Monday, 9 November 2020
Private Members' Business
Rabin, Mr Yitzhak
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) 4 November 2020 marks 25 years since Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at an anti-violence rally in support of the Oslo peace process;
(b) a condolence motion for Prime Minister Rabin was moved in this House on 23 November 1995 by the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, reflecting the deep sense of loss and shock all Australians felt at the news of Mr Rabin's assassination;
(c) Yitzhak Rabin served as Israel's Prime Minister on two separate occasions, from 1974 to 1977 and then again from 1992 until his death in 1995, in addition to being a decorated general who led Israel's armed forces during the 1967 Six Day War and served as Israel's Ambassador to the United States; and
(d) Prime Minister Rabin promoted peace and co-existence in a turbulent time and region, concluding the Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestinians in 1993, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994; and
(2) affirms Australia's ongoing commitment to Mr Rabin's vision of a peaceful two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, mutually negotiated and agreed by the Israelis and the Palestinians.
It was on 4 November 1995 that Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's 11th Prime Minister at the time, was assassinated at a rally. He had come to address a peace rally in support of the Oslo peace process at a square which was then known as the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv. When the rally ended and he was walking down the steps to his car, he was shot at close range by an assassin. He was taken to the Ichilov Hospital but died on the operating table.
Like many traumatic political events, I remember where I was at the time. I was a student of 20 studying in the United Kingdom. It was a Saturday and I don't think I heard the news until the following morning, the Sunday. As ignorant as I then I was of the Middle East and of Israel, I had a sense that something profound and shocking had taken place, an event whose reverberations would echo across the decades. Indeed, during the four years I spent as Australia's ambassador to Israel, from 2013 to 2017, the scar that this shocking crime left on Israel, its body politic and its society was still highly visible to me.
Rabin was a phenomenal individual. He led a phenomenal life. He was born in the early state of Israel, the Yishuv, in 1922. He joined the Haganah, Israel's early Jewish defence forces, in 1936 and then the specialist Palmach section of the Haganah. He fought alongside the Allies in World War II, assisting in the Allied invasion of Lebanon, then controlled by Vichy France, in 1941. At the end of the war, in 1945, he was arrested by British colonial authorities for supporting the Israel cause and spent several months in jail. In the 1948 War of Independence he fought in Jerusalem and also in the Negev. The high-water mark of his military career came in 1967 with the Six-Day War and Israel's lightning triumph over the assembled armies of invasion from Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
Rabin went on to serve as ambassador to the United States from 1969 to 1974. He was elected to the Knesset and became Prime Minister from 1974 to 1977. He was elected as Prime Minister again in 1992, and it was during this term that he was assassinated. Rabin's career was a remarkable and continuous career of public service and sacrifice dedicated to building the state of Israel. And the Israel of today—modern, successful, secure and vibrant—is built upon the foundations that Rabin and others like him put in place.
Rabin was of course assassinated by a Jewish nationalist, someone opposed to his efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians. I was in a conversation last week with an individual whose brother-in-law was serving as one of Rabin's security detail at the time. He told me that the Shabak, Israel's security services, were on the lookout that night for Palestinian nationalists, Arab nationalists—the normal causes of concern for Israel's security services. At the time, they didn't think Rabin would be assassinated by one of his own—but, of course, he was.
Despite Rabin's modern incarnation as a peacenik, he was anything but. He was a hard-nosed general and a patriot who nonetheless recognised that Israel's ultimate security was better served by peace with its neighbours rather than continual armed struggle. This is what led him to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as a political actor, notwithstanding the fact that the PLO's campaign of terrorism had killed hundreds of Israelis. It was for this that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And though Rabin of course supported Oslo—was an architect of Oslo—he was very much a realist. He recognised that Israel's ultimate eastern security barrier would lie in the Jordan River Valley. He recognised that any Palestinian entity would be an entity that was less than a state or demilitarised. Rabin cared very much about preserving a Jewish democratic homeland in Israel. This is what motivated him throughout his career. He worried about a bi-national reality—a reality of Israel ruling over the lives of another people who lacked the rights of their own citizens.
And this worry is just as pertinent today as it was in Rabin's time. Rabin undoubtedly would have applauded Israel's recent progress in its relations with the Arab world, because it speaks to the deep security which only recognition and normalisation can achieve for the state of Israel. I affirm Israel's ongoing commitment to an Israel that is secure and at peace with its neighbours and our continued support for a two-state solution on this 25th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's death.
I rise to support the motion and commend the member for Wentworth on his fine words and his work in bringing this motion to the House. Between 1993 and 1995 the then chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, wrote to the then Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, outlining his concerns of divisions within Israel about the peace plan that the Prime Minister was putting forward. The rabbi was worried about the rising tensions within Israeli society. He commented that he didn't receive a response at the time. However, on 4 November 1995, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks heard that the Prime Minister had been assassinated at a peace rally. He immediately flew and attended the funeral in Jerusalem. On returning to London the next day, Rabbi Sacks visited the then Israeli ambassador to tell him about the funeral. On a post on his Facebook only last week, Rabbi Sacks said:
… the ambassador handed me an envelope. "This has just arrived for you in the diplomatic bag." It was Yitzhak Rabin's reply to my letter—perhaps one of the last letters he wrote.
In his long and detailed and heartfelt response, Rabin wrote to the rabbi:
Yet I know that there is no long-term answer to our security problems, and to our co-existence with our neighbours, other than peace. For the sake of our children and grandchildren we cannot forfeit this historic opportunity.
Sadly, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks passed away on Saturday morning. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge a giant not just of the rabbinical world but of Britain, the UK and the wider world. He was a man of giant intellect and of a great moral compass. In this place I mark Australia's thanks for all of his work and his dedication to a better and more peaceful world.
It was 25 years ago last week that Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated. As the member for Wentworth correctly outlined, these were events that shocked Israel, shocked the Jewish people, shocked Australia and shocked the world. As this motion notes, Prime Minister Paul Keating moved a condolence motion in this House on 23 November 1995, which was seconded by then opposition leader John Howard and carried with bipartisan support. Prime Minister Keating also flew to Israel and attended Prime Minister Rabin's funeral, an act that reflected not just Australia's and Israel's deep friendship at the time but Australia's genuine sadness and admiration of the character of Yitzhak Rabin. As Prime Minister Keating said to this House:
Yitzhak Rabin was a remarkable individual.
… … …
… Mr Rabin came to the view cautiously—almost reluctantly, but I believe irresistibly—that the cause to which he had committed his life, that is Israel's survival and security, was now best served by a sustained effort to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians.
This did not represent any change in his fundamental beliefs. But he had the imagination and the courage to recognise that military superiority alone could not deliver lasting security for Israel.
Yitzhak Rabin was indeed remarkable. He was one of Israel's most decorated military generals, serving as Israel's chief of operations during the 1948 war of independence and rising to Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli defence forces during the Six-Day War. When he entered politics, joining and quickly leading the Israeli Labor Party, he was a hard-headed defence hero. Whilst his first stint as Prime Minister in the 1970s ended after just three years, with the Labor government losing to the conservative Likud party for the first time, he would go on to serve as defence minister in the subsequent unity governments of Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres.
Elected leader of the opposition in 1992, Rabin took a big gamble. He ran on a platform of making peace with Israel's enemies and he won, becoming Prime Minister and serving for over three years until his tragic death. In that time, he signed the landmark Oslo Accords with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a road map towards what he planned to be a historic and lasting peace with the Palestinians. It saw them share the Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres. He also signed a peace treaty with Jordan, another long-term enemy of Israel, which created a peace which still thankfully holds today. Rabin was a giant. He fought and stood against not just those who opposed him but those who were on his side. May his memory be a blessing.
'Yitzhak Rabin's story is the story of Israel.' That was a comment made to me by Ron Weiser, the former President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, recently, and the truth of that statement is absolute. Rabin's life had been about making peace for Israel, first as a general and then as a statesman.
People came to admire Rabin for leading Israel's forces to victory in the Six-Day War, when Israel's Arab neighbours simultaneously attacked the fledgling Jewish state. For those of us not alive to witness those events, it's difficult to appreciate the impact of the threat to Israel's very existence in awakening the consciousness of Jews throughout the world. The member for McNamara rightly mentioned Jonathan Sacks, the recently deceased former chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, who, as the member rightly says, was a towering figure not just of theology but also of Jewish and global religious leadership. He was a student at Cambridge at the time, and he captured the atmosphere. For those of us not alive at that time, it's hard to appreciate. I just want to quote from him:
The State of Israel was exposed to attack on all fronts. A catastrophe seemed to be in the making. I, who had not lived through the Holocaust nor even thought much about it, became suddenly aware that a second tragedy might be about to overtake the Jewish people.
It was then that an extraordinary thing began to happen. Throughout the university Jews suddenly became visible. Day after day they crowded into the little synagogue in the centre of town. Students and dons who had never before publicly identified as Jews could be found there praying … Everyone wanted to help in some way, to express their solidarity, their identification with Israel's fate … the same phenomenon was repeating itself throughout the world … Jews were riveted to their television screens and radios, anxious to hear the latest news, involved, on the edge, as if it were their own lives that were at stake. The rest is history. The war was fought and won. It lasted a mere six days, one of the most spectacular victories in modern history … Collectively the Jewish people had looked in the mirror and … felt part of a people, involved in its fate, implicated in its destiny, caught up in its tragedy, exhilarated by its survival.
In the centre of those events in the Six-Day War was Yitzhak Rabin, the chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces.
Rabin knew war and never shirked from the responsibilities of defending his state or its people, but he also understood that to realise the full potential for the benefit of humanity Israel could not live in a perpetual state of war and existential crisis. He showed courage in seeking to find peace no matter how unsavoury the partner or how great the challenge. As Prime Minister, Rabin undertook negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, that culminated in the 1993 Oslo accords. Rabin captured the mood the day he signed those accords when he said:
… today, is not so easy neither for myself, as a soldier in Israel's wars, nor for the people of Israel, nor to the Jewish people in the Diaspora who are watching us now with great hope, mixed with apprehension … Let me say to you, the Palestinians … We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people, people who want to build a home, to plant a tree … to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: Enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say: Farewell to the arms.
We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighborliness, of mutual respect, of understanding. We hope to embark on a new era in the history of the Middle East.
That day, Israel officially recognised the PLO and agreed to gradually implement limited self-rule for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In exchange, the Palestinians renounced violence and officially recognised Israel as a state. Sadly, the violence returned with the Second Intifada. In 1994, Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize. Later that year, he also signed a momentous peace treaty with Jordan.
The territorial concessions made by Rabin aroused intense opposition in Israel. On 4 November 1995, Rabin attended a mass peace rally in Tel Aviv which was held to muster support for the Oslo accords. The rally ended in tragedy when Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist. The fact that Rabin was killed by a person who shared his faith and his homeland was a particular tragedy.
Rabin had this idea that you don't wait for peace to come; rather you make peace. On the night he was killed people were chanting: 'Don't say the day will come; bring the day.' That is the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, and, although the Middle East peace process has stalled until recently, the changes in the environment between Israel and its neighbours as a result of the Abraham accords and as a result of Sudan announcing the normalisation of its relations with Israel well and truly honour the memory and legacy of this remarkable leader.
Yitzhak Rabin was one of Israel's greatest Prime Ministers. He stands in the same company as renowned Labour leaders like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. Not only that, Rabin's courage and integrity in that role make him stand out as one of the great global leaders of the past generation. In today's world in particular, Rabin's legacy of leadership is clear: during his time as the Prime Minister of the state of Israel, Rabin provided a compelling example of what national leadership looks like when the role is embraced by a person of courage, integrity and a commitment to facing the unvarnished truth of the challenges before them. In all these matters, Rabin demonstrated national leadership that is the polar opposite of the example provided by the ideologically-blinkered and populist rulers of many nations today.
Rabin knew what it was to fight for his country. As a young man, he fought for the Palmach in the years leading up to the establishment of modern Israel and then he fought on as a member of the Israel Defense Forces, rapidly rising through the ranks until finally serving as IDF Chief of Staff during Israel's greatest military victory in the 1967 war. Yet the same man who helped Israel take the occupied territories also understood that they would need to be relinquished in the interests of peace. In 1993, in the context of the Oslo peace process, Rabin had the courage to tell his former enemies in the PLO, as well as the nation that elected him to lead them:
We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood; we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes; we who have attended their funerals and cannot look in the eyes of their parents; we who have come from a land where parents bury their children; we who have fought against you, the Palestinians-we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough.
Rabin's leadership as a courageous soldier for both war and then peace was recognised around the world. His role as a peacemaker was acknowledged with the Nobel Peace Prize that he was awarded in 1994. It also formed the foundation of the deep friendship that he formed with US President Clinton as they took the bold actions they understood would be necessary if Israel and the Palestinians were to bring to an end their long history of blood and tears.
Rabin's legacy seems even clearer today than it did at the time of his murder 25 years ago. One of his great strengths was his willingness to face the truth of the world and the challenges it posed for Israel. It wasn't that he didn't want a larger state incorporating all the lands mentioned in the Torah; it was that Rabin had the courage to face the reality that another nation, the Palestinians, held a yearning for those same lands and not only that but justice required their claim to be accommodated too. It was that Rabin had the courage to tell his nation that painful compromises were necessary, a message that was particularly difficult for the Israeli settlers to accept because their ties to those territories were both genuine and deep. Rabin had the courage to truly lead rather than to merely follow. Tragically for all, Rabin was cut down by the bullets of an extremist Jewish settler before he could implement his vision for peace, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continues to the present day. We cannot know what Israel would look like today if Rabin had lived on to lead his country towards peace.
I am proud that support for the state of Israel as a vibrant and democratic nation and for Rabin's vision of a just and enduring peace with the Palestinians remain areas of bipartisanship in Australia's often bitterly divided parliament. I never had the honour of meeting Prime Minister Rabin but, as a friend of Israel and as a friend of peace, on this 25th anniversary of his death, I echo the words of President Clinton, who farewelled his dear friend with the simple but resonant Shalom, haver—goodbye, friend.