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This week in Jewish history | Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Prize laureate Yitzhak Rabin born

02 Mar 2021

On 1 March 1922, Yitzhak Rabin - who would go on to become an Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Prize winner - was born in Jerusalem.  

Rabin came from a strong Zionistic background. His father, Nehemiah, immigrated to the area from the United States, served as a volunteer in the Jewish Legion during World War I. His mother, Rosa, was one of the first members of the Haganah.  

After finishing school, Rabin became a member of the Palmach, and would go on to serve in the elite fighting force and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for 27 years, with his military career culminating as the IDF Chief of Staff. Rabin developed IDF fighting doctrines and protocols, which were crucial in Israel’s miraculous victory during the Six Day War in 1967. 

After retiring from the IDF, Rabin was appointed Israeli Ambassador to the United States, where he served from 1968 to 1973. During his tenure in D.C., Rabin promoted "strategic cooperation" and forged a close relationship with U.S. leaders. 

Following his term as ambassador, Rabin returned to Israel and became an active member of the Labor Party. In 1973, he was elected a Member of the Knesset and was appointed to serve as the Minister of Labor. However, the government would not last long and on 2 June 1974, the Knesset voted in a new government headed by Rabin.  

In his first stint as prime minister, Rabin strived to improve the economy, solve social problems, and strengthen the military. Under his leadership, Rabin’s government signed the first Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. One of Rabin’s most memorable moments of his first term as prime minister was the Entebbe Operation, a covert rescue operation of 94 Israeli passengers and 12 crew members who had been taken hostage at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  

Rabin stepped down as prime minister and the leader of the Labor Party after it was discovered that he and his wife violated Israeli law by maintaining bank accounts in the United States. Following the Labor Party’s defeat, Rabin became a member of the opposition and served on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee until the formation of a National Unity Government in September 1984, when he was selected to serve as the minister of defense.  

Following another stint in the opposition, Rabin was elected to serve another term as prime minister. On 13 September 1993, under the direction of Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Negotiator Mahmoud Abbas signed the first of two historic agreements laying a foundation for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict based on a two-state solution by signing the Oslo Accords at the South Lawn of the White House.  

Many Israelis considered the unprecedented agreement controversial, including those who believed the PLO had not renounced terrorism and that negotiating with it violated Israel’s long-held policy of not negotiating with terrorists.  

Following the signing of the agreement with the Palestinians, Rabin and Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul-Salam Majali signed a historic peace treaty ending decades of open conflict and establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries on 26 October 1994. 

Rabin’s life would come to a tragic and abrupt end on 4 November 1995, when he was assassinated by right-wing extremist Yigal Amir, as he exited a peace rally in support of the Oslo Accords in Tel Aviv.  

Dozens of world leaders attended Rabin’s funeral including King Hussein of Jordan, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Spanish Prime Minister and European Council President-in-Office Felipe González, and Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien. American President Bill Clinton, a key mediator of the Oslo Accords, ended his eulogy with two words in Hebrew, “Shalom Chaver” [goodbye friend].