Yitzhak Rabin and Ordinary People

It is interesting to see how society reminisces about its leaders.  The contrast is often striking between how we relate to leaders during their lives and after they’ve passed on, particularly if their passing was not natural.

Yitzhak Rabin was not murdered amidst an environment of unwavering support towards him, as we’d like to think.  He was murdered after years of demonization by extremist groups that called him a traitor and called for his life.

I was blessed to meet Yitzhak Rabin twice, and both times were telling of what he signified.

The first time I "met" him briefly in person was at the lobby of the Tel Aviv Hilton, as he was walking down the steps, in the late fall of 1993, shortly after the Oslo Accords.  I had just graduated from law school and was doing research on a legislative proposal for fostering joint ventures among Arabs and Israelis.

When I saw Rabin in the lobby, walking with just one young guy to his side, I was so excited I ran towards him and waved a thumbs up sign at him from the top of the stairs, screaming out "Prime Minister Rabin, you are awesome."

He looked at me with suspicion and disappointment (bordering on disdain), and waved me off, making a facial expression that could best be translated to "get a life and do something productive."

I actually rather admired that this matter-of-fact leader had no time or patience to play the hero.  He had shit to do.  And he expected others to do their part also.

What is the role of the people?  This is what Rabin said during a Congressional Address in 1994 regarding his negotiations with King Hussein of Jordan:

“Who shapes the face of history – leaders or circumstances? My answer to you is: We all shape the face of history. We, the People. We the farmers behind our plows, the teachers in our classrooms, the doctors saving lives, the scientists at our computers, the workers on the assembly line, the builders on our scaffolds. We, the mothers blinking back tears as our sons are drafted into the army; we, the fathers who stay awake at night worried and anxious for our children’s safety. We, Jews and Arabs. We, Israelis and Jordanians. We, the people, we shape the face of history.”

The second time I met Yitzhak Rabin was at my first World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan, in 1995.  It was the day where different countries in the region host luncheons.  Israel was hosting a lunch, Saudi Arabia was hosting a lunch, Qatar was hosting a lunch, Egypt was hosting a lunch, and so on.  What was striking, and unseen before or hence, was that the Israel lunch was the most popular one, and Arab leaders from across the region were jockeying for a ticket.  It was a sign of the times – tangible prospects that this region would see peace soon, Israel would be integrated in the Middle East business map, as would Palestine, and the world would be a better place.

Less than a week later, while walking into dinner at a hotel in London with my girlfriend, the entire lobby fell silent.  We asked what had happened.  Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated.

I have to imagine the pain we felt in our gut and in our heart that night must have been akin to the moment when JFK was assassinated.

As I wrote in an entry earlier in the year,  when a friend wondered aloud if Rabin even left a legacy, I agreed it remains to be seen.  And I pointed out it is up to us, the people, to ensure one.

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