Violence makes another martyr

It was late Saturday afternoon and a young child was bewildered.

"I thought all Jews want peace," the child exclaimed. "How could a Jew kill another Jew who brought peace to Israel?"

Out of the mouth of babes…

But that was the same question in all our minds. Perhaps we weren't asking it with the same simplicity as that seventh-grader but we were just as baffled as that child.

Aren't Jews supposed to be a peace-loving people? Isn't our quest to live in peace with our neighbors? Doesn't our religion command us not to kill? And isn't our ultimate goal as Jews tikkun olam — to make the world a better place?

But something unfathomable happened in Israel. It became acceptable for some to brand the prime minister a traitor. Others even had the audacity to label him and the foreign minister Nazis. Some had the gall to post billboards showing the prime minister's face in the center of a target. And worse yet, some religious leaders used Torah as a weapon to justify the vilest acts of brutality.

All that went way beyond the pale of political disagreement. The display of hostility, hatred and invitation to violence created a climate that made Saturday's assassination possible.

But history should have taught those hate-mongers a lesson. When men of peace are slaughtered, an offended world reacts by making martyrs of the victims.

And so the world reacted to the tragic death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Non-Jews joined the Jewish world in hailing the brave soldier who fought wars only to ensure there would be peace.

Jews worldwide were astonished to see nations, many of whom only a short time ago were Israel's sworn enemies, decry the murder of Israel's 73-year-old leader.

We watched kippah and kaffiyeh alongside each other as Jews and Muslims mourned together in Jerusalem. Even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein, both of whom had never visited Israel's capital city, made a pilgrimage to pay their respects.

Perhaps even more surprising was the response of Americans, from the president to the Congress to the average person on the street. Never in our lifetime did we think so many would be so stricken by the death of a Jew, especially a Jew halfway around the world.

If there was any doubt of America's close friendship with Israel, it was erased this week. If there was any fear Israel's image was stained by 28 years of West Bank occupation, it too was washed away.

Israel, thanks to the statesmanship of Yitzhak Rabin, has become accepted if not admired among the community of nations. The pity is that he is not here to see how his accomplishments are being honored.

So what of those in Israel and elsewhere who called the man of peace a traitor and a Nazi? Will they come to realize that such hatred only breeds violence?

How will they answer the child who asks, "How could a Jew kill another Jew who brought peace to Israel?"