Watching the memorial ceremony held in Tel-Aviv Saturday night marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, I couldn’t help feeling extremely sad. Sad for Rabin himself and his family of course, but also sad for us all.
I felt sad because despite the fact that the rally aimed to be non-partisan politically, it ended up being highly partisan. Among the 100,000 attendees there was not one holding up a poster or flag representing the Israeli right. Looking at the politicians honoring the rally with their presence there was not one representing the ruling party, Likud.
I felt sad because the rally helped highlight the fact that Rabin’s memory, and by extension, the notion of peace, remains the sole purview of the left, and the far-left at that. 2o years ago, the vast majority of Israelis would openly admit that they yearn for peace. Nowadays, merely uttering the word risks ridicule and in extreme cases even branding as a traitor.
I felt sad because I was reminded of a generation of leaders that has all but disappeared. A generation of warriors become leaders who dared to dream and dared to do. Leaders who did not shy behind a false veil of pragmatism and realism as an excuse for doing nothing. Leaders who knew how to make tough decisions when needed and had the bravery to see them through with vigor and resolve.
I felt sad listening to former American president Bill Clinton and wistfully wishing we had a leader who knew how to address his people like he did. A leader who instead of promising a bleak future of “blood, toil, tears and sweat” knew how to console his people with a vision. A leader who instead of instilling fear, offered hope.
I felt sad because 20 years have gone by and we have learned absolutely nothing.
The political atmosphere today is no less violent, and society no less fractured, than in 1995. In Israel 2015, speakers at rallies need to speak in front of bullet-proof glass. In Israel 2015, social networks abound with incitement and hatred against those holding a different political opinion.
20 years ago, and in the months and weeks leading up to Rabin’s assassination, leaders on the right orchestrated rallies against the peace process in which rhetorical violence and incitement reached dangerous levels. Despite the rampant incitement by right-wing extremists on the web today, these same leaders remain silent once again. Should no clear action be taken now, it is just a matter of time until the next act of violence occurs.
I wish I could share President Rivlin’s confident words at the rally:
“To those who seek to silence others, to those who threaten, to those who raise their clenched fists, to those who design pictures of SS uniforms, to those who threaten members of the legislature and judiciary, to those who threaten ministers and prime ministers, I want to say to them all: We do not fear you.”
I do fear. I fear for the future of my children should they have to grow up this cauldron of hate. I fear for the lives of those daring to voice different opinions. I fear for the future of this amazing country should hatred and incitement remain unchecked.
Action, not words, are required now of Israel’s leaders. The sooner the better. Who will pick up the gauntlet?