All Jews share responsibility for Rabin’s death

I helped kill Yitzhak Rabin.

Not only Yigal Amir or the movements that helped motivate him played a role. Not only the rabbis who called on Israeli soldiers to disobey orders, and not just those who ruled it a halachic imperative to kill Rabin.

Not only the Likud opposition, which neglected to renounce its support for extremist anti-peace activists. Not only the Israeli expatriates who physically attacked Israeli officials overseas, nor the American activists who applauded such violence. Not only the leading rabbis who carried the flag of American Jewry to Jerusalem and proclaimed that Rabin was violating God’s laws — and not the nominal leaders who failed to restrain them.

No. We all share responsibility.

When Baruch Goldstein coolly massacred Muslim worshipers in Hebron last year, Jewish leaders — religious and secular alike — hastened to condemn the crime and to dissociate it from the tenets of Judaism.

It was wrong to pretend Goldstein’s actions had no connection to Judaism. Goldstein was Jewish, Orthodox, Zionist and, finally, was posthumously venerated by thousands of Jewish admirers. Such abdication of leadership and communal responsibility helped encourage and foster an environment in which violence became a legitimate alternative to democratic institutions, with a Jew’s seething hatred cloaked in religious trappings.

We were wrong to assume that “real” Jews could not act like Goldstein, and derelict to think we shared no responsibility. We conveniently presumed the Jewish extremists were less dangerous than their Palestinian counterparts — an increasingly tenuous prospect.

We continued dodging our responsibilities by not countering vocally enough those who contested the legitimacy of Israel’s democratically elected leaders to make peace. Religious leaders had a duty, not only to refrain from polarizing the democratic political debate along messianic lines, but also to censure those who did.

To be silent in such times was tantamount to approving the demonization of Israel’s heroes and the other champions of peaceful coexistence.

While each individual Jew need not support specific Israeli policies, it is nevertheless incumbent upon us to vigorously defend Israeli leaders’ right to implement those policies. And those of us who do support the dramatic quest for strategic peace in the Middle East — whether as rabbis or as ordinary Jews — must resolve to restate unceasingly our sentiments, and to firmly justify them.

The test of leadership is not to shirk but to accept responsibility for ourselves and our followers, not to shrink but to answer each offensive word and deed we encounter.

Although intensifying my personal efforts would have made little impact, encouragement all the way up the Jewish ranks might have altered the current atmosphere from one of ambivalence and suspicion to one of tolerance and hope.

Maybe I could have pursued further my proposal to organize a massive peace march on Washington. Such a march would dispel the perception that American Jews were not interested in realizing peace — peace on Israel’s terms rather than our own. Perhaps I could have mobilized those friends who supported the peace process; perhaps I could have convinced those who were skeptical or at least, perhaps, I could have elicited support for the idea that Israel’s democratic process must be preserved regardless of political differences.

In the desert, Moses proceeded to challenge two key backers of Korach’s rebellion against his right to lead the Children of Israel.

“Moses arose and went unto Dotan and Aviram,” the Bible tells us. “And all the elders of Israel followed after him.”

They followed him rather than joined him. These 70 elders, leaders of Israel, were only too happy to help Moses confront his challengers — as long as Moses went first.

Did our elders even follow Rabin as he defended his legitimacy? He was not only the Labor Party leader, he was the prime minister of Israel. He was a fellow Jew.

For my entire 30 years, Yitzhak Rabin has been the most prominent Israeli leader — as chief of staff, ambassador to Washington and prime minister.

He ensured Israel’s future both in war and peace. When I think of the state of Israel, I think of Yitzhak Rabin. Bristly, stubborn, arrogant, shrewd, brave and proud — this was Rabin, this is Israel.

Only Rabin could decide for Rabin, and only Israelis can decide Israel’s future — democratically. I was brought up to believe that Israel would make peace if only it had negotiating partners.

That day has come, and as Prime Minister Rabin once declared, “Let us rejoice on it.”

Baruch Goldstein was Jewish and Yigal Amir is Jewish; but so was Rabin and so were the soldiers who have fallen defending Israel. We cannot claim credit only for the good. The Jewish way is not to deny responsibility but to look deep within ourselves and our institutions, to consider how to improve our lives, how to actualize Jewish values rather than hide behind them.