Which Israeli Prime Ministers were murdered
Interview with Noa Rothman
"Whoever wants to remember him must demand what he stood for"
25 years ago, Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a fanatical opponent of his policies. In the interview, his granddaughter Noa Rothman, 43, remembers her grandfather and explains what distinguished him as a person and a politician.
By Cedric Dorin
How do you remember November 4th 1995, the night your grandfather was murdered?
Some things are blurry today, almost surreal scenes, on the other hand, are very clear: We, the family, waiting in the hallway, shocked, nervous, full of fear for him, and each of us smokes - and that in a hospital! Then later I saw a dead person for the first time. When I think about it, the pain is right back.
How do you tell your own children about what happened?
We initially focus on just talking about what kind of person he was. But of course they will be confronted with it more or less directly in kindergarten at the latest. If, for example, some employees, especially the older ones, who have seen my grandfather as a politician for years, think that they recognize similarities in facial features. My children found out everything relatively early on in other ways. At the age of five my son suddenly became afraid that he would also be killed. We then explained to him: This attack only happened because your great-grandfather was in power at the time. He was not a king whose descendants are being persecuted. Years later I went to the cinema myself with my son to see “Incitement”. A film by Yaron Zilberman that shows how political radicalization and incitement in the mid-1990s, in the run-up to the Oslo Accords, made it possible for the assassin to commit this murder.
How did your family deal with the sudden loss of your grandfather, what did they feel obliged to do?
In the years when my grandfather was Prime Minister, my grandmother has always seen her role as being a first lady in public engagement - for culture and for children, especially those with autism. After the attack, it was important to her to defend his political legacy and his name, to work for peace and hope. It was a matter of course for us that we would accompany her wherever she wanted us to be, until her own death five years later. Only then did this chapter actually come to an end in our family. My mother continues the legacy of both today by running the Rabin Center.
You often referred to your grandfather as "spectacular" later on. What made him so special to you?
Not only was he the best grandfather to have, he was also the best leader for me. When my grandfather's old companions and friends came to our home during the week of mourning, the difference between them and him became clear again to my brother and me: They talked about times past, about wars, and what role they played in them. Our grandfather, on the other hand, was someone who always talked about the present and had the future in mind. Only he then had the reputation, strength and courage to begin a process of reconciliation with the Palestinians, and he did.
You have occasionally used the annual commemoration event in the past to criticize leading politicians in Israel.
It is not important that streets, squares and schools are named after my grandfather. Anyone who really wants to remember them has to demand what they stood for: for responsible and serious political leadership, for democracy, for dialogue and debate. These are values that are not cynically played with in politics. But we have been observing the opposite for years. The level of political discourse is alarmingly low, and there are repeated signs of political radicalization that can be dangerous. You have to address that, especially when you have the forum for it like me.
Are you afraid that your grandfather will be forgotten in the years to come?
No. This attack left a wound in our society. And I believe that the charisma of a man, a leader like my grandfather, will survive no matter how the evaluations of his politics will change over time. I don't like being stylized as a saint, he was a person with strengths and weaknesses, but he was always authentic, his good intentions were real. For him, as he affirmed on the evening of November 4th, his generation had a duty to work for an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Her mother became a politician, was a member of the Knesset and deputy defense minister. And you too tried to get into Parliament last year. Is it a duty in your family to get involved in politics?
No. I know that I would be up to the task as a member of parliament - as a lawyer and with my ability to reach people. I am also aware that very many people still see something of my grandfather in me. But I'm very careful with that. My intention last year was above all to get left parties to form an alliance, to strengthen them overall and to win more seats. The project finally failed because of the ego of a party leader.
Are you going to run again?
I've long had a job that made me happy.
You are a screenwriter.
Yes. In this way I can address many social issues and grievances, and reach people. Only through culture, through books, films and even series, does a dialogue arise about values that are important to us, that should be important to us. And that will hopefully lead to understanding democracy as something that you can not only passively consume, but also have to be actively committed to.
Noa Rothman, 43, is the granddaughter of Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yithzak Rabin, who was murdered on November 4, 1995 and who campaigned for a solution to the Middle East conflict with the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s. Rothman spoke at the grave for the family alongside eulogists such as US President Bill Clinton. She wrote a book (“Grief and Hope”), studied law, worked for the prosecutor's office and eventually became a screenwriter. Her first fictional series in 2011 was about the life of the family of the Israeli Prime Minister (“Yaldey Rosh Ha-Memshala”), her current one about work in the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor's Office (“PMTA”). In 2019 she ran for the Israeli Knesset.
On Wednesday, November 4th, 2020, the library of the Goethe-Institut Israel is holding a salon meeting on the 25th anniversary of the assassination attempt on Yitzhak Rabin: “When peace still seemed possible”
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