To the Editor:
Re "As Gaza Pullout Vote Nears, Tension Among Israelis Rises" (news article, Oct. 21):
The dirty little secret of Israel's settler movement is that it is filled with people who elevate the immutability of their religious convictions above the well-being of the state.
For many settlers, as long as Israeli policy furthers their own religious convictions, they will present themselves as loyal citizens of the state. But if the policy deviates from their religious truth, they will turn on Israeli democracy with a vengeance.
Rabbinic rulings compelling soldiers to disobey orders and the increasing threats against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are daggers aimed at the heart of Israeli democracy.
After Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, we in the American Jewish community swore never again to keep silent in the face of Jewish religious fanaticism. Now is the time for us to proclaim loudly, clearly and with one voice that while democratic dissent is legitimate, we will not tolerate the hijacking of our faith or the destruction of Israel's democracy. [emphasis added]
New York, Oct. 21, 2004
Also, an interesting column by M.J. Rosenberg in last week's IPF (Israel Policy Forum) Friday newsletter, courtesy of Debbie Elkin (link at end is to the Rosenberg column):
Next month marks the ninth anniversary of the worst single moment in Israel's history: the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. With hindsight -- although many recognized it at the time – it is clear that the Rabin murder achieved the goal of its perpetrator.
The assassin, and those who encouraged him, wanted to end the Oslo process. They understood that Rabin was uniquely equipped to achieve the exchange of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for security and peace. They believed that unless he was stopped, the old warrior would take Israel out of the territories, a Palestinian state would arise there, and Israel’s isolation (an isolation the extremists welcome) would be over.
So they murdered him and, within a very short time, the peace process was in tatters while Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza and over the lives of nearly four million Palestinians was stronger than ever. Mission accomplished.
This pattern -- an assassin eliminates his target and thereby alters fundamental policies – is not common. President Kennedy’s murder traumatized America (perhaps permanently) but the policies he pursued were implemented by his successor, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ never missed an opportunity to say “let us continue” or to invoke his martyred predecessor as a means of building support for their shared policies.
Unlike Rabin’s, Kennedy’s murder was not political. He was, most likely, murdered by a single unbalanced individual whose agenda, if he had one, remains unknown. He was probably not trying to thwart Kennedy’s programs and the assassination had no such effect. In fact, it had the opposite effect.
It was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination that foreshadowed Rabin’s. He was murdered by Islamic extremists who opposed peace with Israel. They hoped that Sadat’s successor, Vice President Hosni Mubarak, would repudiate the peace treaty and Sadat’s legacy. They were wrong. Twenty-two years have passed and Sadat’s policy is firmly in place.
There is a certain irony here. Until Rabin’s assassination, and the ensuing collapse of the peace process, a staple of the pro-Israel argument was that Israel had to be very cautious about signing treaties with undemocratic Arab nations like Egypt. After all, it was argued, a single bullet could eliminate Sadat and leave Israel in a situation where it relinquished territory only to have some radical new leader repudiate the treaty and revert to the war policies of the past. It was only in a democracy like Israel that continuity between governments was guaranteed.
It didn’t turn out that way. Egypt’s policies were unchanged by an assassination while Israel’s were up-ended.
The lesson is that in Israel assassination can achieve what politics can not.
So it is no surprise that so many people in Israel are worried that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might be assassinated to stop the withdrawal from Gaza. Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor opposition, said this week that the atmosphere in Israel today resembles the period just prior to Rabin’s murder. “I am very fearful of the incitement, from the grave things that are being heard," he said. "I hope the defense establishment…. is keeping a close eye on Sharon."
There is no doubt that it is, especially in the days leading up to Tuesday’s Knesset vote on the Gaza withdrawal.
But Sharon will be in danger right up to the moment that the last settler has left Gaza because the Rabin precedent demonstrates that eliminating just one man can eliminate the policy.
The writer is senior rabbi, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.