A Year After Rabin’s Death (part 2 of 3): Hopes of Healing Rifts in Israel After Slaying Remain Unfu

Since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin one year ago, little has been done to heal the rift that, many believe, prompted the slaying in the first place.

This is the pessimistic evaluation of sociologists, political analysts and many ordinary Israelis.

Despite predictions by many that the assassination last November and national soul-searching that ensued would ultimately transform Israel into a more mature and tolerant society, few Israelis seem to have internalized that message.

With the exception of the country’s young people, many of whom have expressed remorse for what they did or did not do prior to the assassination, Israeli society seems as fragmented as ever as the first yahrzeit of Rabin’s death was marked this week.

“There had been hopes that the assassination would lead to certain sensitivities, to less acrimony between right and left, between religious and secular, but this has not been realized,” says sociologist Steven Cohen of the Hebrew University’s Melton Center.

According to Cohen, the only “marginal gain” has been society’s “lower tolerance for extreme political speech.”

Political analyst David Makovsky says Israelis have fallen back into the patterns of intolerance that existed before assassin Yigal Amir fired the fatal shots.

“If anything, the assassination should have taught people what happens when we engage in defamation of character or delegitimize others’ motives: that it can end in tragic results,” Makovsky says. “Unfortunately, few people seem to have learned this lesson.”

Culturally, Makovsky says, “the gap is wider than ever before. There is a greater alienation between various segments of society. More and more, you hear Israelis talking about two peoples — about religious and secular, even more than about left and right.”

In any discussion of religion and politics in Israel, Makovsky says, it is essential to realize one thing: Religion and politics usually go hand in hand.

“Notable exceptions notwithstanding, the guy who is religious tends to be right wing, as well as Sephardi and poor, and someone secular tends to be left wing, as well as Ashkenazi and middle class,” he says.

The problem is that “culturally there is no middle ground. Except in the army, there are few places for them to meet.”

Part of this growing schism, Makovsky believes, stems from the fact that “people on the left, and Israelis in general, do not see Yigal Amir as a lone gunman. They believe he sprang from a certain milieu.

“There’s the sense that somehow Amir’s religious education contributed to the killing of Rabin. People feel that any religion that could sanction such an event isn’t for me.”

Unfortunately, Makovsky adds, “you don’t see religious and secular engaging in real debate, and this is because they don’t see the other’s position as legitimate.

“The secular view the religious as primitives from the Dark Ages, while the religious see the secular as devoid of values.”

Judging from interviews with people representing the two ends of the political spectrum, their positions cross over into the religious arena as well.

“The right wing is being untreated unfairly by the left,” says Shmuel Sackett, co-director of Zu Artzenu, or “This is Our Land,” an organization strongly opposed to territorial compromise. “It has always had a vengeance for the right and still does.”

Asked whether Zu Artzenu or, to his knowledge, any other right-wing organization, is interested in working toward reconciliation with the left, Sackett says, “The gap is too big. If you really believe the left is not only your political opponent, but bent on destroying everything you’ve dreamt of, why bridge the gaps?

“My goal is to keep my children away from them, because they are against everything I stand for. I’m not interested in filling gaps, but in keeping a distance.”

Janet Aviad, a longtime Peace Now activist, believes that “the gap isn’t larger, but it isn’t smaller, either. Immediately after the murder, the right tried to check itself, to change its tactics in light of Israelis’ general condemnation of violence.

“But when push comes to shove, the extreme right, which never underwent a genuine soul-searching, will resort to the same violence it resorted to in the past.”

Aviad says, “The national religious right in general, some of the secular right and certainly the extreme right, did not use this murder to examine their strategies and tactics.”

If the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process continues on to the final-status talks, we will probably see the same kind of demonstrations, illegal and violent, against soldiers, police and citizens,” she says.

While such verbal barbs and mutual mistrust are not uncommon, some political and religious moderates are working to find common ground.

Soon after the assassination, a group of young men and women founded Dor Hadash, Dor Shalom, Hebrew for “An Entire Generation Demands Peace.”

Yuval Rabin, the late prime minister’s previously apolitical son, has taken a leadership role in the group.

The organization is “devoted to democracy, peace and social justice,” according to co-founder Noam Kedem, who adds that the assassination “wasn’t the beginning or end of anything. It just showed all of us how things in our society will be if we don’t pay attention to these three issues.”

Fed up with the political situation and with such social problems as poverty, the group, which has about 10,000 supporters between the ages of 15 and 50, is trying to mobilize public support in the fight against intolerance and social injustice.

“We have a youth group that has held discussions with B’nai Akiva youth, who help olim (immigrants) from Ethiopia. We want people to demonstrate for what’s right. People have such a short memory in this country, and we have to get their attention,” says Kedem.

According to Rabbi Benjamin Levine, assistant director of the Gesher Foundation, some people — especially the young — are paying attention to the need to heal the rifts in Israeli society.

Dedicated to increasing understanding between religious and secular Jews, Gesher has held workshops and seminars “almost every week” since the assassination, Levine says.

“For months after the murder, we received many, many calls from young adults, post-army age, who wanted to express their feelings. We usually host school groups, but these people called on their own initiative.

“I think those who came to the workshops, both religious and secular, were people who really care about this country.”

Despite the problems that exist within Israeli society, Levine says, “I feel there is still room for optimism. Last week I saw kids from the Riali School in Haifa, kids with very little Jewish background. They came with a desire to know.

“I found no ingrained hatred, but rather, an openness. These were people we could sit down and dialogue with. Some say all is lost. I don’t think so.”

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