Leah Rabin calls Netanyahu all political manipulation

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“If I’ll ever have another happy day, it’s when Labor wins,” she said last week in San Francisco.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister and her husband, clearly still consumes her.

More than two years after his murder, her grieving has not ended.

“Maybe it’s even worse as the time goes by and you still live with this emptiness and with missing him.”

Her days are spent talking endlessly about his life and his death on Nov. 4, 1995. She is either traveling to another ceremony honoring him, raising money to build the Rabin Memorial Center or answering letters from across the world.

She came to the Bay Area last week to speak at the 50th anniversary celebration of Berkeley’s Hadassah chapter. She also met with private groups to fund-raise for the memorial center in Tel Aviv.

“I am frightfully busy because everything concerning the commemoration of my husband is basically centered on me and my children,” the 69-year-old widow said during an interview in her suite at San Francisco’s Stanford Court.

“It is too much. It is really too much sometimes.”

Her work in his memory actually leaves her little time or space for herself. But Rabin won’t stop, even if the constant activity doesn’t necessarily help her heal.

“This is really what I ought and I need to do if I want to do him justice,” she said.

Married during a cease-fire in Israel’s War of Independence, the couple would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this coming summer.

If her husband had died due to an illness, Rabin said, she could chalk it up to fate or to God. The assassination, however, eats away at her.

“You don’t come to terms,” she said. “I will miss him forever.”

Rabin does have her moments of lightness.

Relaxing on a loveseat in her plush suite, she wore her trademark gold jewelry, along with a long-sleeved black shirt, a gold-chain belt and black velvet jeans — “The Gap, $58,” she said proudly.

But she immediately turns to serious topics.

Rabin harbors a special bitterness for Netanyahu. She blames all of Israel’s current problems — whether it’s the stalled peace process or Israel’s backsliding economy — on him.

“He is all political manipulation. He doesn’t really believe in anything. I don’t think he has any convictions other than staying in power,” she said.

“Between what he says and the truth and the reality, there are the oceans. I hope he reads what I say.”

Their feud is very much public.

Netanyahu recently wanted to place flowers at the memorial spot in Tel Aviv where the prime minister was murdered. She objected, and the official visit was eventually canceled. Netanyahu later gave a speech, asking how long she plans to blame him and half the nation for the murder.

“My answer is: As long as I live, I will accuse you — and not half the nation. You and your leadership.”

Though a right-wing, religious extremist pulled the trigger, Rabin still contends that Netanyahu was responsible for helping create the hate-drenched atmosphere that led up to her husband’s assassination.

Rabin also views Netanyahu’s victory 1-1/2 years ago as a “road accident that should never have happened. When you are careful enough, you don’t run into an accident. Correct?”

Labor candidate Shimon Peres wasn’t meticulous in his campaigning, she maintains, and made every mistake possible.

Her hopes for a new government were raised again last week when Foreign Minister David Levy quit the Likud-led coalition. Rabin now believes that early elections — and with them, Netanyahu’s downfall — are inevitable.

If Netanyahu does manage to stay in power until the next scheduled election in two years, she sees only doom for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“By 2000, there will be very little left to restore,” she said.

Rabin expects the next round of elections, whenever they finally take place, will usher in the Labor Party — either as a unity government or as a coalition with the moderates of Likud. She also expects the religious parties will lose some of their power.

For now, she wants the “vast majority” of American Jews who support the peace process to lobby Congress and the administration more intensely than they have been.

Though Rabin generally believes that American Jews shouldn’t critique Israel’s policies, she is ready to make an exception.

“In two years since my husband’s murder, everything seems to be destroyed,” she said.

“Here for the first time I feel that, yes, they are entitled to pass a judgment because Israel seems to be in very grave danger.”

Natalie Weinstein
Natalie Weinstein

Natalie Weinstein is J.'s senior editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at CNET News and, in the 1990s, as a reporter and editor at J., which was then called the Jewish Bulletin.