Remembering Yitzhak Rabin z”l

On November 2, 2010 the Embassy of Israel held its official public observance of the 15th anniversary of the death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the 16th Street J with a screening of Rabin: Shivah in November. Prior to the film Dan Arbell, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy delivered these remarks.

Yitzhak RabinThank you all for coming tonight to this memorial. Every year since Rabin’s untimely death, we have held a service in his honor at our Embassy. For me, it has always been a very personal experience commemorating a profound loss that I thought of as uniquely Israeli.  Rabin’s death was an isolating experience – one I felt we should share internally among our citizens. However, I have come to understand that this tragedy was not solely ours. I realize that it was a loss for the Jewish people, as a whole. So, I want to thank the Washington, DC JCC Film program for this night – it is comforting to come together as a community and mourn our collective loss. If you would, please join me for a minute of silence in honor of the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. 

 [MINUTE OF SILENCE]

For as long as I can remember, Rabin was a national figure for the Israeli people. Even in my childhood, I recall singing songs about his achievements, and he was looked up to by virtually everyone. As I progressed in my career, I had the opportunity to meet and work alongside him on many occasions. I feel fortunate to have many memories of this much revered man, but one stands out in my mind. It was 15 years ago and we were in the Rotunda room of the Capitol building here in Washington, DC. It was a Conference of Presidents event to commemorate 3000 years of Jerusalem as our capital. I remember singing the Hatikva –in the US capitol. The weight of this moment was not lost on me.

As an Israeli and as a Jew, to sing a song of our hope – our national anthem – here in the midst of the most powerful country on earth was overwhelming there are no words to describe the inspiration I felt. Rabin was there – the previous months and days prior to this, he had been through a series of what I am sure were soul searching meetings in Israel’s new hope – our hope for peace.

9 days later, the country was stunned. The shock was palpable around the world. Here in America, people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. Israelis remember where they were when Rabin was shot. In fact, I was watching a film that to this day, I have not been able to bring myself to watch the ending of.

For those who did not know him, it is important to understand that he was not an ordinary man. The first Prime Minister of Israel to actually be born in our homeland, he was known as “Mr. Security”. With an illustrious career, he served as a general, the Chief of Staff for the IDF, Ambassador to the US, Minister of Defense, and was elected twice as our Prime Minister.  He embodied the ideal of ultimate Sabra – the ultimate Israeli. Despite being shy, he knew how to get down to business and get things done. Truly an introvert, he felt a tremendous duty to civic service.  The eloquence of his approach was his steadfast and unrelenting protection of Israel, combined with a humane gentleness, which he carried with him always. He felt deeply and never took his responsibilities lightly. He carried a heavy heart, which anyone who came into contact with him could openly see.  His blend of strength of purpose and optimism was epitomized in a speech he made to Congress following the peace agreement signed with Jordan, he stated,  “I, Military ID # 30743, Retired General in the Israeli Defense Forces, consider myself to be a soldier in the army of peace… Today we are embarking on a battle which has no dead and no wounded, no blood and no anguish. This is the only battle which is a pleasure to wage: the battle of peace.” This was a profound statement that touched me deeply and I recall the standing ovation he received that strengthened my own resolve to work on Israel’s behalf.

In Israel, we still have not come to terms with Rabin’s assassination. To have him killed by one of our own is a wound that 15 years later is still open. But, if Rabin leaves us with anything, he leaves us with the most unlikely of thoughts. He leaves us with Tikva – hope — his courage – the courage to try a different path. To try to work with your enemy because the price of defending against them seems too high – the sacrifice too great — is an act of great courage, befitting such a great man.

In 1993, as Rabin signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles, he reinforced his optimism, “Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We are today giving peace a chance.” In fact, I will never forget the tense moment when it came time for Rabin to shake hands with Arafat on the White House lawn. I could see his contemplation, and indeed, Rabin hesitated, but shook his hand, committing himself to the principles he was indeed signing. A moment later, the applause was deafening. Even if he was unsure that this was the answer, he had the strength to explore this alternate route. And sometimes in vulnerability, there is strength.

Rabin’s life-long dedication to Israel created a trust in him that enabled Israelis to have the courage to pursue a more challenging path.  He came to believe that the way to defeat war was peace. What Rabin searched for in his life, we continue to seek to this day… Israel’s ultimate and long lasting peace and security, and for that we have Tikva.

Blessed be his memory…

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Talking About the Gaza Flotilla – part two, with podcast

This morning’s briefing on the Gaza Flotilla crisis with Noam Katz, Minister of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel was really quite exciting. We had around 60 people attending and a very robust Q&A session following his introductory remarks. Those remarks are available here as an MP3 — the Q&A session was technically “off-the-record” so I can’t post any recording of that. However, it was a very broad cross-section of opinions from those who feel that Israel was completely justified in its actions and needs to do more to get out its story, to those who believe that the blockade of Gaza is both immoral and illegal, to those who feel that Israel’s strategic interests are no longer being well-served by the blockade, to those who want more public acknowledgement of the aid that is regularly transported to Gaza from around the world. Minister Katz handled all the questions respectfully and while his answers may not have satisfied everyone, it was generally agreed that the opportunity for the conversation was much appreciated.

It is our hope to have more discussions like this one with other speakers with differing perspectives.  In the mean time, here are Noam Katz’s opening remarks.

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Talking About the Gaza Flotilla

When I first learned of the ill-fated Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla boat Mavi Marmara I got a sick feeling in my stomach. Why? Because something had gone horribly wrong and already I was preparing myself for the recriminations that would be hurled against an Israeli state that I love at an elemental part of my being. Because there was a dizzying element of multiple asymmetries to the whole story as it unfolded: protesters versus soldiers, paintball guns versus knives and lead pipes, a dozen soldiers (each like my “brother” from my mishpacha me-ametzet) versus hundreds of violent opponents, nine dead people versus unspecified injuries, occupied Palestinians versus powerful Israelis, a tiny Jewish state versus a host of hostile neighbors that would smile on its annihilation. Because while I consider myself an unambiguous Zionist, I have great misgivings about this whole episode, from the motivations of the Turkish organizers who set it in-motion to those who would defend every aspect of Israel’s handling of the affair and question the loyalty of those who think otherwise. As I followed events on my Blackberry as they developed on Monday afternoon, I just kept saying to my wife, “This really upsets me.” But I couldn’t articulate beyond that.

When I came into work on Tuesday I felt like I needed to provide the beginnings of a process to make sense of this for myself, and so I picked-up the phone and called my colleague at the Embassy of Israel to arrange for a free and open to the public briefing from an Embassy spokesperson this Friday at 8 am. All are welcome. In the short time the event has be open for registration, I think I can conclude that I am not the only one with questions.

As I began spreading word of the event I got a note from a friend who asked, “Are [you] taking the Embassy line on the flotilla situation?  Or are [you] allowing for the Jeffery Goldberg / Amos Oz view to be articulated as well?” My response was that I (or the Washington DCJCC for that matter) am not taking anyone’s line. That’s not what we do. That’s not what this is intended to be. This is the start of a conversation. Or perhaps it is the continuation of a conversation we’ve been having since 1948. Or 1967. Or 70 C.E. In either case, it is not meant to be the totality of the conversation, only a point of departure. And it is my hope that it will not be an event where the audience passively absorbs without question everything that is asserted from the podium. My hope is that we can talk to each other. We’re starting with the Embassy, and while they won’t be there, I am sure Amos Oz and Jeffrey Goldberg will have their people in the room. And if we’re lucky, so will Alan Dershowitz, David Grossman, Marty Peretz, Max Boot, John Podhoretz, Gershom Gorenberg and Bernard-Henri Lévy. They are all welcome, because we all have to contend with a post-flotilla reality.

I don’t care if the Palestinians or their allies don’t “indulge” in this level of communal introspection. Perhaps they already do, we just aren’t privy to those conversations. Perhaps they will some day, or never will. It doesn’t truly matter to me. To abstain from discussion in the name of solidarity strikes me as the least Jewish thing we could do at a time like this. Whatever our separate conclusions, the goal is shared, a Jewish democratic Israel secure in its borders, at peace with its neighbors, and in-touch with its highest values.

You can register for the briefing here.

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