Never Again – A Reflection on Rabin’s Legacy

November 16, 2019

By Jacob L. Witlin

Never Again. As a Jew, these are two simple words that when used together weigh heavy and denote significance. NEVER…AGAIN…. Separately, these are two words that appear to contradict one another. With the word never being defined as at no time in the past or future and the word again defined as another time or once more. Never Again! As a statement these words are used for emphasis. To stress that something will not happen again. Never Again! Two words which should resonate and compel us to ensure that the rise of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust should never happen again. But, as a Jew today, why is there this sense of déjà vu? What can we do to recognize and combat the alarming rise in anti-Semitism and unprovoked attacks on Israel?

As Jewish people, we need to educate ourselves on the politics and environment of the time that led to the Holocaust and make certain that we recognize when similar political environments are on the rise again. As a people we cannot become complicit and we should not deny the fact that anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts are escalating and negative feelings towards Jews and more specifically towards Israel are presently demonstrated worldwide. Jews need to recognize that anti-Israel sentiment is the new anti-Semitism and as a people, we need to become more unified against this fact. We need to unite over topics like Israel and the BDS movement rather than to let the politics divide us further. I do believe that the dogmas and social philosophy that allowed for the rise of Nazism still exist today. So how do we counter an ideology of hate when it is sanctioned by a State?

To do this, we need only look back in history to find Jewish leaders like Yitzhak Rabin who, in a speech given at the White House in 1994, called himself “a soldier in the army of peace” (1). Rabin, the first native born Israeli Prime Minister, possessed the ability to grow and learn from the events that he experienced throughout his life. He was a leader whose goals remained unchanged, but whose leadership style adapted and evolved to meet the challenges of the times he found himself in due to political uncertainty and military conflict as Israel struggled to become a recognized nation. An example of Rabin’s inspiration can be found in a 2014 quote by Israeli President Rivlin to the Times of Israel, “For me, Rabin’s legacy is not the legacy of war and peace. It is a legacy of his leadership. He was a leader who did not just walk at the head of the camp, but rather within its midst, motivated by a concern not just for our security, but for our existence as a society, more just and more equal” (2).

Yitzhak Rabin’s experiences as a soldier in the Pamlach, Chief of Staff of the IDF, Ambassador to the USA, Defense Minister and ultimately Prime Minister gave him the ability to try to do what he thought best for Israel which was peace with the surrounding Arab nations. Ultimately, he was able to achieve diplomatic peace, which he knew was not yet real peace and attempted to use diplomacy to help prevent war and terrorism from harming both his own people as well as his enemy’s peoples. Israel needs the world to view it as a sovereign nation always striving for and working towards peace, but with the ultimate right to defend itself when necessary.

Yitzhak Rabin was a leader who was brave enough to attempt peace with the Palestinians (something some believe to be unattainable today) at both great political and personal risk to himself and to the country he had once fought for. Rabin was willing to take a chance for peace and he believed in doing everything possible to reach this peace as long as Israel was not put at risk of endangering its security. In his last address to the world at a Peace Rally held November 4, 1995, Rabin stated, “Peace exists first and foremost in our prayers, but not only in prayers. Peace is what the Jewish people aspire to, a true aspiration. Peace entails difficulties, even pain. Israel knows no path devoid of pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I want this government to exert every effort, exhaust every opportunity, to promote and to reach a comprehensive peace…the people of Israel want peace, support peace, and for that I thank you very much” (3). Shortly after stating these words, Rabin was assassinated by a religious extremist.

Rabin’s legacy is quite complex and still open to much debate. But, it is a legacy that attempted to look for real results and to make Israel a part of the global solution towards peace and reconciliation rather than to isolate itself. Unfortunately, the more recent prejudice and impartiality that has continued to be shown towards Israel on the world stage has perpetuated the hate and bias that always existed just below the surface and continues to be presented towards Israel and the Jews today.

In words spoken by then President Bill Clinton in his eulogy to Yitzhak Rabin one sees a challenge to this anti-Semitism that continues to plague us today, “Israel’s covenant with God for freedom, for tolerance, for security, for peace- that covenant must hold. That covenant was Prime Minister Rabin’s life work. Now we must make it his lasting legacy. His spirit must live on in us” (4). Rabin’s actions should inspire us to continue his legacy twenty-four years after his death and to continue to strive for a global recognition towards peace efforts.

NEVER. AGAIN. Two words that must carry depth and meaning to all who hear them. Two words that should forever encourage all people, of all countries and all religious and ethnic backgrounds to learn from history and never allow the atrocities of the past to ever happen again. Never anywhere ever again against anyone.

Jacob L. Witlin is currently a freshman at the University of Maryland. He previously participated in the Maimonides Scholars Program during the summer of 2018. Jacob was selected as a winner of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement’s Natan Sharansky Advocacy Award for his essay, “Never Again” about the legacy of Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak.

(1) Speech. White House Lawn. Washington, D.C., Oct. 26, 1994
(2) The Times of Israel. Nov 4, 2014
(3) Speech. Peace Rally. Kings of Israel Square. Tel Aviv, Nov. 4, 1995
(4) Eulogy. Mt Herzl, Jerusalem, Nov. 6, 1995