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In the immediate aftermath of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin's assassination, many Jews have expressed their shock and disbelief at the fact that the murder was carried out by one Jew operating against another Jew. This expression of shock does not only overshadow the human aspect of the tragedy but also ignores the fact that the problem is not primarily the Jewishness of the perpetrator, but that Rabin was murdered by a fellow Israeli, a fellow citizen, a voting member of the Israeli democracy.
In a recent Crimson editorial titled "Reflecting on a Hero's Death" (Nov. 6, 1995), Samuel J. Rascoff does more than just that. Rascoff questions what are "the distinctive ideals the Jewish state when Jews prove themselves as capable of gruesome violence as any other nation[.]" Rascoff proceeds to argue that "if the distance between the extreme right and left is so great that murder is within the pale of the possible... why should there be a Jewish state?" For Rascoff, the assassination of Rabin by an Israeli Jewish citizen puts into question the very legitimacy of the state of Israel.
Rascoff seems to have placed himself in the distinguished company of the remaining few who stil entertain the misplaced notion that Israel is yet to justify its existence. I do hate to break the news, but Israel is not perfect, it never has been and it never will be. But unless I am gravely mistaken, good manners and perfect unity were not mentioned by Woodrow Wilson in 1918 as a prerequisite for independent nationhood. I have yet to be informed of a universal association of national standardization which ensures that imperfect countries are closed down and sold to the highest bidder.
Rascoff offers yet another creative solution to Israel's domestic problems. According to Rascoff, "it is a standard line in Jewish history that a little anti-Semitism has always been good for the Jews." Rascoff admits that "while that logic seems bizarre and contorted, it is hard to imagine this assassination having taken place while Israel was engaged in international conflict." Voila, a brilliant solution to Israel's domestic problem: reviving anti-Semitism! (But only a little of it, since we all know that too much anti-Semitism is bad).
I must confess to being quite ignorant of Rascoff's reading of Jewish history. I seem unable to recall any of my history teachers in Israel proposing such a positive reading of anti-Semitism. Luckily, Israelis deny the kind of perverse logic that Rascoff offers. Most Israelis possess a healthy sense of their own identity and a firm enough grasp of the complexities of Israeli reality to avoid premature declarations of failure whenever the image they see in the mirror is not the loveliest of them all.
The solution to the deep rift in Israeli society lies not with the revival of external threats but rather in a firm and positive re-assertion of the democratic values on which Israel is based. Jewishness per se is not enough to guarantee the civic health of Israel. Israeli civic society must rest on shared common values such as the agreement to disagree within acceptable boundaries. Governments and their policies are replaced through elections and not by murder or divine decree.
Israel is a strong democracy, but it must become even stronger. Israeli citizens on the left and on the right, Jews and Arabs, religious and free-thinking must oppose any form of violent rhetoric which has pervaded recent public discourse. The line between words and action is often a fine one, and Israelis must assume responsibility for their words as well as for their actions. Israelis must not stand by when their head of state is condemned as a traitor and a Nazi Israelis must exhibit toleration towards difference of opinion but firm intolerance of rhetoric and action which fall outside the limits of civil discourse.
As a native-born Israeli, I know that the Zionist project is far from complete. Previous generations have bequeathed us a strong and secure state. It is up to our generation to determine its character. The effort of elaborating and establishing Israel's character and essential values is difficult and complex, but it may yet prove the most important effort of all. It is up to us to give a strong and resounding liberal-democratic answer to the question. "What kind of country do we want to live in?" --Einat Wilf '96
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