Yitzhak Rabin and Barack Obama

11/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday at a rally when John McCain asked, "Who is Barack Obama?", a supporter shouted back, "Terrorist."

And at a rally led by Sarah Palin, when she mischaracterized a New York Times story as pointing to an alliance between Obama and Bill Ayers, someone screamed "Kill him."

Neither McCain nor Palin have actually advocated such actions or said that Obama himself is a "terrorist," but they and their campaign have certainly engaged in smear campaigns creating enough innuendos to cause an atmosphere where such rants would not be totally unexpected.

This eerily reminds me of the atmosphere before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Israel. Far-right Israelis had been engaging in a campaign of vilification against Rabin for months. Right-wing politicians had done nothing to discourage extreme incitement or death threats against Rabin. Posters filled the walls across Israel with horrifying statements and dehumanizing captions against Rabin. Extremist Rabbis said Rabin was betraying Jews and was cursed to death.

Then came Yigal Amir, the assassin who shot Yitzhak Rabin at point blank. When asked, he said he was inspired to kill Rabin to avenge the Jewish people and prevent him undermining Israel.

Suddenly after Rabin's chilling assassination, everyone was against dehumanization and incitement. Everyone had condemned such vitriol all along. Everyone loved Rabin, the martyr and hero. It was unclear how all those posters got posted on the walls, or who had made all those calls into radio stations with threats against Rabin.

Before Rabin's fate presages Obama's, McCain and Palin -- and in particularly Sarah Palin, whose hateful accusations earlier today were only little short of the more fanatical ones out there -- have the responsibility to draw the line and demand from their followers a civil discourse based on the issues, recognizing the patriotism of their counterpart, instead of raising suspicions about Obama's commitment to America, as Palin explicitly did throughout her rally earlier today.

If something happens to Obama, not only the McCain campaign but also all the "swift" teams and fear-mongering groups that are crossing the line will share in the responsibility for creating the environment that caused some fanatical follower to avenge the American people.

ADDENDUM: To be fair, this weekend McCain demonstrated leadership and responsibility in beginning to discourage irresponsible statements from his supporters:
See Better Late Than Never:
And this Youtube Video:
Perhaps the Huffington Post carries more influence than we ever imagined... :-)