Last week we commemorated the 14th anniversary of Yitzchak Rabin’s brutal murder. You never forget where you were when you heard the news. It is a primal hurt that is likely to never go away, even when my yet-to-be born grandchildren memorialize him.
When Ben Gurion said that the State of Israel would be normal when we have thieves and prostitutes in our prisons, I am certain he did not imagine that one of our own would commit so heinous a crime, that a Jew would find it somehow justifiable to murder a Prime Minister who dared to reach out his hand in peace.
The U.S. has seen its share of atrocious murders of leaders committed in the name of a cause that contradicted the victim’s. President Abraham Lincoln was murdered by John Wilkes Booth, who opposed the political issue of the day, the abolition of slavery and extension of voting rights to African Americans by Lincoln.
Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader in the 1960s, was killed by James Earl Ray. Ray initially admitted to crime, but there have been subsequent assertions that others were responsible. Either way, generations will be left with the rightful impression that King was murdered because he stood proudly for civil and human rights, the political cause of the 1960s.
The motive for the murder of President John F. Kennedy remains a mystery, but the murder of his brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, is not. Sirhan Sirhan’s diary, produced at his trial, alludes to the motive; the murder was committed on the first anniversary of the outbreak of the Six Day War and because of Kennedy’s support for Israel, Sirhan selected it as the day for Kennedy’s murder.
Lincoln’s, Kennedy’s and King’s assassinations are not widely commemorated on the day of the murder. Lincoln’s and King’s birthday are celebrated instead, as a national holiday. While ceremonies take place at various public moments and gravesites on the day of the murders, they are not memorialized in nearly the same way we memorialize Rabin year in and year out.
Perhaps the anniversary of Rabin’s death is so venerated because it is still so fresh. But I don’t believe this kind of hurt will ever go away, it will never morph into a banal event. This horrible act was anathema to everything a Jew stands for; we can disagree, we can fight with words, and maybe come to physical blows, but we don’t shoot one another. Whatever you may think about Oslo or its outcome so many years later, we don’t kill another human being for trying to achieve a peaceful solution to a centuries old conflict.
There is only one other event in Jewish history where another Jew killed another for political differences. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, after conquering Jerusalem, killed or exiled most of its inhabitants and appointed Gedalia as governor of the land. Jews returned here, and for a while, Jews lived in relative peace until Yishamel Ben Netanya murdered Gedalia.
Gedalia, recorded in history as a righteous man, apparently understood that it was ordained that we live under Babylonian rule, and that we needed to achieve some kind of peace with our fate. Gedalia was murdered by another Jew in part because the perpetrator perceived Gedalia’s attempt to work with the Babylonians as sacrilege.
Not all that dissimilar from Yitzhak Rabin who, after years of leading the IDF, seeing too much bloodshed, attending too many funerals of our young soldiers, sought a peaceful way to end the violence that plagued us for so long. Not all that dissimilar from Lincoln or King whose guiding principles were to end injustice perpetrated against others.
Today, and for generations to come, we will remember Rabin’s murder as an undeniable low point for this country. We have genuine philosophical or political differences, and harsh rhetoric will always remains a staple of our society. Vigorous debate is acceptable but it should never cross over to incitement as it did with appalling consequences 14 years ago this week.
Whether you agree or disagree with Rabin’s approach is immaterial. Whether you think Oslo is a failure is equally irrelevant. If you witnessed the rhetoric in advance of this despicable act and turned your head, if you heard the shameful calls for his murder and ignored it, if you beheld the protests that promoted murder in the name of god and walked onward, take a moment on his memorial day, one day every year, to remember that Rabin was killed by another Jew and you will know why it will always hurt.
I am lefty. So was my late uncle and so is my son. My mother was born a lefty but was cruelly converted through torturous means to write with the right. As a girl, I had a tee shirt that said “Lefties rock –we are the only ones in our right minds.”
My husband is a righty, as is my father, my brother, and my daughter. My husband’s, son’s, brother’s and father’s handwriting is, by all objective standards, illegible. Despite the conventional wisdom, right handedness fares no better and in some cases worse than lefties.
Ambidexterity, however, means that you are equally adept in the use of both right and left hands. Apparently you can teach yourself to be ambidextrous, by practicing equally with both hands, but it is no easy task. True ambidexterity is born and not easily bred.
The word “ambidextrous” is derived from the Latin root, ambi, meaning “both,” and dexter, meaning “right” or favorable. And so to be “ambidextrous” is literally to be “right on both sides.” I would venture to guess that ambidextrous folks can see all sides of an argument and see the rightness of all positions. I don’t actually know anyone that is truly ambidextrous but I am willing to bet that they are tolerant breed.
I don’t know much about sports, but I am told that ambidexterity is a sought after commodity. In baseball, ambidextrous batters are valued because these “switch hitters” can use the side that is most advantageous against the pitcher. In American football, quarterbacks can confuse the defense by switching his throwing arm. In soccer, kicking with both feet has greater scoring potential.
It would be nice if we had more ambidextrous politicians. The terms left and right in politics are used to reflect diametrically opposed views. In its most simplified form in Israel, the left are the peacemaking doves and the right are the security-minded hawks. Rare is the politician who comes from the ambidextrous land of the middle, who recognizes the need for a durable peace, one that treats all of our citizens equally, Arabs, Jews, Druse, and Christians alike, while simultaneously appreciating the citizenry’s concern on security matters.
Then again, rare is any person who can honestly say that they see merit in all sides of an argument. Human nature is such that we favor one side over the other. By definition, voting means to chose one set of ideas over another. Our innate tendency is to take a side, to support one theory over another just as we favor our left or right side.
What if we trained ourselves to be ambidextrous, to see the ‘rightness’ of all sides, to be more tolerant? To be sure, an overwhelming task, but just as many left handed writers learn to use right handed scissors, perhaps it is achievable.
It takes a whole lot of practice to become ambidextrous, not with only our hands, but with our minds. You have to practice, regularly and constantly, to listen before you interrupt, think twice before you speak, and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Does anyone like to practice that much? Certainly not me.
Most people, like me, favor the right on some issues, the left on others, and even the center on occasion. But that does not make us more tolerant or ambidextrous in thought. It just means that on any one issue, we compartmentalize. The real trick is to favor a particular issue, either on the “left” or the “right,” but be flexible enough to be pulled to the other.
Full disclosure is needed here. Even with significant practice, I am not likely to ever be blessed with ambidexterity, either in hand or in mind, but in the latter, I would like some role models, please. And not just sportsmen.
Our Right To Exist
The Jewish New Year was ushered in with a barrage of criticism that strikes at the heart of our very existence. As the Prime Minister travels to the United Nations this week, the question is whether our enemies will ever recognize our legitimate right to exist.
Prince Turki Al-Faisel of Saudi Arabia recently accused Israel of “illegal occupation” of Gaza, which we vacated to the Palestinians three years ago.
The Goldstone report accused Israel of crimes against humanity for defending ourselves against tens of thousands of rockets that rained on our cities since our withdrawal from Gaza three years ago.
Iranian Preisdent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, long a Holocaust denier, obscenely declared that the Jewish people orchestrated its own genocide as a pretext to create the State of Israel. He encouraged Muslims to “confront the Zionist regime” so that Israel “has no future.”
Israel-bashing is not new to us a nation, or to our people.
As a people, have endured it for centuries. We were expelled from Spain in the 1400s and exterminated during pogroms in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years that ultimately culminated in the Holocaust.
As a nation, after the State of Israel declared its independence following United Nations approval of the partition plan, we were immediately attacked by Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Ever since, we average a war every decade, with brutalizing intifadas in between that solely targets civilians.
There is one fundamental thread to the recent attacks on Israel. Do the nations of the world, including our Arab brethren, recognize our right, as the State of Israel, to exist at all? For the success of any negotiations depends on the parties’ ability to recognize each other’s fundamental right to exist.
To the Palestinians I say that we have recognized your right to exist from the day that the U.N. partitioned the country in 1947. We recently proposed a two state solution for you to live side by side with us in peace. But do you recognize our right, as Jews, to live in peace in our Jewish homeland, whatever borders they may be?
And if we agree to new borders, as we did by our withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, how can you assure us that you will not seek to destroy us?
Despite recent contentions by Saudi Arabia that Israel has never presented a comprehensive peace plan, Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, would beg to differ. When he was Prime Minister in 2000, he offered a Palestinian State immediately on 73% of the West Bank, with an additional expansion to 90% over 10 years, and agreed to withdraw from 63 settlements. The offer was met not only with a refusal, but with innocent blood running through our streets when another intifada began.
In relinquishing the Gaza Strip in 2005, we extended our hand in peace again, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to democratically elect their leaders and manage their own affairs. Our extended hand was met with the election of a terrorist organization that rained rockets for years, on cities that are undisputedly within 1948 borders.
Understand how painful it was to the psyche of this country to forcibly remove Jews from their homes. It was reminiscent of a not so distant past when others forcibly moved us into ghettos. But after a vigorous and democratic debate, where many in our country disagreed, our leaders nevertheless disengaged from the Gaza Strip.
The democratic spirit did not reign there. Instead, Hamas, an admitted and unabashed terror organization, was elected and it continues to flourish there, with intent to destroy Israel. Saudi Arabia claims that Hamas has an outdated charter. Show us one that recognizes the rights of Jews to exist.
As President Obama said in July 2008, he too would not sit idly by if his daughters were threatened by daily rocket fire. Unable to endure the horrifying attacks by Hamas for over three terrorizing years, we commenced Operation Cast Lead in January 2009.
Our main objective was to create greater security in southern Israel, including the cessation of rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip. We warned the civilian populace through the air distribution of hundreds of thousands of flyers, tens of thousands of telephone calls to Palestinian civilians, and radio broadcasts warning them prior to air strikes. We were rewarded with continued rocket attacks that emanated from civilian locales – mosques, schools and hospitals.
Every soldier knows that war is hell. Operation Cast Lead was no different. Devastating mistakes happen. Even before issuance of the Goldstone report, we commenced investigation into allegations of abuse by the military. More than 100 complaints are under investigation by the Judge Advocate General, with 24 submitted for criminal prosecution. How many inquests has Hamas undertaken?
We will not tolerate a claim that we were not entitled to protect our citizens, nor should any democratic society. Where was the U.N. Human Rights Council for the last 3years, while our country was pounded with rocket fire?
Six decades of war and suffering, by all that live here, including our peaceful Arab brethren who are full fledged members of our democracy. We can spend countless hours discussing our tortured history to justify our right to exist. But will it matter?
We recognize the Palestinian right to exist and their painful struggle to secure their homeland. We want nothing more than to live in peace and we are prepared to negotiate a peaceful solution that protects our citizenry from another six decades of war.
But in order to start negotiations, to sit at the same table with us, can we simply hear that you recognize Israel’s right to exist?
In the New York Times this week, Richard Cohen claimed that Israel lives in a perpetual state of exceptionalism. Apparently, Israel does not see itself as ‘normal’ and that the ‘never again’ mantra (which he admits is necessary) is an inadequate way of dealing with the modern world. In other words, the Holocaust occurred 65 years ago, get over it.
Yes, the Prime Minister spent a good deal of his U.N. time lecturing an apathetic audience about the horrors of the Holocaust. But understand that the ‘never again’ theme does not only apply to last century’s evil perpetuated against Jews. It is about centuries worth of persecution, of pogroms, of discrimination, of being perceived as a persistent thorn in the side of society. While born from the ashes of the most recent atrocities against us, Israel stands now as a permanent safe haven for Jews. It was not so long ago that Ethiopians, Russians, and even the French came to Israel to escape the discrimination and persecution.
Israel has not asked for, nor should it be granted the status of “exceptionalism” simply because our statehood came after our systematic annihilation in plain sight of the civilized world. No, we are not exceptional for that reason alone. We are exceptional because the cards have been stacked against us for so long, yet we have survived and thrived.
We are exceptional because, despite all of the wars and terrorism that plague us, we have seen steady economic growth since our birth.
We are exceptional because we open our doors wide to all Jews who seek to come here, even though we don’t have enough jobs, enough land, or enough water for those that live here already.
And we are exceptional because we don’t give up easily. Unfortunately, this means that we are constantly in battle mode. I don’t simply mean that we are always on terror alert, although we are. I mean that we are in battle mode every single day over nonsense. Just ask any Israeli how much they fight with their bank.
The most mundane disagreements escalate fast around these parts. Maybe its the heat, but I think it is because we are genetically wired to constantly prove ourselves, our worth, our right to exist as a people, let alone as a country. Constantly having to prove yourself is very tiring indeed and that we are still ‘here’ is also exceptional.
We’d be quite satisfied with less ‘exceptional’ and more ‘normal.’ Normal means we can plan for university when a child is in high school rather than praying that our boy-soldiers come home alive. Normal means that we can stop thinking about the fact that our daughter’s bus line blew up not once, but twice, just around the corner. Normal means that you can actually try to plan past tomorrow. No one here does that because you can’t plan tomorrow when you are still fighting today.
Israel would like nothing more than to wake up one day and find itself an ordinary nation, at peace internally and externally, with the Palestinians and with the Arab world. We dream of an ordinary and mundane Holy Land, with less bickering and more tranquility that befits a country that is holy to three major religions. That day won’t come easily, or without sacrifice, but the fact that we continue to yearn for it is exceptional too.