A political biography of a pragmatic centrist who paid with his life when the center could not hold.
It is almost impossible to write anything about the Middle East in general—and Israel in particular—that is not contentious, and this biography of Israel’s first native-born prime minister, however measured its tone, necessarily has its own perspective and point of view. Israel Institute president Rabinovich (Israel and the Arab Turmoil, 2014, etc.) served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, just as his subject had before him, and was appointed by Rabin to be chief negotiator with Syria. He plainly sees the rise of the radical right as responsible both for Rabin’s assassination and for his succession by the still-controversial (and still-in-power) Benjamin Netanyahu, though he stops short of implicating the latter in the former. Rabinovich does his best to elucidate the complexities of his subject, “a political dove and a military hawk,” amid the political complexities of Israel and the United States as well as the relations between the two. He also shows how any sort of peace or reconciliation within Israeli politics alone may be difficult to achieve, let alone sustain. Of Rabin’s relationship with the more conservative Shimon Peres, whom the prime minister felt compelled to appoint as his Minister of Defense, the author writes, “this was the first round of a joint journey between two political Siamese twins that would last for twenty-one years—twins who both disliked and appreciated each other, competed and partnered, eventually realizing they were joined at the hip and bound to collaborate with each other.” Rabin’s rise to power also found him navigating bumpy relationships with David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan (both subjects of previous biographies within the publisher’s Jewish Lives series).
Ideologues may well find reason to argue with the biography’s analysis of its subject’s life and death, but it puts the complexities of his career and achievement in fresh perspective.