Appearing angry but composed, Yitzhak Rabin’s widow, Leah, bluntly criticized her husband’s political opponents Tuesday, claiming that they created and even encouraged the hateful climate that inspired his assassination.
Just a day after the funeral, still gracefully accepting the condolences of friends, Rabin’s strong and articulate wife of 47 years recalled the many personal verbal attacks that hurt her husband but never dissuaded him from his single-minded pursuit--"like a bulldozer,” she said--of peace.
So upset was she with the moderate rightist members of the Knesset, the nation’s Parliament--who she claimed stood by while extremists harassed Rabin--that she admitted snubbing Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party, at the funeral by being “as cold as I could be.”
“Surely I blame them,” Leah Rabin said of the Likud members, her husband’s most vocal critics in the Knesset. “If you ever heard their speeches, you would understand what I mean. They were very, very violent in their expressions: ‘We are selling the country down the drain.’ ‘There will be no Israel after this peace agreement.’ I mean, this was wild.”
“You understand it on the merit of the political game, but still,” she told ABC News. “This was really enough to create the climate that thinks like this.”
She made similar remarks again and again in lengthy television and radio interviews in Rabin’s book-lined study at the couple’s Tel Aviv duplex. She paused between interviews to greet friends and family amid the clatter of plates and voices. Outside, a steady stream of well-meaning strangers arrived, standing silently to pay their respects.
She said she had wanted to avoid shaking hands with Netanyahu at the funeral in Jerusalem on Monday but changed her mind at the last minute.
“In situations like this, you better not put on shows and not tell him right in his face that ‘I don’t want to shake your hand,’ ” she said. But, she added, “he knew, and we both understood that we would have both loved to avoid shaking each other’s hand.”
Netanyahu and other Likud leaders, caught off guard by Leah Rabin’s sharp criticism, suggested that the widow was too overcome with grief to be taken seriously.
“I would not judge a person in their grief,” Netanyahu said. Though acknowledging his deep differences with Rabin, he denied personally encouraging a hate climate in Israel.
For Leah Rabin, though, memories of the ceaseless criticism leveled at her husband, even from some who mourned with her, remained particularly painful.
During a rally in Jerusalem not long ago, she recalled, “they put the figure of Yitzhak, my husband, in the uniform of a Nazi leader, and Mr. Netanyahu was there. He later talked against it, but he was there and didn’t stop it,” she told ABC.
In an interview with CNN, she added: “Now he can say from here to eternity that he didn’t support it. But he was there, and he didn’t try to stop it. I do blame them.”
Every Friday for the past year, she noted, her husband would arrive home, tired from a long week of work, only to be shouted at by extremists protesting his peace deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“They were here, yelling ‘Traitor! Killer!’ ” she told Reuters news service. “It was the worst. I used to smile, because it was so ridiculous--and it was so irrelevant.”
All the threats, she said, “hurt him some, I think, but not enough for him to tell people to do something. He was like a bulldozer, going one way, one direction, and the direction was peace and security for the country.”
But she said neither she nor her husband felt especially threatened, so confident were they of the goodwill of the Jewish people and the professionalism of their security detail.
“People always told me to take good care of my husband, and I tried my best,” she told one interviewer. “But, by God, I felt he was protected and that nothing would happen to him. I must admit, I never was scared.”
The night of the killing, Leah Rabin was among the last to learn that her husband had been shot. Police who whisked her away from the scene told her that the gun she heard fired was only a toy, she said. Kept at police headquarters for half an hour, she began questioning that account and was finally told the truth.
But she said she bears no animosity toward the police who guarded her husband.
In contrast to her rebuke of Jewish rightists, she said she was moved by the condolences offered by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
“Sometimes I think, despite the fact that we are Jewish and the right is Jewish, that we could easier find a common language with Palestinians and Arabs,” she told one interviewer. “Because we [the right and left in Israel] live on two different planets.”