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Published: Thursday, 11/16/2000

A widow's transformation

Leah Rabin, the 72-year-old widow of murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, died of lung cancer within days of the fifth anniversary of her husband's untimely death.

Her husband's murder in 1995 at the hands of a religious fanatic and political extremist brought this once apolitical woman in from the tennis court and onto the national scene where she promoted her late husband's message for peace with the Palestinians, in the process becoming a national mother figure.

Her newfound public admiration did not encourage any political aspirations, but she could always be counted on for frankness, openly sniping at Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing opposition leader who later became prime minister, blaming him and his coterie for creating a murderously divisive climate in Israel.

She held him particularly responsible for refusing to prevent a detractor from portraying her husband as a Nazi leader at a Likud rally.

And while her husband's enemies in the Middle East gloated over the death of this former soldier turned politician, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat made his first trip to Israel to pay his condolences in Tel Aviv. He viewed himself as a personal friend of her husband. She said Mr. Rabin viewed Mr. Arafat as a partner in peace.

She would later become a voice for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, appearing at remembrances for her husband at home, at a Madison Square Garden service for 12,000, and at the Vatican.

Ever graceful and on point, she cut through the palaver of the extremists effectively. Like her husband, who had a formidable career as a warrior, she had known war. And like him she had come to believe that peace needed a chance.

That belief cost her husband his life, and cost her the equanimity that a commitment to Israel promised so many. He died in pursuit of peace. She died seeing those who succeeded him fail to make the peace he surely would have, had he lived. Sometimes life is like that.



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