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Schusterman reflects on 20th aniv. of Rabin assassination

The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies held a discussion and panel reflecting on the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin this Wednesday, Nov. 4, the 20th anniversary of the assassination itself. Rabin was killed on Nov. 5, 1995. Before being killed by Israeli right-wing extremist Yigal Amir, Rabin focused his tenure on making peace with the Palestinian leadership.

This culminated in the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, for which Rabin, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Rabin also served in the Israeli Defense Forces for 27 years and was instrumental in assuring Israeli victory during the Six-Day War in 1967. Since his assassination, Rabin has become a symbol of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, was violently opposed to the Oslo Accords.

Standing in the atrium of the Mandel Center for the Humanities, Schusterman Chair David Ellenson addressed a crowd made mostly up of older community members and guests, with some students also in attendance. “Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Rabin’s assassination is a day seared into history,” Ellenson said. He then read an excerpt from Rabin’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and introduced the event’s three speakers.

First, visiting Schusterman Professor Uri Bialer (NEJS) spoke on Rabin in a military and historical context. “I was ten meters away when Rabin died,” Bialer began, drawing gasps from the crowd. “We were there to see him speak because we believed in his peace, and but I most remember everyone diving to the ground when we heard the shots.”

For the majority of his speech, Bialer focused on Rabin’s career as a general, which Bialer considered unique. “[Rabin’s dedication to peace] was not a gimmick,” Bialer said. “Despite his army ties and record, Rabin was not a warmonger.” It was this dedication, and Rabin’s patriotism, that made Rabin effective as a general and a peacemaker. “The tragedy of Yitzhak Rabin was that he prepared the Israeli army for war, but could not touch war,” Bialer concluded. “Rabin was a builder.”

The second speaker was Professor Gannit Ankori (FA), chair in Israeli Art in Brandeis’ fine arts department. Ankori called Rabin “a martyr” and “a fallen soldier in the war for peace,” before presenting on artistic reactions to the assassination. Ankori showed a PowerPoint presentation featuring paintings and sculptures, pointing out how most of the artwork featured motifs of blood and bullet holes. Many of the works were abstract, expressing what Ankori called “the assassination of the peace process,” and the collective grief in Israel. Ankori ended on a sad note, remarking lament at the current political climate in Israel. “We are far from the legacy of Rabin,” she said.

Finally, Brandeis associate professor Yehuda Mirsky (NEJS) spoke on the power Rabin’s death had to bring about change. “The death of Yitzhak Rabin changed my life,” Mirsky said. He told the audience of his religious Zionist upbringing and how Rabin’s peace work helped make his own outlook more open. Mirsky discussed the political climate of Israel leading up to and after the assassination as “rigid.” “If meaningful self-criticism is equated with the intent to destroy you, there won’t be much meaningful self-criticism,” Mirsky said. Following the individual speakers, there was a short question-and-answer session during which the speakers clarified certain points and encouraged the audience to continue to reflect on Rabin’s death.

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