The row was typical of the man, sparked by his penchant for plain talking, his utter disinclination for hypocritical diplomatic niceties. And those of us who supported Rabin - probably a slight majority of the Israeli public - loved him for that bluntness, that addiction to telling it straight.
But we admired and respected him for much more than that. And today, as we bury our most courageous prime minister, we wonder where our country can go now without him. For Yizhak Rabin represented the heart of Israel. In his personality and his career were contained both the very essence of our past and all our aspirations for a more normal future. And now, we shiver with uncertainty, numbed by the vacuum at our core.
For three-and-a-half years, after he narrowly won election in June 1991, we watched Rabin gradually come to acknowledge that he really had the chance to secure Israel's future by making peace with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world. When he hesitated, at the White House in September 1993, before accepting Yasser Arafat's outstretched hand, we understood that pause. We hesitated with him. He joked that he had butterflies in his stomach. We shared them. Was this a terrible mistake, trying to build a partnership with a man who for so long had been dedicated to our elimination? The two years since have demonstrated that, no, this is not a mistake. Only Rabin, surely, could have navigated us along this route. Rabin read the writing on the wall, but refused to be cowed by it. Yes, he said, just days ago, he knew that the screams of "murderer" and "traitor" directed at him by right-wing demonstrators were creating a climate ripe for political assassination. But he insisted , as ever, on leading from the front, insisted that he felt secure in the midst of his people.
For all the pain and the grief, we would feel different if he had been gunned down by a Palestinian. That one of our own people should have done this, should have calmly squeezed the trigger, and now complacently eschews remorse ...
I am still shaking as I write these lines. Everybody I know here has been crying. Most of us have been up through the night, unable to tear ourselves away from the television screens and the radio. I moved here from England 12 years ago, and now I wonder if the country I came to is still here. I wonder how I can contemplate ever sending my two young sons to fight in the Israeli army for a people that could produce this murderer.
While the analysts speculate about the impact on the peace process and the likely domestic political fallout, I just want to cry for my country. Having lost Rabin, and lost him like this, I fear for the very fabric of our society. If he can be killed , then everything about Israel is vulnerable. All bets are off. Will we disintegrate into anarchy? Can our democracy survive? One thing is certain. We have proved to be our own worst enemies. For 48 years, we have resisted the hostility of our neighbours. Now we ourselves have stopped our own heart from beating.
David Horovitz is managing editor of the Jerusalem Report news magazine.Reuse content