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A Few Notables in Israel Find Places as Freshman Lawmakers

May 29, 1999|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — When the men and women of Israel's new parliament take their seats early next month, they will represent more elected parties than ever before in the country's history. There will be more women than ever before. There will be a large number of immigrants as well.

And there will be a few familiar faces, people who have claims to fame that precede their freshman stints as Israeli legislators.

By far the most well-known name among the 40 newcomers to the 120-member Knesset, or parliament, will be Rabin. Dalia Rabin-Pelossof is the daughter of Yitzhak Rabin, the peace-forging prime minister who was assassinated by a far-right Jew in 1995.

Seated a few rows behind Rabin-Pelossof will be Ahmed Tibi, an Arab doctor from Jerusalem who worked for most of the last 15 years as a senior advisor to, and very public spokesman for, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Tibi, whose decision to run for parliament was attacked by some Palestinians who don't recognize Israel, and by some Israelis who regard him as a spy for Arafat, says he hopes to help the 20% of the Israeli people who are Arab.

Joining Rabin-Pelossof and Tibi is Uri Savir, the diplomat who probably did more than any other Israeli to draft the nation's first peace accords with the Palestinians.

Rabin-Pelossof, 49, says her decision to abandon a successful law career and venture into politics was motivated by a burning desire to unseat right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Rabin family blamed Netanyahu for contributing to the hostile environment that led to Yitzhak Rabin's murder. Six months after Rabin's assassination, Netanyahu was elected to the premiership.

"Personally, for me and my family, the last three years have been a long nightmare," Rabin-Pelossof said.

In the end, Netanyahu was defeated by Rabin protege and former army commander Ehud Barak, the leader of Rabin's Labor Party, in a landslide May 17.

Rabin-Pelossof chose to run for the Knesset not with Labor but with the new Center Party. She was sixth on its list of legislative candidates and barely squeaked by the threshold needed to attain a seat.

The night of Barak's victory, tens of thousands of his supporters crowded into the square where Rabin was killed, in festive, tearful celebration and memorial. Rabin's widow, Leah, was there. An exhausted Rabin-Pelossof, who was representing a different party, only passed by. Still, the new legislator said she was infected by the joy.

"I felt it was my celebration also," said Rabin-Pelossof, who has her father's eyes and mouth and, by reputation, his independent streak. She has two children, one of whom is Noa, the weeping granddaughter who moved the world to tears with a stirring eulogy at Rabin's funeral.

Being Rabin's daughter has always been a double-edged sword, Rabin-Pelossof said: during the campaign, when people stared at her in recognition and remembrance; throughout her life, when she felt permanently compelled to prove herself based on merit, not name; and now, as she enters parliament.

"I was always very proud of my father, but it never made things easier," she said. She said she intends to use her Knesset role to fight for the rights of workers and women.

If Rabin-Pelossof, Tibi and Savir come from a background shaped by peacemaking, their fellow first-term lawmaker Tommy Lapid, "the Archie Bunker of Israel," is famous for other reasons.

Lapid was a cranky regular on a television talk show where commentators and politicians did more yelling than talking, kind of like America's "McLaughlin Group." The Yugoslav-born Holocaust survivor flaunted his conservative views on women's rights, gays and the poor.

And then Lapid decided to run for the Knesset on a single issue: ending ultra-Orthodox Jewish influence on the state. He pulled no punches, ridiculing the "Jewish fundamentalism" of his enemies.

To the shock of most of Israel, Lapid's little-known party, Shinui, which means "change," came from nowhere and captured six seats.

Lapid says he was as stunned as anybody. Now he plans to press ahead with his same secular cause, even though the religious parties he campaigned against won almost 20% of the Knesset seats. He promises fireworks.

"I'm not really afraid of contention," Lapid said.

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