Bill Clinton on the rise of nationalism: 'We are all having an identity crisis at once'

U.S. President Bill Clinton stands between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin as the two shake hands on October 25, 1995.   Rabin and Arafat shook hands for the first time after Israel and the PLO signed a historic agreement on Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories.

Story highlights

  • Clinton spoke at the Brookings Institution in Washington Thursday
  • He said Rabin's assassination was one of the worst days of his presidency

Washington (CNN)Former President Bill Clinton said Thursday that the rise of nationalism worldwide over the last five years mimics the strife inside Israel that eventually led to the death of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Clinton, speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Rabin's assassination was one of the worst days of his presidency and suggested that the conflict between left and right in Israel that led to Rabin's death was a "microcosm" of the rise of nationalism.
    "This is a global deal. It is like we are all having an identity crisis at once," Clinton said about nationalism in Europe, the United States and Asia. "What happened 20 years ago is a microcosm of what is coming full bloom today. And these things are going to need to be worked out."
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    Nationalism has been on the rise worldwide. In what has been dubbed Brexit, voters in the United Kingdom in 2016 backed leaving the European Union and a number of nationalist leaders have either risen to power or are polling well in coming elections.
    Clinton didn't specifically mention President Donald Trump, who bested his wife, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election. Steve Bannon, Trump's top strategist, said Trump used an "economic nationalist agenda" to win.
    "My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else," Trump said in 2016. "That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration."
    Bill Clinton, reflecting on politics, said, "I think somehow or another we have to find a way to bring simple, personal decency and trust back to our politics."
    After agreeing to the Oslo Accords with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Rabin was assassinated by right-wing law student Yigal Amir on November 4, 1995. Amir would later tell the judge that he killed Rabin in order to halt the Middle East peace process.
    The shooting was preceded by widespread condemnation of Rabin from the right because his decision to sign the Oslo Accords, which Clinton had published. Rabin was accused of compromising Israel as a Jewish state and was portrayed at anti-Oslo Accords rallies in a Nazi SS uniform, Clinton said Thursday.
    Clinton eulogized Rabin in 1995 as not only a monumental world leader, but as a "partner and friend."
    "Every moment we shared was a joy because he was a good man and an inspiration, because he was also a great man," Clinton said in the eulogy.
    On Thursday, Clinton ended his speech with a reflection on his late friend.
    "I loved him very much," he said. "And I miss him still."