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Yuval Rabin Warns of Hateful Rhetoric as Divisions Grow in Israel Over Peace Process

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May - June 2005

Ten years ago this fall, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin fell to an assassin’s bullet, A similar tragedy could be brewing now, his son, Yuval warned in May.  

Washington Jewish Week (May 12, 2005) reports that, “Yuval Rabin, who now makes his home in the Washington area, used a press briefing called by the New Israel Fund ... to caution that incendiary rhetoric like that against his father in the year before his death now threatens Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon. ‘As much as I don’t like assuming the role of the prophet — I think there are enough warning signs from individuals who are respectable and knowledgeable,’ said Rabin, citing similar alerts from former Internal Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi. ‘We cannot afford to be complacent about the potential risks.’ These include, he said, ‘desperate acts that could derail the peace process and ignite the Middle East.’”  

A ranking Knesset member has called for mass civil disobedience to prevent a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Aryeh Eldad of the right-wing National Union party, issued his call at an anti-disengagement rally held in the Gush Katif settlement on April 27. “I’m waiting for the civil servants of Israel to declare that they’re no longer willing to serve as screws in this demolition machine,” Eldad, chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee, told the estimated 50,000 protestors. “I’m calling for a civilian rebellion.”  

The Forward (May 5,2005) reports: “The declaration prompted a storm of condemnation, Labor Party Cabinet minister Matan Vilnai called for Eldad to be indicted, and opposition leader Yosef Lapid of Shinui said that the rightist leader would ‘be responsible if Jewish blood is spilled.’ Even the firmly anti-disengagement speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin of Likud, said that Eldad had ‘crossed the line.’ ... Two former Israeli chief rabbis, Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu, have called repeatedly for soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate settlements. The two are regarded as the senior spiritual mentors of the religious Zionist camp in Israel’s equivalent of Modern Orthodoxy. Most Modern Orthodox rabbis are believed to agree with them. Dozens of yeshiva deans and settlement rabbis have signed calls for soldiers to disobey. Only a handful has spoken out publicly against disobeying orders.”  

Israel is sharply divided with Tel Aviv and Jerusalem representing different visions of the nation’s future, according to Leon Hadar, former New York correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, and an author of Quagmire: America in The Middle East.  

Writing in Chronicles (May 2005), Hadar portrays Tel Aviv this way: “In Tel Aviv, the Oslo peace process gave rise to dreams of a new Arab-Israeli golden age. Young Israeli entrepreneurs were quick to devise schemes for potential business ventures with colleagues from Beirut and Amman. Tel Aviv’s elites imagined Israel integrated in an E.U.-like New Middle East ... There were plans to draw up a constitution that would separate synagogue and state and provide full civil rights to Arab citizens of Israel. The main focus at that time was on devising ways to bring about independence for the Palestinians that would involve the withdrawal of the Israeli military from the West Bank, the dismantlement of most Jewish settlements there, and the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state. A decade later, despite the destruction and death brought about by the continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada, the spirit of Tel Aviv continues to be pragmatic and reformist ... It still wants Israel to become modern, to cut the messianic roots of Zionism and turn into a ‘normal’ nation state.”  

When it comes to the mindset of Jerusalem, Hadar provides this assessment: “It is a vision that seeks Greater Israel, a Jewish mini-empire stretching from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan River. It is also to be an exclusivist Jewish state where the Arabs, who could become a majority in a few years, would have a place only as second-class citizens — or as non-citizens, for that matter. Jerusalem’s vision is that of a xenophobic and armed Jewish ghetto eternally fighting for its survival. Its symbol would not be the Americanized web designers and investment bankers of Tel Aviv but the Uzi-carrying and yarmulke-wearing religious zealots who lead the drive for new settlements. ... It was the spirit of Jerusalem that drove an Orthodox Jew, Yiga’al Amir, to murder Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, heralding the collapse of the l990s peace process.”  

Hadar concludes that, “It is not too late for the Israelis to figure out a path toward normalcy in the Middle East. It may not be ‘new,’ as some of them had hoped, but it is the region where they have to survive and coexist with the Palestinians and their other neighbors in the next generations as an independent nation-state, not as a crusader state whose fate could be determined by the decisions of a foreign and distant power.”  

She’ar Yashuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa, discussing the disengagement from Gaza, declared: “Apparently the state is no longer ‘the beginning of our redemption.’ This is just an ordinary state. Once we thought otherwise about the state, but apparently that was a mistake.”  

Gershom Gorenberg, writing in The Jerusalem Report (May 2, 2005) notes that, “The reasoning is that if the state is giving up part of the Land of Israel, it is not contributing to final redemption. Redemption seems to have been called off ... In the end ... getting over messianism is getting over group mania. For Judaism, as for the state of Israel, this summer’s disengagement is only a first step: To return to themselves, both need to leave the rest of salvationland. After the initial shock, there’s hope that most religious Jews will be able to see an ordinary state as something worth thanking God for, as one would for a new house. In ordinary history, there’s a better chance of measuring how Jewish the state is by how it helps its poor, how it treats its sick, rather than what land it holds. It’s worth getting through withdrawal symptoms for that.”  

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