The American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Israel will hold a fundraising dinner at the Plaza Hotel here on Sept. 12, honoring New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trades Council. Dalia Rabin, the daughter of the slain Israeli prime minister and a former Knesset member who helped create the center, will speak at the event, as will Chelsea Clinton, who will introduce her. The Jewish Week spoke with Rabin prior to her arrival in New York.
Q: What is the purpose of the Yitzhak Rabin Center?
A: It is the official, government-supported institute that commemorates Yitzhak Rabin. It focuses on trying to bring as many young people, students and solders as possible to the museum. By looking at the history of the State of Israel and Israeli society and my father’s biography, which intertwine, they learn about the importance of keeping Israel democratic.
How does the center differ from other institutes?
Once visiting groups have toured the exhibition they participate in a workshop on tolerance and dialogue — the museum’s two biggest messages. We emphasize that the best way to solve any conflict, from the smallest to the biggest, whether in everyday life or in the political sphere, is through dialogue. These are the only ways to eliminate violence, and it was my father’s vision.
Using my father’s leadership as a model, the center tries to convince young people to follow his lead.
Do those who opposed your father’s belief in territorial compromise visit the center?
The center is a national, nonpartisan institute that reaches out to everyone, but there are parts of Israeli society that don’t want to cope with the assassination, and some attach a stigma to the center. It’s difficult for them to ask the questions and deal with the answers. But we try to bring as many soldiers as possible to the museum, and via the army units that visit we’ve succeeded in reaching people who might not otherwise come.
When we bring groups here, we try to encourage them to think and ask questions, even if they don’t necessarily have the answers. But we do want them to consider how to enhance Israeli society.
How do you measure success?
When you deal with education you have to realize that this is long-term work and that you won’t see feedback right away. I cannot honestly say today that I see the message of democracy and tolerance overflowing in Israeli society. Still, we don’t give up because we know we’re doing the right thing and teaching the right values. I see the center’s impact from the reactions of the people who visit.
Does the center have programs for diaspora youth?
We have special workshops, in the visitors’ own language, and we’ve had Birthright young people from groups, but unfortunately no more than 100 a year, and many are from Russia. The center isn’t on the itinerary of visits for American youth, and I hope that will change.
What can American teens learn from a visit to the center?
When my father served as Israel’s ambassador to Washington he grew to understand the role of American Jewry and what should be the relationship between American Jews and Israelis. It wasn’t about asking them to make aliyah, though that is a respectable goal, and not just asking to give us money. His paradigm changed to one of partnership.
Within this context, I think the center is a very good introduction and provides an overall picture of Israeli history and society and explains what we’ve been through and how we arrived at where we are now .
Why is the center honoring an American labor leader?
My father was a labor leader and came from a family very much into labor values. I think he was the last prime minister who really believed in social democratic values and implemented them in legislation.
How do you think your father would handle the Iranian threat?
It’s a difficult question to answer. I wouldn’t tell you that my father would never attack Iran. It would depend on the situation. But I don’t believe he would do it without American support and backing.