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Yitzhak Rabin: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

(November 4, 1995)

To a large extent, religiosity has become a good indicator of Israelis' attitudes on peacemaking and territories issues, specifically the Oslo process. This nexus elicits its harshest rhetoric in the context of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995. The second anniversary of the assassination, observed on Nov. 4-12, 1997, brought forth a discourse that suggests, to those engaged in it, that the tragedy has created a new pressure sore.

Nine Days, Two Conspiracy Theories

The anniversary period occasioned a raft of headlines suggesting that “the Left” and “the Right” were squaring off for war over the causes (note the plural) of the Rabin assassination, with the focus on conspiracies.

The conspiracy theory expressed in the name of “the Left” emerged in November 1995, immediately after the assassination. Articulated sometimes as an innuendo and sometimes as a certainty, it alleged that Rabin had been assassinated collectively by “the Right,” “the settlers,” “the religious,” or some combination/mutation of the three. Yigal Amir's trigger finger, this account argued, was a marionette appendage actuated by vile and benighted hordes that should be cast out of the Israeli polity if not targeted for revenge. Those who share this conviction have coined a slogan: “Never Forgive, Never Forget.” In an advertisement published on Nov. 7, for example, the Peace Bloc (an alliance of small groups rooted in Canaanism and the intifada-era far Left) referred to Rabin's murder “by nationalist religious zealots.” Within a few days, unidentified individuals had issued death threats against several rightist-Orthodox parliamentarians.

The theory expressed by “the Right” revolved around Avishai Raviv, whom the General Security Service (GSS) had recruited to inform on the extreme Right. The publication of hitherto-classified sections of Shamgar Commission of Inquiry into the Rabin assassination, which by chanced coincided with the anniversary, shed some light on Raviv's provocative tactics and led some to argue that Raviv had incited Amir on the instructions of the GSS, which had scores to settle with Rabin.

Proponents of the two theories met, so to speak, on Nov. 30 at a Tel Aviv workshop entitled: “The Avishai Raviv Affair and Who is Afraid of Probing the Conspiracy to Assassinate Rabin.” While the Ravivists conspired inside the hall, a squad of demonstrators from a peace movement protested outside. The message on their posters: “Everyone knows who incited.”

Some mainstream figures who keep their distance from conspiracy-mongers nevertheless allude to these sentiments. On the Right, cabinet secretary Danny Naveh alleged (Nov. 15) that politicians associated with the previous Government knew that at least some of Avishai Raviv's actions were committed “within the framework” of the GSS and exploited them to besmirch the “national camp” (as the mainstream Right has termed itself since the 1980s). MK Rehavam Zeevy, head of the Moledet Party, blamed Rabin for his own murder “as the official in charge of the GSS” (Nov. 14).

On the center-left, Labour Party chairman Ehud Barak flirted with his fringe's conspiracy theory in otherwise conciliatory memorial remarks on Nov. 12. “May we never assail each other from rooftops and terraces,” he said, alluding to the infamous 1995 Likud rally, addressed by party leader Benjamin Netanyahu from a balcony, beneath which Raviv circulated with a poster that had Rabin's head superimposed on a picture of SS commander Heinrich Himmler in full regalia—“and not stand at streetcorners and plazas surrounded by symbols of death, blood, and treason”—an in direct reference to the extraparliamentary movements' tactics that year. However, Barak then deliberately modified the fringe players' formula: “We won't forget Rabin, and we won't forgive his murderer.”

The notion of setting aside the Rabin assassination as sui generis, as Israel usually does with the Holocaust—a matter comparable to nothing else, an event only to be rued and, in the context of recurrence, prevented—has yet to mature among those who feel strongly about the matter.

Who Wants This War?

Not the majority of Israel.

On July 8, the Knesset enacted a State memorial day for Yitzhak Rabin, to be marked annually on 12 Heshvan, the anniversary of his death according to the Jewish calendar. On Dec. 22, the Knesset Dialogue, Tolerance, and Conciliation Covenant was signed, realizing a post-assassination initiative of MK Rafi Edery (Labour), President Ezer Weizman, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron. Its signatories, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, opposition leader Barak, ministers and parliamentarians from all factions, and various extra-parliamentary movements, undertook to “act within the law, display mutual respect; avoid rhetoric of hate and incitement, maintain civilized debate in the Knesset, and take action against anyone who threatens democratic governance.” The internal security system kept the “Ideological Front,” successor to the two outlawed Kahanist movements, under close surveillance.

The courts chilled the violent brew that preceded the assassination. (1) In February, the State appealed successfully the September 1996 District Court reversal of the conviction in Netanya Magistrate's Court of Nathan Ophir, rabbi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for behavior liable to breach the peace and obstructing police in an attempted assault against Prime Minister Rabin on Oct. 10, 1995. Ophir was sentenced to 160 hours of public service. (2) On Sept. 3, Jerusalem Magistrate's Court convicted anti-Oslo leaders Moshe Feiglin and Shmuel Sackett of sedition for their conduct in the summer of 1995. (3) On Nov. 27, Jerusalem Magistrate's Court sentenced Michael Ben-Horin to eight months in prison for incitement to racism and support of a terror organization for having edited Barukh hagever, a memorial anthology for Baruch Goldstein.

The mainstream “settler Right,” contrary to routine assessments by the mainstream and fringe Left, reckoned with itself harshly after the assassination. Its establishment barred fringe groups from its political activities and employed such caution in expressing its political aims as to leave its messages sterile and unfocused. Its rank-and-file, perceptibly if less firmly, expunged extreme individuals from its social life.

As for the country at large, the anniversary observances followed the composite Jewish/Western model of rituals that typified the 1995 outpouring. The civic shrine at the site of the assassination, Rabin Square outside Tel Aviv City Hall, has become so accepted in this function that a memorial rally there on Saturday night, Nov. 8, drew an estimated 200,000 persons. Official ceremonies and observances (Nov. 11-12) covered enough institutions as to engage nearly everyone. Orthodox and secular leaders erected “remembrance tents” for fasting, study, and lectures. The mass memorialization and bereavement, so unlike the stridency of the conspiracy-mongers, shows that the public is pursuing a “conspiracy” of its own, with an alacrity that can hardly be insincere: excluding the Rabin assassination and its circumstances from the struggle to delineate the contours of Israeli society.

Sources: Israel Yearbook & Almanac. Reprinted with permission.