Pragmatic visionary is how Zionist Union Knesset member Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin describes the leadership style of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated on Nov. 4, 1995.
Twenty years and a day after his murder, Rabin’s former assistant spoke about his legacy at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center.
The event, “Let the Sun’s Light Rise: Applying Yitzhak Rabin’s Inspirational Leadership to Contemporary Zionism,” was the first major stop on a five-day speaking tour of the Washington area as part of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Scholar in Residence program.
She called Rabin a “dreamer in a pragmatic person,” noting that he accomplished the Oslo Accords and peace agreement with Jordan during his second term in office, from 1992 until his assassination.
Nahmias-Verbin, 45, remembered meeting Rabin for the first time in his office just before the warrior-turned-peacemaker became leader of the Labor Party. She could sense he was destined for greatness. “There was something mesmerizing about him … there was leadership there, and I understood that,” said Nahmias-Verbin.
Rabin was also shy and “not a typical narcissist politician,” recalled Nahmias-Verbin. “He knew his own value and his own worth — but he had self-derogatory humor. He was able to laugh about himself.”
She became a politician because of Rabin, saying he had a major impact on her life. Rabin was a “true Zionist” whose legacy is civil and democratic engagement in improving society, she said.
“Today we feel in many ways that we have to continue his legacy, and his legacy is a civil one as well as a security one. It is to continue the process, the peace process, towards a two-state solution and making sure that the challenging Israeli society brings about equal opportunities,” said Nahmias-Verbin.
The audience applauded when Nahmias-Verbin touted her first bill that was passed in the Knesset, mandating Arabic instruction in schools.
She said it was tough to advance the legislation because she is a member of the opposition party, but that she is optimistic that more bipartisan bills can become law.
“Being an Israeli politician, I really don’t have any kind of privilege to be frustrated, be upset,” said Nahmias-Verbin. “I have to wake up in the morning and think about what I’m doing next.”
The ongoing incitement in Israel is concerning to Nahmias-Verbin because she remembers the vicious verbal attacks directed at Rabin that resulted in his assassination by a Jewish extremist.
“Nobody was standing and saying ‘stop this incitement, words can kill,’” recalled the MK.
She said that even though she didn’t vote for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that he is her prime minister and that she will not tolerate sedition against him. She also condemned recent incitement against Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Rabin’s assassination weakened Israeli democracy, Nahmias-Verbin maintained, saying that being Jewish and democratic is hard, and that the country misses Rabin’s brand of leadership.
She recalled a recent meeting with former President Bill Clinton in Tel Aviv.
“He was speaking at length about the fact that when you wake up in the morning, you have to choose. You have hope and you have fear, and you have to make sure that hope is always stronger than fear,” she said.
“I love being an Israeli. I love my country so much. It’s an amazing country. But I really feel that I’m part of a group that needs to make sure that it stays there, that it grows stronger, that my children and their children and their children will be able to live there.”