A dovish pro-Israel group marked the 25th anniversary of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, celebrating the legacy of the military man turned peacemaker in a virtual gathering on Tuesday.
Organizers from Americans for Peace Now said over 1,700 people around the globe attended the event, which featured appearances from prominent politicians, celebrities and artists from the US, Israel and the West Bank.
The event made headlines weeks in advance when Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising star of the US progressive left, withdrew her participation just hours after APN announced she would be addressing the memorial.
Ocasio-Cortez’s office had come under immediate fire from pro-Palestinian activists. They lambasted the young congresswoman for honoring Rabin, who, as defense minister, oversaw Israel’s tough response to the first Palestinian Intifada, or uprising. A source with knowledge of the matter said the Congresswoman’s office did not realize the event would be framed around commemorating Rabin, believing it would instead be an opportunity for Ocasio-Cortez to highlight her policies for the region.
She then pulled out, leading to criticism from prominent left-leaning voices in the US pro-Israel camp, who pointed out Rabin’s legacy as a peacemaker, signing the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians and a peace treaty with Jordan.
As the Rabin ceremony went on Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez was otherwise occupied, playing video games online with fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, in a bid to encourage young people to vote.
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Rabin’s legacy as peacemaker was the theme of the event, which was emceed by “Homeland” star Mandy Patinkin.
“He inspires us to help complete what he started,” Patinkin said. “He was a paradoxical figure… [with] a unique ability to evolve, recognizing that the future [of Israel] is linked to the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Patinkin was joined by Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, who compared Rabin’s assassination to the murder of “social justice champions” in the US such as Martin Luther King Jr.
“He traveled in his life from being a warrior to someone who understood the much greater virtues and challenges of peacemaking instead,” said Raskin.
Raskin was followed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.
Ellison did not refrain from criticizing Rabin, calling him a “ruthless soldier for his cause” who “did things that I think were human rights abuses.”
However, the former Congressman pointed out that “despite being a fierce proponent of his cause, he also said we must make peace with the Palestinians…. he said it and said it again, and he reached his hand out in peace.”
Ellison said Rabin showed “true bravery” in telling hard truths to his own people.
The memorial also featured cameos from “West Wing” star Joshua Malina, former Palestinian Authority minister Ashraf al-Ajrami, and Rabin’s granddaughter Noa Rothman, along with musical performances from Netta Barzilai, Achinoam Nini, and David Broza and Peter Yarrow from the Peter, Paul and Mary folk trio.
Rabin was a legendary Israeli military leader, commanding a unit in the pre-state Palmach fighting force and then rising through the ranks as a career soldier to become Israel Defense Forces chief of staff at the time of Israel’s Six Day War victory.
He then launched a political career that saw him serve two stints as prime minister.
After he was elected premier for a second time in 1992, he led the first Israeli government to recognize Palestinian national aspirations and to treat the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people.
In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat for his part in signing the Oslo peace accords.
Right-wing extremist Yigal Amir shot Rabin to death on November 4, 1995, at the end of an event the prime minister had held in Tel Aviv to demonstrate public support for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.