Asserting that “Israeli society is in danger now,” Leah Rabin this week announced a hoped-for national antidote — the establishment of a $40 million center in Tel Aviv in her late husband’s memory, dedicated to furthering peace, tolerance and democratic values.
Joined by her daughter, Dalia Rabin-Philosof, and granddaughter Noa Philosof, at a briefing at the Regency Hotel here, Rabin unveiled architect Moshe Safdie’s ambitious plan for the Yitzchak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, a 100,000-square-foot facility to be built in north Tel Aviv and set to open in November 2001. It will serve as an educational resource center, archive, museum and research institute, and was described by Safdie as “part presidential library and part Lincoln Memorial.”
During an exclusive interview with The Jewish Week in their hotel suite, the three generations of Rabin women talked about Yitzchak Rabin’s legacy, which elements of his personality are necessary to heal Israel’s social rifts, and the need for a center that can bring a wide spectrum of Israelis together for serious dialogue.
They said there was no conflict between Rabin the military leader and Rabin the statesman because his goal always was peace, and as Noa explained, “my grandfather believed that you can only have peace with a strong army.”
The three women spoke of Rabin as an ideal leader, a man who was selfless in his concern for his people and who took responsibility for all of his actions. They said that people trusted him because he was “credible, reliable and accountable,” and because his military background instilled confidence that he would not jeopardize security in advancing the peace process. No one on the current political scene has such trust, the women said.
“What is needed today is brave leadership,” said Noa, who turns 22 this weekend. “This is what is missing most since the assassination. This is what young people are looking for.” She noted that the new center will include a program to train future military leaders in tolerance and democracy.
Her mother, Dalia, who is running for a Knesset seat on the new centrist party ticket rather than Labor, the party her father led, said the center will be “a leading force for open, tolerant dialogue. This is the key to our existence,” she added, “but I don’t see it now. There is no such force now that can bridge the gaps that my father was the victim of — of hatred.”
It was Leah Rabin who did most of the talking, though, and who seems the most openly bitter over her husband’s assassination. She described his 31/2-year tenure as prime minister as “Israel’s Golden Age,” which was “abruptly interrupted, and from then on we’ve seen very little of steps to peace.”
She did not make any specific reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom she holds responsible for contributing to the hostile political climate leading to her husband’s murder. But she was sharply critical of the huge haredi, or rigidly Orthodox, prayer rally against the Supreme Court several weeks ago. She said that the religious group’s “courage to take on” Israel’s highest court “signals a serious danger.
“It calls for mobilizing all the forces in Israeli society that realize the danger here, and who support democracy and tolerance” and the rule of law. She also called on non-Orthodox Jews in America to “be a loud majority and not a silent majority” in protesting Israel’s Orthodox monopoly of religious authority.
“It’s not right when the majority is silent,” she asserted. “That’s how my husband was murdered.”
But Noa was quick to add that she and her mother and grandmother were not denigrating or excluding Orthodox Jews. She said the criteria for acceptance under the center’s umbrella of dialogue was recognition of the authority of law and an acceptance of tolerance and democracy. The center would be intolerant of intolerance, she said.
Dr. Irit Keynan, executive director of the center, which has been operating out of temporary quarters since it was founded two years ago, noted that the institution has included those with critical points of view at its symposia. A recent program included rabbis from West Bank settlements discussing religious authority, and a monthly meeting of young post-Ph.D. scholars featured “a bitter debate” on the Rabin assassination.
One of the speakers posited that “there is more than one narrative” to the assassination, she said, adding that “this was very difficult and painful for some of us to hear. It was a heated discussion, but no one lost their temper.”
She acknowledged, though, that balancing historical objectivity and sentiment for the slain prime minister presents a difficult challenge for all of the professionals involved with the museum and research center.
“Personally,” said granddaughter Noa, “I know that whoever signs the final peace agreement, it will have my grandfather’s name, since it will be because of him for all time.”