A Sacred Killing?

Murder in the Name of God: The Plot to Kill Yitzhak Rabin by Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman 292pp, (Granta)13.99.

On November 4, 1995, at the end of a jubilant rally for peace, Yigal Amir, a religious student, pumped two bullets into Yitzhak Rabin and a third into his bodyguard.The shots
ruptured his spleen, severed major arteries in his chest and shattered his spinal cord.An hour and a half later, the Israeli Prime Minister died on the operating table.

The object of the act was to politically wreck the Oslo Accords and reverse the 
rapprochement with the historic enemy, the Palestinians. A few months later, in the 
wake of a bombing campaign by Islamists, bent on martyrdom and opposed to Arafat, the 
leader of the right-wing Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed a slender victory 
over Rabin's ill-fated successor, Shimon Peres. Land was now placed before peace and 
when Netanyahu visited London at the end of 1997, several hundred Jews, claiming to 
speak for a probable majority of the British community, accused him in an open letter 
of 'emptying the peace process of all content'. It would seem therefore that, so far, 
Yigal Amir has been more than successful in his strategy.

Amir was a braggart who boasted to several student acquaintances that he intended to 
kill Rabin. In 1995, he had tried on four separate occasions to get within firing range of the Prime Minister, each time he either received a 'sign' that the time had not 
come or he simply bottled out. Amir was neither an habitual loner nor a deranged 
fanatic. He was a far-right activist who was known to the Shabak (General Security 
Services). What then pushed Amir to cross the threshold to murder? Karpin and Friedman argue convincingly that he was the instrument of a rising tide of unprincipled 
incitement by the mainstream opponents of the Oslo Accord which included
Netanyahu himself. Indeed some right-wing leaders such as Benny Begin and Dan Meridor
condemned Netanyahu for his opportunism and refused to mount this bandwagon.

Amir, the authors claim, stood in the centre of three concentric circles. The innermost
consisted of nine students none of whom were known to the Shabak. The second circle
consisted of hundreds of religious nationalists and sections of the ultra-orthodox who had declared their willingness to commit acts of violence against left-wing politiciansThe outermost circle embraced a wide network of right-wing activists, which in turn 
drew tens of thousands of sympathisers. The authors suggest that 'together they createdan atmosphere which legitimised the act secretly planned by Yigal Amir'.

Full-time activists and settlers operated a network which was targeted on breaking 
Rabin mentally. Their operations were approved by representatives of four political 
parties, including Netanyahu on behalf of the Likud, and whose costs were defrayed by 
funds originally allocated to the parties by the national treasury.
Thus the epithets flew in a rising tide of paranoia: traitor, Nazi, dog, anti-Semite,
collaborator, schizoid, alcoholic. The ultra-orthodox Hashavua succinctly commented:
The day will come when the Israeli public will bring Rabin and Peres into court, with
the alternatives being the gallows or the insane asylum. 

In a private poll carried out for him a few weeks before his death, Rabin was informed that an estimated 800 Israelis were willing to commit murder to halt the peace process and some 6,000 were prepared take up arms against the army and the police.

Yet Rabin was anxious to avoid overt confrontation which might spark off a wider
conflict amongst the Jews. He overruled two Chiefs-of-Staff Ehud Barak, now the Labour
Party candidate for prime minister and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a leading member of the
recently established Centre party who wanted to evacuate some settlements.

Did Amir receive rabbinical authorisation to commit the murder? While Amir provided any
information that his interrogators required, he refused to clarify this point, although
initially he stated that he had secured rabbinical approval. Significantly, in a
letter to a hostile rabbi from prison, Amir's brother wrote: 

Your eminence attacks my brother and calls him wicked. Does your
eminence know why he did what he did? My brother did it for the sake of the Lord, in
the purest possible way. He received a halachic (Jewish law) ruling from a rabbi, and
he acted according to halacha, and with sanctity, knowing that he was probably going
to die for it.

Although some eminent settler rabbis were called in, the police were clearly
out of their depth in dealing with such venerable personalities and their Talmudic
interpretations. This line of investigation was soon dropped.

This journalistic account would have been improved with less stereotyping of the
religious way of life, but it is undoubtedly a well argued, factual and highly 
disturbing investigation into the political cesspool of Israeli extremism and its 
rationalisation of incitement and cold-blooded murder.
Guardian 17 April 1999

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