Nearly a decade after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, his daughter fears that Israeli society has not yet faced up to the underlying causes of the horrifying crime by a Jewish extremist.
"We are still an intolerant people, afraid of diversity, unwilling to compromise, and our democracy is still in the making," said Dalia Rabin, a former Knesset member and deputy defense minister on a recent visit to Los Angeles. "We have not yet dealt with our national dilemmas and divisions of secular against religious, newcomers against old-timers, and Sephardim against Ashkenazim."
But she has not given up on her father's goal to "create a normal society on a platform of peace" and she looks on the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies as her chief instrument to fulfill her father's legacy.
The prime minister and war hero was assassinated in November 1995 at a Tel Aviv peace rally and the new Rabin Center building, designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, will be dedicated a decade later on Nov. 15, 2005.
Rabin expects many of the world leaders who attended her father's funeral to participate in the dedication.
The center was established by law in 1997 and housed in temporary quarters. Dalia Rabin resigned from the Knesset two years ago to assume the full-time chairmanship of the center.
During a visit to California in December to speak at the Governor's Conference on Women and Families, she outlined her vision for the center in an interview.
"I believe in education," she said, describing the center's mission as the democratic education of Israeli society, from the army, civil service, teachers and students to immigrants in development towns, Arabs, Druze and other minorities.
Currently underway are a number of programs, such as sensitivity training workshops for Israeli soldiers, border police and police officers serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The workshops address what Rabin sees as one of the most frightening developments in Israeli society.
"We have become much more violent and much more indifferent to human life because of what has happened during the last few years of the intifada," she said.
One reason is that "we send 18- and 19-year-olds, mainly from the poorer segments of our society, to man checkpoints and we ask them to cope with the responsibility of detecting terrorists while still remaining humane," she added.
During the one-day workshops, trained moderators use films, role-playing, simulation games, and extensive discussions to drive home the diversity and democratic basis of Israeli society, including its many Jewish strands, Arabs, Druse and Circassians.
In 2003, some 6,000 young uniformed men and women took part in the workshops and most requested a follow-up session, Rabin said.
Other programs include the University Within Reach, which targets 11th-graders, mainly from the country's disadvantaged and multiethnic communities, and mixes them in semesterlong university courses. The classes seek to give the youngsters a sense of empowerment and some of the tools to qualify them for higher education.
In the Democratic Challenge program, high school students are offered enrichment courses on the values of a democratic society, not as abstract slogans but as concrete problem-solving challenges.
The Handshake Network program twins kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers and students in neighboring Jewish and Arab schools, who work together on joint projects for one year.
Cooperating in the programs are the Israel Democracy Institute, Menachem Begin Heritage Center and most Israeli universities, and Rabin said that future efforts will involve civil service officials, young Israelis about to start their military service and student groups from the Diaspora.
The future home of the Rabin Center has quite a history of its own. It is now rising above a bunker in northern Tel Aviv, constructed on order of then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s as an emergency power station in case of a nuclear attack on the city, Rabin said.
The bunker itself, near the Hayarkon Park and Tel Aviv University, is the new site of the Israel Defense Forces Museum.
On top of the bunker, the Rabin Center will include a museum, information center, archives, library, academic research institute and an education resource center "for the promotion of tolerance and pluralism."
To symbolize the purpose of the center and soften the severe lines of the bunker, Safdie is placing two sets of large dove-like wings on the upper façade.
Dominating the museum will be spiraling, segmented exhibits, intertwining the personal and public life of Yitzhak Rabin with the social and military history of Palestine and Israel from the early 1920s to the present.
The museum will incorporate some aspects of an American Presidential library, while its international planning staff includes experts who helped conceptualize the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Museum of Civil Rights in Birmingham, Ala. and the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem.
The Israeli government provides the annual operating budget of slightly more than $1 million per year, but the construction cost of about $35 million must come from private donors.
Dalia Rabin, a lawyer and mother of two adult children, is now preoccupied mainly with fundraising. She said that about two-thirds of the sum had been collected, with $12 million coming from private Israeli donors, $5 million each from the German and United States governments and another $5 million from various sources, including the Norwegian government. That leaves $8 million to go, and during Rabin's three-day visit to Los Angeles, she met with potential large donors and the heads of the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation.
In the United States, the American Friends of the Rabin Center has been organized to publicize the center and encourage contributions. For information, contact Jeannie Gerzon at (212) 616-6161, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on the center's mission and plans can be found at www.rabin.org.
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