9 November 2011
A Message from Daniel Sokatch
Today, as I write this, is the 16th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, z’l. Like so many of you, I’ll never forget that awful day in 1995. I was just back in the States, starting law school after a year and a half living in Israel during what now seems like a golden age. When the phone rang with the news, I felt like the world was shattering. In some ways, I suppose it had.
But Jewish tradition has something to say about shattered pieces. Kabbalists taught that the work of tikkun olam, repair of the world, is in gathering up the sparks released at the shattering of holy vessels that once contained the pure light of divinity and goodness in the world. I’m certainly no Kabbalist, but in social justice terms, I’ve always understood that to mean that our job in the world is to try to fix what is broken, to pick up the shattered pieces and put them back together again. To heal, mend, repair.
And this is the work of the New Israel Fund. For three decades we have worked to build a better Israel for all its residents. We’ve worked to repair breaches, bridge differences, and close gaps. With your help, we’ve built a civil society which brings Israel ever closer to the vision of social justice that informed both the founders of the State and of the Prophets of Israel.
But for the past two years we’ve faced a different sort of challenge, a challenge to the very nature of Israeli democracy. In my last column, I wrote about the rise in violence that increasingly characterizes the response of the extreme hard-right to those who dare to challenge their vision of Israel. And as you know, we have seen a torrent of legislation aimed at rolling back some of the fundaments of democracy in Israel. This week, two new bills have been introduced to the Knesset, bills that are intended to silence civil and human and rights organizations that simply do their job in holding up a mirror to Israeli society. Together, the rising violence and the legislative assault create an atmosphere of intolerance and, increasingly, fear, and a genuine threat to Israeli society.
The good news is, no matter what happens with these bad bills, Israelis of conscience – and friends of Israel around the world – are speaking up and saying, loud and clear, that violence and threats against opposing voices are unacceptable in a democracy, that passing laws that serve to stifle dissent, silence critics and chill freedom of speech and expression is not what democracies do.
And while Yitzhak Rabin is remembered as the warrior who became a champion – and then a martyr – for peace, he was also a clear-eyed and tough-edged champion of democracy. Today, on the anniversary of his assassination at the hands of an extremist, I think about something he said just moments before he was murdered. In front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Tel Aviv, Rabin talked about the rising threat he saw to Israel:
"Violence is undermining the foundations of Israeli democracy. It must be rejected and condemned, and it must be contained. It is not the way of the State of Israel. Democracy is our way."
On the anniversary of his death, may his memory be a blessing, his words a light in the darkness. Democracy is our way.