legacy has been recast, if not cast aside. The once-popular peace movement now lies dormant, moribund, some would say, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders exchange mutual blame for the lack of progress.

Rabin's Labor party has shrunk to eight seats in the 120-member Parliament, and it's currently losing its core group of voters to the hawkish Likud and Israeli Beiteinu parties.

And while Rabin's name stood sacrosanct in the years following his death, recalled by prime ministers who vied to be seen as his successor, his name now conjures a more confusing legacy for many young Israeli adults.

"I was so young when he died, but I still have the memory of everyone crying," said Jonathan Sapir, 27. "My mom couldn't stop crying and she told me that we lost our greatest leader. Then I grew up and I started to have questions. I mean, do we seriously want the peace process? He might have given up too much and been perceived as weak by the Arabs, you know?"

His parents may have voted Labor, but the whole family now supports the right-wing Likud movement, led by current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sapir said.

"There was the intifada," Sapir said, referring to a Palestinian uprising, "and everyone questioned if this was really the people we were trying to make peace with. There is a different atmosphere now on the street."

This year will be the first without a large public rally to commemorate Rabin's death. The decision was made by his daughter, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, after last year's memorial drew a meager crowd of several thousand that failed to fill the square. Instead, a small memorial was held by those who knew him, and the Israeli parliament will mark a special session in his honor on Wednesday.

His daughter, who now chairs the Yitzhak Rabin Centre, said that she canceled the rally because "the rally costs half a million shekels yearly. ... Spending such an amount on a rally that in my opinion has exhausted itself as a memorial format is unnecessary."

Rabin's family has also asked that money from the state budget for Rabin's memorial events be redirected into private groups that can better honor his legacy.

"They don't like to see the politicians with their fake smiles of condolence hold longwinded speeches that use Rabin for their own political motives," said one volunteer with the center, who spoke to McClatchy without official clearance from the group and asked not to be identified.

Rabin's sister, Rachel Yaakov, conveyed a similar sentiment Friday at Rabin's grave outside Jerusalem.

"They have no interest in remembering (Rabin). The current political establishment wants to obscure his character and not talk about the assassination," she said.

Instead, she charged, the politicians now in charge supported the extremist groups that created an environment that gave rise to Yigal Amir, the right-wing zealot who assassinated Rabin.

"This was a political murder that didn't come out of nowhere. It was directed and organized incitement. It wasn't casual," she said.

In the years since Rabin's death, his killer has grown in popularity within certain extremist groups. Hardliners in Israel's settlement movement have expressed thanks to Amir and supported his wife and family as saviors of the settlement movement.

Earlier this year, a group of extremist settlers sprayed graffiti on a Muslim cemetery that praised Amir as a "true hero" of the Jewish people.

Ephraim Sneh, a former cabinet minister under Rabin, said that Israel had "let the Yigal Amirs of Israel win."

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


For many Israeli 'settlers,' their suburban home is just a place to live

Rabin memorial defaced to protest Israel-Hamas prisoner swap

Shalit's condition leaves Israel second-guessing delay in his release

Israeli victims of violence feel mixed emotions on prisoner swap

Follow McClatchy on Twitter.

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Palestinians draft UN resolution urging cease-fire

    The Palestinians and their international supporters are discussing the text of a U.N. resolution that would condemn all violence against civilians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and call for "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire."

FILE - In this June 2, 2014 file photo, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff holds up the 2014 World Cup trophy after it was officially presented to Rousseff by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, during a ceremony at the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasilia, Brazil. Rousseff met Friday, July 11, 2014 with a group of foreign journalists in Brasilia, where she hailed Brazil proved skeptics wrong who said the nation couldn't organize a successful World Cup, and said it boded well for its hosting of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

    Rousseff: Brazil proved World Cup doubters wrong

    President Dilma Rousseff said Friday that on the eve of the World Cup's final match this weekend, her country has proved doubters of Brazil's ability to organize a big event wrong.

  • UN expected to vote Monday to speed aid to Syria

    Sponsors of a U.N. resolution that would authorize cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians in desperate need of food and medicine finalized the text ahead of a Security Council vote expected on Monday.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category