MONTREAL (Nov. 21)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin went straight for the gut when he addressed North American Jewry last week.
It is the gut filled with “butterflies,” as he once put it, over the risks and uncertainties inherent in his handshake with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Speaking before 4,000 people at the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, Rabin emphasized his intimate knowledge of “the scars of war” even as he leads Israel to “peace with the most bitter and odious of its foes.”
“It was a very emotional speech,” Sylvia Kirshner of South River, N.J., said after the speech last Thursday night. “The way he opened it was absolutely a tear-jerker.”
Rabin began his address with one of the most horrible tales of the Palestinian terror campaigns against Israel: that of Semadar Haran, whose husband and daughter were killed in a terrorist attack. Hiding in her attic in Nahariya, above the sounds of gunshots, Haran covered her other daughter’s mouth so that her cries would not reveal them. When the attack was over, the mother had smothered her child in the attempt to protect her.
On the eve of the signing of the accord Sept. 13 in Washington, Rabin asked Haran to accompany him.
In the end, she declined.
‘THE DANGER HAS NOT PASSED’
“I can’t shake (Arafat’s) hand,” Rabin quoted her as saying, “but you, the prime minister, you are my messenger. I ask you to shake his hand, on my behalf also.”
In calling on a victim of terror to endorse his handshake with Arafat, and by recalling his comrades who fell in the 1948 battle for Jerusalem, Rabin was promoting the peace accord as that of a tough-minded general rather than a tenderhearted idealist.
And indeed, Rabin received far more applause for his devotion to security than for his pursuit of peace.
His first applause came when he said that while he believes the Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese want peace, “we put our trust in no one — but ourselves.”
“In any agreement, in any situation and under any condition, the security of Israelis will be in the hand of Israelis,” he added to further applause.
“One hand we will outstretch in peace, the other we will keep poised on the trigger. We will live in peace and not with illusions.
“The danger has not passed,” he said. “The hand of peace will, in time of need, pull that trigger.”
Rabin addressed as well an issue that was an undercurrent at the General Assembly: The future of the Diaspora’s relationship with Israel as it makes the transition from war to peace.
“We should be preparing now for the day in which new issue will occupy our hearts and minds, because our support for Israel and our identification with Israel.”
Looking ahead for a “new agenda,” Rabin addressed the concerns, a focus of much discussion at the General Assembly, about American Jewry’s ability to withstand increasing intermarriage and assimilation.
“We might lose our young people and there is only one way to face this attrition — profound, indelible Jewish education coupled with Israel experience,” he said.
“By bringing Jewish youth to Israel, we achieve two essential objectives: we strengthen their Jewish identity and ties to Israel while simultaneously helping our Israeli youth to intensify their ties with the Jews of the Diaspora and their understanding of the concept of ‘Am Yisrael,’ ” the Jewish people, he said.
“This is the time to rewrite the covenant between Israel and world Jewry. The thrust of that covenant must be Jewish continuity and survival through the reclamation of our youth.”