What the Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin Can Teach Us the Day After the Election

by Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson

Tomorrow morning we will awaken to the aftermath of one of the most significant elections in American history. And the coming days and weeks may find our country divided against itself, with many on edge fearing maneuvers to undermine the vote, angry demonstrations, and violence in our streets.

Wednesday also marks on the secular calendar the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Israel’s two-time Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Can Rabin’s legacy – his heroic life and tragic death – guide us at this moment of instability here at home?

Last week in memorializing the late Prime Minister, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin reflected on Israel’s own political trajectory. But he might as well have been speaking to us:

I find myself wondering today about the soul of this country that Yitzhak loved so much. About the soul of its people, the soul of Israeli democracy which is robust but which we cannot take for granted….I fear that the flames within us are a danger to our home, to us all….The country is divided like the Red Sea between two camps and hatred bubbles up beneath our feet….We have a duty to repair the rupture…to teach ourselves that lesson again and again, until we internalize it…that we have no other country that we all love and that we have no other state, that we are its sons and daughters.

Rabin understood. A military man who fought bravely for his nation since before its founding and wielded an “iron fist” as Israel’s Minister of Defense, he would come to ground his second term as Prime Minister in the faith that bitter enemies could learn to make peace. He believed this not just of Israelis and Palestinians, but also of Israelis of opposing points of view. In the latter, his country failed him. Rabin’s death at the hands of a religious nationalist admonishes us against the perils of nativist rhetoric supercharged by divisive politics.

But so do terrifying plots to kidnap American governors. We must not permit lawlessness to overrun our political process, or venom and vitriol to define our social discourse. The long unfinished journey toward the fulfillment of Rabin’s vision demonstrates that hate and distrust are difficult to vanquish once they have taken hold of a society.

The most difficult, most important days of this election begin on Wednesday. Whatever its outcome – and whether we know that outcome or not – we have a duty to repair the rupture, to restore civility to public life and heal the chasms that divide our country, lest the damage take generations to undo.