Magazine article The Christian Century

Division Remain after Rabin's Assassination

Magazine article The Christian Century

Division Remain after Rabin's Assassination

Article excerpt

The shock of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination has, at least momentarily, drawn together American Jews normally divided by theology and politics. "It was like a death in the family," said Rabbi Barry Weinstein of Temple B'nai Israel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "When that happens, people forget their differences to grieve." Nevertheless, Rabin's assassination has provided stark evidence of the depth to which the Middle East peace process has divided Jews in Israel and, to a lesser but still significant degree, in the U.S.

Over the past two years, the rhetoric emanating from New York, the center of American Jewish life and the home of nearly every influential Jewish organization, took on an increasingly extremist tone. Much of it pitted hawkish Orthodox spokespersons against politically liberal non-orthodox leaders who supported Rabin's willingness to trade land for peace.

The rhetoric reached its peak last spring, when Orthodox Rabbi Abraham Hecht of Brooklyn said that Rabin's assassination would be acceptable under Jewish law because his plan to withdraw Israeli forces from the occupied territories put the lives of Jewish settlers in danger. Shortly before Rabin's death, Hecht, who is president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, wrote a letter to the prime minister apologizing for his statement.

Nonetheless, the torrent of angry comments that Hecht's remark elicited from both sides so shook the community that 50 leading groups from across the Jewish theological and political spectrum issued an unprecedented statement in July in which they pledged to moderate their language. That desire for unity was evident in the immediate aftermath of Rabin's murder.

Jewish leaders say the differences are still so great that sooner or later they are sure to resurface. For American Jews, they add, the test of the community's ability to transcend Rabin's death will be whether the harsh rhetoric of the past is replaced by reasoned debate over the peace process. "There will be lots of remorse in the coming days," Israel's ambassador to the U. S., Itamar Rabinovitch, said on CNN's Larry King Live. "The question is, will it last or will the rhetoric heat up again?"

In Israel, Rabin's widow, Leah, blamed her husband's death on opposition politicians who, she maintained, did little to quell the incendiary rhetoric of their most radical supporters. Their failure, she said, helped create the mind-set that allowed the confessed killer, a 25-year-old student with ties to the extreme right that opposes the peace process, to justify his action. …

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