New synagogue reflects split in Israeli opinion Rabin: A proposal to name a synagogue for the slain prime minister showed the preoccupation with the murder and his legacy.

November 16, 1997|By Ann LoLordo

EHOVOT, Israel -- When Gadi Gvaryahu proposed naming a new synagogue for slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, members of his Orthodox congregation balked.

The affable scientist thought the naming would be a fitting memorial to the legacy of Rabin, who was murdered by a religious Jew opposed to the land-for-peace deal he signed with the Palestinians.

Gvaryahu worships at Ohel Rabin today, but it is a new congregation founded by himself and other like-minded religious Jews who resigned from their old synagogue over the naming.

Two years after Rabin was shot on Nov. 4, 1995, while leaving a Tel Aviv peace rally, his life and death remain problematic in Israeli society. The Rabin synagogue in Rehovot reflects the split in public opinion. There are other examples that reflect the polarization in the country and the preoccupation with the murder and Rabin's legacy:

An anniversary rally in memory of the war hero-turned-peacemaker drew more than 200,000 people to Tel nTC Aviv, one of the largest gatherings in the country's 50-year history. Some Israeli commentators characterized the turnout as a protest against the policies of the current prime minister, conservative hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu.

A recent poll of Israeli teen-agers, 14 to 18, found that 27 percent of religious youths justified the assassination of Rabin. Those who spoke out against the murder also identified with the religious student, Yigal Amir, who fired the fatal shot, according to the survey conducted by at Bar Ilan University, Israel's religious university.

Conspiracy theories surrounding the Rabin murder recently resurfaced. They were fueled by a book discussed in an ultra-Orthodox newspaper; the book, released on the Internet, claimed that former prime minister Shimon Peres, Rabin's partner in the peace process, was involved in a plot devised by an Israeli intelligence chief.

The conspiracy theories also resurfaced with the publication of an interview with Avishai Raviv, a former agent of Israel's secret service agency code-named "Champagne."

Raviv infiltrated right-wing religious circles, befriended Yigal Amir and knew of his desire to kill Rabin. Raviv's undercover work was reviewed by a special investigative panel convened after the assassination.

Because of the renewed controversy, the government decided to make public previously secret findings of the commission involving Raviv.

Protests occurred throughout the country, from outside the jail in which Rabin's murderer is imprisoned to the home of Netanyahu, accused by the left of failing to speak out against those calling for Rabin's death.

The Hebrew date of Rabin's death, which fell this year on Wednesday, was designated a national memorial day. But it has not become a day of reckoning.

"On the contrary, it seems that around this anniversary date contrasting positions are sharpening and various forces are making entrenched positions yet more extreme," an editorial noted in Israel's popular daily newspaper, Yediot Aharonot.

The editorial referred to the left and the right in Israel, the nonreligious and the religious. The murder of a Jewish prime minister by a Jew raised in a religious house seemed unthinkable in Israel until it happened. And then, leaders of Rabin's Labor Party, the left and others hurled accusations of complicity against the religious-nationalist movement, which led a nasty campaign against Rabin and his peace policies.

In a recent speech, Netanyahu told high school students that the anniversary of Rabin's death should be a time of "grief and pain which unite us all. ... There are, unfortunately, those who for political reasons are trying to use this date in order to deepen the rift among the people."

But Gideon Samet, a senior columnist for the respected Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz, cautioned against using the memory of the assassination to forge a "false sense of togetherness."

"The truth about Rabin's memory is that it will be most effective if it is associated only with those who are following his political path and only with the road to peace," Samet wrote.

Gadi Gvaryahu, who wears the knitted skullcap of observant Jews, possesses a liberal political ethos. As an Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher, attends synagogue weekly, doesn't drive on the Sabbath, Gvaryahu is a minority among his religious peers. ++ Ninety-five percent of Israeli Jews who define themselves as religious voted for Netanyahu, the candidate of the right, according to pollster Hanoch Smith.

Since Israel signed the 1993 peace accords with the Palestinians, Gvaryahu increasingly found himself alienated from members of the synagogue he helped establish six years ago in Rehovot, a suburb of Tel Aviv and the home of the Weizmann Institute of Science.

'Suddenly you find yourself praying with people who support what Yigal Amir did," said Gvaryahu, 42, an eighth-generation Israeli who works at Hebrew University. "Not all, but even one family is enough."

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