Yitzhak Rabin: A Political Biography
by Leslie Derfler
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 183 pp. $91.
Reviewed by Moshe Dann
Middle East Quarterly
Derfler, a professor emeritus at Florida Atlantic University, has written what his publisher calls "a critical and analytical biography [which] makes use of recently-opened archival material and provides explanations for the important episodes in Rabin's life." This claim is clearly unsupported by a reading of the work. Yitzhak Rabin relies entirely on secondary sources, nearly all from the political Left, many apparently culled from Internet sites. The book presents no new information or analysis, and it would seem that Derfler neither met Rabin nor interviewed those close to him.
The portrayal of the Israeli soldier-politician as a tough, torn, and tragic figure follows the traditional model. Rabin has been enshrined by national empathy and sadness following his assassination, hallowed by an officially mandated day of mourning and educational propaganda distributed to every public school in Israel, and further promoted by the government-supported Rabin Center. But a true evaluation of Rabin and his leadership has been hard to come by, and this book provides no corrective.
Derfler is best when discussing Rabin's power struggle with Shimon Peres, a personal rivalry that defined his political character, but the book lacks depth when looking at the rest of Rabin's personality. Missing, for example, is an understanding of Rabin's relationship to U.S. presidents and
their power, for instance, his seduction by the Clinton administration, which led to Oslo. Given Rabin's weaknesses—such as his nervous breakdown on the eve of the Six-Day War—his Left/liberal ideology, and a determined Shimon Peres, the true result of Rabin's years in power is a legacy of incompetence and failure.
Derfler does recount some examples of Rabin's problematic decision-making but fails to connect the dots. He presents Rabin as a realist, tired of fighting Palestinians and willing to take a chance for peace, but this is far from new or revealing. Derfler's bête noir, however, is not Palestinian incitement and terrorism but those who opposed the Rabin/Peres policies.
The author's scholarship is gratingly and glaringly tendentious. He claims: "While most Israelis were immensely saddened by [Rabin's] assassination, the ultra-religious right and secular nationalists welcomed it." Those who believe such nonsense will enjoy this book; others will not.
Related Topics: Israel & Zionism | Moshe Dann | Spring 2015 MEQ
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