Allowing tragedy to take hold

In Tel Aviv last night I happened to be one of 150,000 people at a rally to mark the 12th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, a right-wing extremist who was opposed to Rabin signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, at which Palestinian leaders recognised Israel’s right to exist and a two-state solution reached the agenda (the Accords also brought Nobel Peace Prizes to Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat). The rally was a very flat affair. Attended seemingly only by secular, liberal Israelis, even the secular, liberal newspaper Haaretz described the memorial as ‘hollow’: politicians said nice things about peace, political will, and defeating extremists on either side (note the irony-free militarised rhetoric by peace advocates), although one of these very ministers has authorised further ‘blackouts and starvation’ in Gaza, Haaretz’ commentator noted.rabin.jpg

Today, from prison, Yigal Amir will be permitted to attend his week-old son’s circumcision ceremony. Peace protestors threaten to block the road to the prison, but others on the left and Israeli media academics fret that this will simply generate more publicity for Amir and his cause (the “oxygen of publicity” debate). At the memorial rally last night, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said of Amir, ‘the prison gates will shut him in until his dying day’, Barak unashamedly further politicising a legal decision in a moment of populism. Amir’s family already attract considerable media attention and it seems likely the son will never escape the spotlight, ensuring the event lives on for generations.

There is nothing I can write in a quick blog post that would adequately treat this situation, but from a political communications angle one aspect worth pointing out is the relationship between events, rituals and myths. There are lots of events in a nation’s life, but not all are so entwined with rituals. A death and a birth: Each year the event will be there, as a memorial and a birthday, and media will give it life, drawn to the metaphorical suggestiveness and easy narrative resonance. Perhaps ‘event’ when ritualised in this way is as much verb as noun, inasmuch as an event is done, repeatedly, sometimes tiresomely. Like any early death, an assassination creates an absence: those here on the left ask, if Rabin has lived, would he have won more elections and would there have been a better chance of peace? The absence creates and feeds the myth of Rabin. In these ways, the story of the nation as well as political divisions are reinforced around the event. So might anything break this link of event, ritual and myth? Allowing the link to embed itself seems the path of least resistance for a dispirited society, for it offers its own certainties and reassurances, if only of the bleakest kind.