Remembering Rabin: Israel Split a Year Later

Memorial CD a hit; killer has fan club

One year ago, in the chaotic aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a chorus of voices from every quarter of Israeli society called for unity in a nation split by divergent views of religion and different visions for peace.

Yet today, the divides are just as wide. Israelis can't even agree on how to honor their fallen premier, whose assassination many commemorated yesterday.

Take the following exchange in Rabin Square - the spot where he was killed by Jewish extremist Yigal Amir - between a woman holding a bag of groceries and a gaggle of teenage peaceniks on a candlelight march.

"Rabin didn't make peace! What did he get, a medallion," yells Ronit Weiss, shaking her finger at the teens as she refers to Rabin's Nobel Peace Prize. "This man walked with Arafat! He made mistakes!"

"You kill someone because he made mistakes?" retorts an incredulous teen, holding an Israeli flag draped in black crepe.

"I didn't kill anybody...."

"So what lady," snapped a high school girl with an exposed midriff and peace stickers fixed about her body. "Yigal Amir was right?"

"Yes, Yigal Amir was right!"

On the anniversary of Rabin's death - which occurred last Nov. 4, but was celebrated yesterday according to the Jewish calendar - Israelis are even split about how to commemorate him.

His family suggested a national day of mourning. But the government of hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the idea, deciding Rabin should be remembered like all premiers, with somber services in parliament and at his grave.

In turn, Rabin's kin, who blame Mr. Netanyahu for fostering a climate of hate that provided fertile ground for Rabin's murder, asked that the new premier not speak at the grave.

Many Israelis are absorbed in the evolving mythology of their first native-born prime minister. Stores are saturated with books about him and with special memorial candles bearing his name. The CD "Shalom, Haver," (Goodbye, Friend) a collection of songs by popular artists, is one of Israel's all-time bestsellers.

But the formation this summer of a "Yigal Amir fan club" and reports that some teenagers would boycott school memorials for Rabin to have parties instead, is a sign that the assassin may have wider support than many Israelis believe.

Still, among most Israelis, Rabin was respected because he was the one man who, although anxious to make peace, most of them trusted with their security.

The former Army commander-in-chief, who was considered gruff and shy, if honest, was killed because of his plan to change the course of history by trading land for peace with the Palestinians.

The subsequent failure of his Labor Party successor, Shimon Peres, to gain that degree of trust in elections this May has thrown the fragile Oslo peace accords - which would bring autonomy and possibly statehood to Palestinians - into a state of crisis and doubt.

NOAM KEDEM was there that night. Just six feet away from Rabin when Amir pulled the trigger, Mr. Kedem was moving toward the premier to try to shake his hand. Instead he ended up with the clip of Amir's gun in his hand.

To him and many others, the lessons of Rabin's death have not been learned. "A lot has been swept under the carpet," Kedem says. "There is a word in Hebrew, hashkacha, to make someone forget. That's what's happening this year."

A poll in the Hebrew daily Maariv last week showed that while 42 percent of Israelis think there has been an inadequate denunciation of the murder, 50 percent feel that the country has done enough soul-searching.

And earlier this year, Israelis put elections and Arab suicide bombings above Rabin's assassination as the year's most important events.

In fact, to a few hard-line Israelis, the killing was a miracle that saved Israel from giving up land to the enemy. They have moved past the Rabin killing and are now pressuring Netanyahu to avoid Rabin's "mistakes."

But Hebrew University's Moshe Lissak, a sociologist and winner of his nation's prestigious Israel Prize, says the impact of the assassination has not yet been absorbed.

"There wasn't a serious soul-searching, and what there was went very quickly," he says. "Because of the elections it was translated into political soul-searching and political calculations ... not moral ones.

"I don't think there is any chance for a real, sincere dialogue between the two parties unless there is some sort of catastrophic event, like a war with Syria.

There is little chance for dialogue with the Orthodox Jews, he says.

"They use the same words, we both use the same Hebrew, but they have different meaning."

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