Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

20 Years after Rabin's Assassination, Those Who Demonized Him Are Running Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2016

ISRAEL, By Dan Ephron  
W.W. Norton and Co., 290 Pages, $27.95.  
The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel on Nov. 4, 1995  
by an ultra-Orthodox religious zealot, Yigal Amir, brought the unknown and  
unreported world of Israel's religious extremists under public scrutiny.  
The assassin was not a lone psychotic gunman but, instead, was a young man  
nurtured within Israel's far-right religious institutions. After the murder,  
he was hailed as a hero by many, not only in Israel, but among kindred  
spirits in the U.S. Now, 20 years later, those who demonized Rabin and  
created the atmosphere in which the assassination became a reality are  
running Israel.  
This important book by Dan Ephron, who served as Jerusalem bureau chief for  
Newsweek and the Daily Beast, relates the parallel stories of Rabin and his  
stalker, Yigal Amir, over the two years leading up to the assassination, as  
one of them planned political agreements he hoped would lead to peace, and  
the other plotted murder. Dan Ephron covered both the rally where Rabin was  
killed and the subsequent murder trial.  
Curse of Death  
It is instructive to review the events of those days. Two weeks before the  
assassination, Victor Cygielman, the correspondent of the French weekly, Le  
Nouvelle Observateur, summed up the developments of the past months. He  
began by describing the eerie ceremony in which a small group of religious  
fanatics had stood before Rabin's house on the eve of Yom Kippur and intoned  
the mystical Pulsa da-Nura, a kabbalistic curse of death. He wrote of the  
explicit 'contract' put out on Rabin's life by rabbis who invoked the  
Talmudic concept of din rodef, the sentence pronounced on a Jewish traitor.  
Cygielman cited the handbill passed out at a mass demonstration in Jerusalem  
on Oct. 5 showing Rabin in an SS uniform. "The stage was set for the murder  
of the prime minister," he said. Cygielman's article was delayed because of  
technical problems and didn't appear until Nov. 2. Two days later Yitzhak  
Rabin was dead.  
In their book, Murder In The Name of God: The Plot To Kill Yitzhak Rabin,  
Michael Karpin, one of Israel's leading journalists, and Ina Friedman, an  
American-born translator and editor who has lived in Israel for many years,  
write that Yigal Amir "believed that there is only one guideline for fixing  
the borders of the Land of Israel: the Divine Promise made to the Patriarch  
Abraham. 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to  
the great River, the river Euphrates (Genesis 15:17). Today these borders  
embrace a large part of the Middle East, from Egypt to Iraq … zealots read  
this passage as God's Will and God's Will must be obeyed, whatever the cost.  
No mortal has the right to settle for borders any narrower than these. Thus,  
negotiating a peace settlement with Israel's neighbors is unthinkable."  
The rhetoric of Israel's ultra-Orthodox groups preceding Rabin's  
assassination, declare Karpin and Friedman, "made it clear that Rabin's  
death was a legitimate, even a religious goal." Eyakem Ha'etzni, founder of  
the Yesha Council, the voice of the West Bank settler movement, and a former  
Knesset member, compared Rabin with the Vichy French regime which  
collaborated with Hitler during World War II: "Those loyal to the Greater  
Land of Israel have the right to declare a government that gives up  
territory is an illegal one, just as De Gaulle declared the Vichy Government  
illegal … We will treat the signing of the Oslo Agreement as collaboration  
with the Nazis was treated in occupied France … This is an act of treason,  
and it's unavoidable that the day will come when Rabin is tried for this act  
as Petain was."  
Netanyahu Accuses Rabin of "Murder"  
Members of Likud, which now rules Israel, expressed similar views. The  
ultra-Orthodox weekly Havashna published an interview with Ariel Sharon who  
spoke of the Oslo peace policy as "graver than what Petain did … It's hard  
to use the word 'treason' when speaking of Jews, but there's no substantive  
difference. They are sitting with Arafat and planning how to deceive the  
citizens of Israel." Havashna editor Asher Zuckerman wrote in March 1995 of  
a talk he had with then-Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. He quotes  
Netanyahu as saying: "Rabin charges that he's called a terrible word,  
'murderer.' But with all the unpleasantness (implied by that term) he has no  
reason to complain. Whoever is aware of the fetters he placed on soldiers'  
hands have led directly to the murder of a large number of Jews has  
difficulty refraining from use of the terrible word 'murder.'"  
By the critical summer of 1995, Havashna went so far as to charge that Rabin  
and Peres "are leading the state and its citizens to annihilation and must  
be placed before a firing squad." The World Likud, an extension of the  
Israeli party, swamped Orthodox synagogues in the U.S. with leaflets  
assailing the Israeli government. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a professor at  
Yeshiva University and respected authority on Jewish religious law, informed  
the media that according to religious law anyone perceived as rodef should  
be killed. Rabbi Abraham Hecht, head of the Rabbinical Alliance of America,  
declared that surrendering any part of the biblical land of Israel is a  
violation of Jewish religious law and, thus, assassinating Rabin and all who  
assist him, is "both permissible and necessary." Hecht told New York  
Magazine (Oct. 9, 1995) that, "Rabin is not a Jew any longer …. According to  
Jewish law, it says very clearly, if a man kills him, he has done a good  
Even in 1995, Yigal Amir was not part of a small, isolated fringe of Israeli  
society. Hebrew University sociologist Moshe Lissak reported that, "Yigal  
Amir grew out of the mainstream, not the margins'. What is referred to as  
'the ideological fringe' is actually very broad." In Killing a King, Dan  
Ephron places Benjamin Netanyahu at a rally about a month before Rabin's  
assassination, where crowds spent two hours chanting "Death to Rabin."  
Netanyahu did nothing to discourage them.  
Oslo an Act of "Treason"  
Dan Ephron shows how Yigal Amir evolves into the assassin he became. As  
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands in Washington, he writes, "Amir  
watched the televised handshake between Rabin and Arafat. He decided  
instantly that the Oslo deal was not just a calamity for Israel but an act  
of treason by Rabin, the land he would be handing over to the Palestinians  
having been promised by God to the Jews. Amir had been a supporter of  
Moledet, an ultranationalist party whose leader Rehabim Ze'evi, advocated a  
kind of self-deportation for Palestinians — with Israel providing both  
negative and positive inducements. Among Israeli political figures, only the  
late Meir Kahane, the American-born rabbi and agitator who preached a  
xenophobic hatred toward Arabs, articulated more extreme positions. Amir  
favored Kahane but a judicial panel had ruled his Kach Party too nakedly  
racist to compete in elections."  
Amir had volunteered for the Golani Brigade, a military unit with a  
reputation for dealing harshly with Palestinians. Ephron reports that, "In  
dispersing large protests, it was not uncommon for soldiers to separate  
individuals from the crowd and dispense harsh beatings. Private Amir,  
Company C, 13th Battalion, seemed to take special pleasure in it, as a  
member of his unit, Boaz Nagar, would later recall. 'Yigal was the enforcer  
with a capital E. He hit them hard, hit here, push there. Destroy stuff. He  
enjoyed badgering them just for fun.' The behavior drew mostly praise from  
Amir's officers."  
Amir's regular evaluations were so positive that one of Israel's  
intelligence agencies approached him about a mission overseas. The agency,  
Nativ, had been sending Israelis to the Soviet Union for short periods of  
time going back decades — to smuggle books to Zionist activists — who faced  
government harassment, teach them Hebrew and lift their spirits. With the  
Communist era now over and Jews free to leave, the mission evolved. Amir was  
tasked with persuading those political emigrants to choose Israel over other  
destinations, including Germany and the U.S. He spent several months in Riga  
with a second emissary, Avinoam Ezer, who came to regard him as smart and  
Fathoming "God's Will"  
While Amir's upbringing taught him that God alone determined the destiny of  
the Jews, he became impatient with the passiveness of this approach.  
"Instead," writes Ephron, he embraced the idea that Jews 'must learn to  
fathom God's Will' and act accordingly. Amir had read the line in an  
introduction to a book of essays by Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the spiritual  
leader of the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. While Kook seemed not  
quite fiery enough for Amir, the author of the introduction, the far-right  
politician Binyamin Elon, had captured something profoundly meaningful to  
the young extremist. Contrary to … the passive (religious) approach, which  
holds that Divine Will is the sole instrumentality, we must learn to fathom  
God's Will and 'come to help the Lord' (Judges 5:23) and 'act with God,' he  
wrote in his own essay. Elon meant the passage as an exhortation: Jews must  
settle in the West Bank and Gaza rather than wait for God to secure their  
sovereignty over the territory."  
The religious among the settlers added a messianic element to the  
enterprise. "For them," notes Ephron, "the incredible conquest of 1967 could  
only have been the work of God and a sign that the messiah — the great  
Jewish leader who would redeem the world from war and suffering and rebuild  
the ancient Jewish Temple — would soon appear. Settling Judea and Samaria,  
the heart of biblical Israel, was a way to hasten the coming of the  
A terrorist group, which became known as the Jewish Underground, was  
thwarted in its plan to blow up the venerable Muslim shrine known as the  
Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem so that Judaism's ancient temple could be  
rebuilt on its ruins. Yigal Amir, writes Ephron, "regarded the Jewish  
Underground as a model … But he also had the grandiosity to think of himself  
in historic terms — as a link in a chain of Jewish rebellion and zealotry,  
from the Maccabees, who revolted against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd  
century BC, to the Jewish armed groups that operated in Palestine before  
Israel's independence. He and (his brother) Hagai both read The Revolt, a  
kind of manual for guerrilla warfare written by Menachem Begin, who headed  
the pro-independence Irgun Zvzi Leuini (or Irgun, for short) in the 1940s  
and later became Israel's prime minister. The group distinguished itself by  
carrying out devastating attacks against both Palestinian civilians and  
British administrators of Palestine, including the 1946 bombing of  
Jerusalem's King David Hotel that killed 91 people. Amir viewed the Rabin  
government much the way Begin regarded the British Mandate and the Maccabees  
saw the Seleucids: as intruders, purveyors of a foreign culture and a threat  
to Jewish existence. It mattered not that Rabin himself was Jewish, the hero  
of 1967, and the elected prime minister of Israel."  
Baruch Goldstein as a Hero  
A particular hero of Yigal Amir and others in Israel's religious right-wing  
was the American-born physician Baruch Goldstein who, on Feb. 25, 1994  
murdered 29 Palestinians at prayer and injured 100 more. Goldstein, a  
follower of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, lived in the West Bank settlement  
of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to the Palestinian city of Hebron. He dressed in  
the army uniform he kept as a reservist and used a military-issue assault  
Goldstein's anti-Arab views did not interfere with his role in the military  
or as Kiryat Arba's doctor. "During his military service," writes Ephron,  
"and later as a doctor in Kiryat Arba, Goldstein refused to treat Arabs, a  
position that almost got him court-martialed. While running for Kiryat  
Arba's local council in 1992 as a representative of Kahane's Kach Party, he  
advocated 'transferring these hostile Arabs across the border.' He told a  
journalist that Palestinians strove to inflict a second holocaust on the  
Jews of Israel and that 'treasonous politicians were preventing the army  
from operating effectively against them.' … 'After the signing of the Oslo  
deal he seemed to have come unhinged."  
Goldstein was embraced as a hero by far-right rabbis. Rabbi Yitzhak  
Ginsburgh, who wrote a chapter in a book in praise of Goldstein and what he  
did, was also an immigrant from the U.S. He speaks freely of Jews'  
genetically-based spiritual superiority over non-Jews: "If you saw two  
people drowning, a Jew and a non-Jew, the Torah says you save the Jewish  
life first. If every simple cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a  
part of God, then every strand of DNA is part of God. Therefore, there is  
something special about Jewish DNA … If a Jew needs a liver, can you take  
the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would  
probably permit that. Jewish life has an infinite value."  
Killing a Non-Jew Is Not "Murder"  
When it comes to Goldstein's murder of 29 Palestinians at prayer, Jewish  
fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge that such an act constitutes "murder,"  
because in their view of Jewish law, the killing by a Jew of a non-Jew is  
not regarded as murder. When asked if he was sorry about the murdered Arabs,  
militant Rabbi Moshe Levinger declared: "I am sorry not only about dead  
Arabs but about dead flies."  
Military guards transported Goldstein's coffin to Kiryat Arba through  
Palestinian villages. Rabbi Dov Lior, in his eulogy, stated that, "Goldstein  
was full of love for fellow human beings. He dedicated himself to helping  
others." In their book, "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel," Norton Mezvinsky  
and Israel Shahak point out that, "The term 'human beings' and 'others' in  
the Halacha (religious law) refer solely to Jews."  
According to the ideologies which underlie Gush Emunim, the West Bank  
settler group, and Hasidism, non-Jews have "satanic souls." Shahak and  
Mezvinsky note that, "The role of Satan, whose earthly embodiment according  
to the Cabbala is every non-Jew, has been minimized or not mentioned by  
authors who have not written about the Cabbala in Hebrew. Some authors,  
therefore, have not conveyed to readers accurate accounts of general NRP  
(National Religious Party) or its hardcore Gush Emunim politics."  
Differentiation between Jews and Non-Jews  
Common to both the Talmud and Halacha, Orthodox religious law, is a  
differentiation between Jews and non-Jews. The late, highly revered Rabbi  
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the "Lubavitcher Rebbe," who headed the Chabad  
movement and wielded great influence in Israel as well as the U.S.,  
explained that, "The difference between a Jewish and a non-Jewish person  
stems from the common expression: 'Let us differentiate.' Thus, we do not  
have a case of profound change in which a person is merely on a superior  
level. Rather, we have a case of 'let us differentiate' between totally  
different species. This is what needs to be said about the body: the body of  
a Jewish person is of a totally different quality from the body of (members)  
of all nations of the world … A non-Jew's entirely reality is only vanity …  
It Is written, 'And the strangers shall guard and feed your flocks' (Isaiah  
61:5). The entire creation (of a non-Jew) exists only for the sake of the  
Jews …"  
The Jewish fundamentalists believe that God gave all of the Land of Israel  
(including present-day Lebanon and other areas) to the Jews and that Arabs  
living in Israel are viewed as thieves. Rabbi Israel Ariel, a fundamentalist  
leader, published an atlas that designated all lands that were Jewish and  
needed to be liberated. This included all areas west and south of the  
Euphrates River, extending through most of Syria, much of Iraq, and present-  
day Kuwait.  
The Israeli government was warned about Baruch Goldstrin, but did nothing.  
"In the months leading up to the shooting," Ephron reports, "Palestinians  
had complained to Israeli authorities several times about a tall bearded man  
named Baruch harassing worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs. On one  
occasion, he poured acid on the carpets of the Ibrahimi Mosque. Police  
buried the complaints. Though Israeli authorities responded aggressively to  
any suspicion against Palestinians, they were notably slow about  
investigating settlers."  
Amir at Goldstein's Funeral  
Yigal Amir attended Goldstein's funeral. "It would have been ungrateful of  
me not to support him because he did it for all Jews."' His brother Hagai  
would say years later. "You don't see a lot of people willing to sacrifice  
their life in this country. A person who is willing to go against everyone  
and give his own life, that's something."  
Amir's outrage at Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo agreement continued to grow, as  
did his commitment to murdering the prime minister, Amir framed his  
fanatical resistance to Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in  
almost entirely religious terms and specifically in the context of God's 613  
commandments. "My own morality doesn't matter," he said. "It is determined  
solely according to the Torah itself." To Amir, as to other Jewish  
fundamentalists, the Bible was literal, word-for-word truth. "The Torah is  
the brain. If the Torah tells you to do something that runs counter to your  
emotions, you do what runs counter to your emotions."  
In contemplating the religious justification for Rabin's murder, Amir  
focused on a Talmudic principle known as rodef. "The concept," explains  
Ephron, "referred to a person who pursues another person with the intent to  
kill him — rodef meaning literally 'pursuer.' The law of the pursuer, or din  
rodef, permitted a bystander to kill the aggressor in order to save the  
innocent victim … Amir decided that Rabin fit the definition of rodef — he  
was a pursuer — because his policies were undermining the safety of settlers  
in the West Bank and Gaza. In his logic, Rabin was effectively chasing them  
down with the intent to kill them. He also decided that Rabin was a moser, a  
person who handed over Jews to a hostile power, in this case the newly  
formed Palestinian Authority. In truth, of course, all the settlers remained  
under Israeli rule, subject solely to Israeli law …"  
Netanyahu Aligns Himself with Hardliners  
During this period of growing tension, notes Ephron, "Benjamin Netanyahu  
aligned himself with the hardliners and the rabble-rousers, speaking at  
rallies around the country where crowds branded Rabin a traitor and a  
murderer, and consorting with rabbis who'd urged soldiers to disobey  
evacuation orders. At least once, Netanyahu gently scolded an audience for  
its inflammatory rhetoric. 'We have an issue with political adversaries, not  
enemies,' he said from the podium. But more often, he ignored it.  
Occasionally he seemed swept up in it."  
The idea of murdering Rabin for religious reasons was an idea Amir saw being  
embraced by radical rabbis. "In a long letter full of references to the  
government's 'collusion' with terrorists," writes Ephron, "three prominent  
rabbis made the most explicit case that din rodef applied to Rabin. In a  
long letter full of the government's 'collusion' with terrorists, the three  
asked some forty Haredi sages around the world, the 'wise men of their  
generation,' to rule on the matter one way or another. The letter's authors  
included Dov Lior, the rabbi of Hebron who praised Baruch Goldstein as a  
holy martyr at his funeral. They framed their text as an inquiry … But it  
read more like an ecclesiastical putsch attempt: three religious figures  
trying to have the elected government of Israel repudiated and its members  
condemned to death, no less."  
The letter was signed by the three rabbis — Eliezer Melamed, Daniel Shilo,  
and Dov Lior. They included a phone and fax number for reply. How or whether  
these religious "wise men" responded is not clear. But to people who  
regarded the three as spiritual authorities, Ephron argues, "The letter  
itself affirmed the Rabin government's apostate status and the importance of  
toppling it by whatever means necessary. Shilo would confirm years later  
that the questions were largely rhetorical and that the rabbis were hoping  
with the letter to draw the Haredi community into the circle of resistance  
against Rabin. Amir was already entrenched in that circle. But the ongoing  
rabbinical fixation with the din rodef and din moser emboldened him. 'If I  
did not get backing and I had not been representing many more people, I  
would not have acted,' he would say."  
Kabalistic Death Curse  
At one point, a group of extremists led by former Kach activist Avigdor  
Eskin gathered outside Rabin's official residence to pronounce a kind of  
Kabalistic death curse against the prime minister. Ephron explains its  
meaning: "Known by its Aramaic name Pulsa diNura (blaze of fire), the curse  
involved a complicated series of procedures and carried certain risks for  
its invokers; it would rebound against them if the target of the malediction  
turned out to be innocent. But if guilty, he would die within 30 days. One  
of the participants would say later that the ritual in Jerusalem had been  
preceded by a more official ceremony in Safed with some 20 rabbis and  
scholars, a sizable gathering of extremists … Eskin and the other  
participants recited the curse from photocopied pages: 'Angels of  
destruction will hit him. He is damned where he goes. His soul will  
instantly leave his body … and he will not survive the month. Dark will be  
his path and God's Angels will chase him. A disaster he has never  
experienced will beget him and all curses known in the Torah will apply to  
Benjamin Netanyahu castigated Rabin for relying on the backing of Arab-  
Israeli parliament members to get his agreement through parliament.  
Lawmakers had yet to vote on the Oslo accords but it was clear that Rabin  
would need the representatives of Israel's Arab minority to support it in  
order for the deal to pass. "Though Arab-Israelis were full-fledged citizens  
and made up one-sixth of the population," states Ephron, "Netanyahu and many  
other rightists were now arguing, unblushingly, that an endorsement that  
rested on the support of non-Jews would lack legitimacy. 'The Jewish  
majority of the state of Israel has not approved the agreement,' he said.  
'We will fight and we will bring down the government.'"  
One of Rabin's cabinet ministers, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, got caught up in a  
protesting mob. A retired general who had served in an elite commando unit  
and suffered war wounds, Ben-Eliezer told friends later that he felt more  
threatened in the car than in his toughest moments on the battlefield. When  
he reached the Knesset building, Ben-Eliezer tracked down Benjamin Netanyahu  
in one of the corridors and told him, "You better restrain your people,  
otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now … If someone  
is murdered, the blood will be on your hands."  
Civil War  
"To many Israelis," writes Ephron, "the murder of Yitzhak Rabin felt like an  
assault by one political camp against the other, another step toward civil  
war. Amir clearly stood on the margins of the right-wing camp. But its  
mainstream leaders had goaded the extremists with their ugly rhetoric and  
its rabbis had furnished the religious justification for violence. Even now,  
as the horror of the country's first political assassination set in, some  
Israelis celebrated."  
Yigal Amir's murder of Yitzhak Rabin was, in the end, a success for Israel's  
right-wing. The Oslo peace process came to an end, and Benjamin Netanyahu  
defeated Shimon Peres in the election following the assassination. In fact,  
Yigal Amir was able to cast his vote for Netanyahu from prison. "Israel's  
election law allowed convicts to vote at polling stations in prison," notes  
Ephron. "Around midmorning, five guards escorted Amir from his cell to a  
booth at the Chalai Kedar penitentionary, where he was presently serving his  
sentence in solitary confinement. The guards waited while he stuffed a  
square of paper with Netanyahu's name on it into an envelope and then  
slipped it into a cardboard box. Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times  
columnist, would refer to Amir later as the Israeli who voted twice — first  
with a bullet and then with a ballot."  
In early 2010, after he had been away from Israel for years, Dan Ephron  
returned to serve as Newsweek's Jerusalem bureau chief. He writes that, "The  
country I returned to was in many ways a more livable place. it felt safer,  
more prosperous, and less troubled than it had been for years. But the  
terrible violence and hostility of the second intifada had left even the  
moderates among Israelis and Palestinians feeling alienated from each other  
and simply fed up. the fact that life in Israel was good despite the absence  
of peace meant that there was little incentive to revive the process … Many  
Israelis felt they had nothing to gain from a resumption of negotiations …  
Instead of pining for peace, they're now asking: who needs it?"  
Settler Movement Doubled In Size  
While Ephron was away from Israel, he points out, the settler movement,  
which had viewed Rabin's Oslo Accord as an act of treachery, had more than  
doubled in size since his assassination and greatly expanded its political  
power. Its representatives in parliament would come to include Moshe  
Feiglin, who had been convicted of sedition for organizing rowdy protests  
during the Rabin era. Ephron writes that, "The parliament I was now covering  
in Israel also included a record number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews  
— who form the country's two fastest-growing communities and whose views on  
the issues of war and peace are consistently hawkish. When Israelis  
reelected Netanyahu in 2013 — for a third time in 18 years — I wrote in  
Newsweek that the religious right-wing parties opposed to ceding substantial  
portions of the West Bank might have something akin to a permanent  
The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was, some observers argue, unusual in its  
impact. Writing in The New Yorker, Dexter Filkins notes that, "Assassination  
is an unpredictable act. Historically speaking, high-profile political  
killings have been as likely to produce backlashes and unintended  
consequences as they have been to achieve the assassin's goal … Yet the  
killing of Yitzhak Rabin … bids to be one of history's most effective  
political murders. Two years earlier, Rabin, setting aside a lifetime of  
enmity, appeared on the White House lawn with Yasir Arafat … to agree to a  
framework for limited Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories …  
Within months of Rabin's death, Benjamin Netanyahu was the new prime  
minister and the prospects for wider-ranging peace … were dead. Twenty years  
later, Netanyahu is into his fourth term, and the kind of peace that Rabin  
envisioned seems more distant than ever."  
In a previously unpublished recording of a 1976 interview with Rabin, he can  
be heard calling the still nascent West Bank settler movement "comparable to  
a cancer," and warning that Israel risked becoming an "apartheid" state if  
it annexed and absorbed the Arab population. This recording was publicized  
for the first time in a documentary about the assassination. According to  
The Times of Israel (Sept. 25, 2015), "Rabin's imperturbable monotone  
betrays increasing anger as he complains about the settlements growing in  
number and size … 'I see Gush ('The Bloc of the Faithful,') the  
ideologically driven founders of the settlement movement) as one of the most  
acute dangers in the whole phenomenon of the State of Israel. Gush Emunim is  
not a settlement movement. it is comparable to a cancer on the tissue of  
Israel's democratic society. It's a phenomenon of an organization that takes  
the law into its own hands. I don't say with certainty that we won't reach  
the (point of) evacuation, because of the (Palestinian) population. I don't  
think it's possible to contain over the long term. If we don't want to get  
to apartheid, a million and a half (more) Arabs inside a Jewish state.'"  
Holding Netanyahu Responsible  
Leah Rabin, the widow of the slain prime minister, continues to hold  
Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for creating the atmosphere which led to the  
assassination. The irony of Netanyahu leading commemorations of Rabin's  
murder was clear to all. Writing in The Forward (Oct. 29, 2015), J.J.  
Goldberg declares: "The assassination ultimately succeeded. It brought the  
opposition to power and left Rabin's vision in shambles. They now write the  
history, but they can't admit that the calamitous act was a result of  
overzealous pursuit of their own cause. What they're left with is an  
incoherent insistence that killing prime ministers is, well, very naughty."  
Now, those who demonized Rabin and created the atmosphere in which his  
murder became an acceptable Interpretation of Jewish law are running Israel.  
Extremism is growing and the extremists are part of the government. A former  
head of the Shin Bet Security Service says that the threat posed to Israel  
at the present time by a terrorist underground of religious far-right  
zealots has reached unprecedented levels, worse than in the lead-up to  
Rabin's assassination. Carmi Gillon, who headed the agency when Rabin was  
murdered, says, "We're at a worse point than before the assassination of  
Rabin." He said that the far-right extremists, such as those currently in  
detention for their suspected firebombing of a Palestinian family's home in  
July, are "a professional underground in every regard."  
In December, two young Israelis were charged with murder in the attack in  
the West Bank village of Duma, which killed a Palestinian toddler and his  
parents. Israeli police said that the two suspects were part of a group of  
Jewish youths who have been involved in nationalistically motivated crimes  
against Palestinians and other minorities. For some in Israel, those charged  
with this terrorist attack have become heroes. In December, a widely viewed  
video showed young Jewish extremists celebrating the death of the  
Palestinians in Duma. A 25-second video filmed at a wedding shows a room of  
jumping, dancing men wearing white skullcaps, many with the long sidelocks  
of Orthodox Jews. Some of them are brandishing guns and knives.  
Israeli Authorities Drag Their Feet  
According to The New York Times, "Two of them appear to be stabbing pieces  
of paper they held in their hands, which the t.v. station identified as  
pictures of an 18-month old child. Ali Dawabsha, who was burned to death in  
a July 31 arson attack … Palestinians and their supporters say the arson  
attack and the celebratory video were inevitable, complaining that the  
Israeli authorities have for years dragged their feet on finding and  
prosecuting extremist Jews who have physically attacked them and their  
In an article, "Why Are Israelis So Shocked by the 'Wedding of Hate' Video,"  
Amira Hass, writing in Haaretz (Dec. 28, 2015) notes that "The horror  
expressed by the Israeli mainstream at the 'blood wedding' video is more  
repulsive than the clip itself. The shock is at the messianic, disruptive  
representation of the settlement enterprise, the handiwork of successive  
generations of the Israeli mainstream. The police are shocked. Every month …  
a 'sivur she'arim' is held in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's old city.  
The ceremonial circling of the gates of the Temple Mount, accompanied by  
shofar-blowing and reading of psalms, is organized by El Har Hamor, a  
nonprofit association that seeks to rebuild the Temple. The Israel Police  
provide security for the event, which takes place between shuttered  
Palestinian stores. Men in white kippot dance, sidelocks bouncing, just like  
in the video — and pound on closed doors. According to documentation from  
October, they also sing songs similar to the ones in the video ('Burn Down  
the Mosque' and 'We will avenge one of the two eyes of Palestinians, curse  
them') and while the Arabs shut themselves into their homes, the dancers  
chant, 'Death To Arabs.' Not only are the police there, they also try to  
prevent leftists from recording the events."  
In the Judea and Samaria district, the West Bank, police systematically  
close investigations of Israeli violence against Palestinians. Out of 1,104  
investigations opened after Palestinians complained of violent injury or  
property damage over a 10-year period, from 2005 to August 2015, 940 or  
91.6% were closed without charges being filed, according to Yesh Din, a  
legal defense NGO. In 85% of the cases, the closure was due to failure of  
the police to investigate.  
Case Closed Despite Witnesses  
In one typical case, reports Haaretz, in October 2012, a few Israeli Jews  
from Combatants for Peace accompanied Palestinians from the village of Jalud  
on their first olive harvest in ten years. In all those years the IDF had  
kept them from working their land to avoid friction with the messianic  
settlers from local outposts such as Esh Kadesh. Masked Israelis,  
accompanied by an armed, unmasked Israeli in civilian clothes, came, threw a  
stun grenade, fired into the air, and attacked the harvesters with clubs,  
injuring three Israelis and two Palestinians. Soldiers and Border Police  
officers who were there fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians.  
The case was closed despite the wounded Israelis and the presence of  
soldiers who were witnesses.  
In Amira Hass's view, "The culture of 'unknown offenders,' 'insufficient  
evidence' and do-nothing soldiers nurtured the atmosphere of 'we can run  
riot and no one will touch us' seen in the wedding video … Thanks to the  
mainstream, the West Bank has become the land of unlimited possibilities for  
the average Israeli Jew … This is the soil that gave rise to those young  
dancers … The messianism was born of the incessant secular Israeli disregard  
for international law and justice, which prohibit settlements in occupied  
territory. Their deranged messianism is fed by the consistent deranged  
political objective of the settlement enterprise: to thwart the possibility  
of living in equality and peace with the Palestinian people."  
Israeli commentators have begun to compare the rising Jewish extremism to  
ISIS. Liberal Zionist and Haaretz columnist Asher Schechter wrote a piece  
entitled "Meet Judeo-ISIS: The Inevitable Result of Israel's Presence in the  
West Bank." Even so mainstream a figure as former Israeli Defense Minister  
Moshe Arens wrote an article, "The Jewish Equivalent of ISIS."  
Anti-Christian Activity  
In recent days, there has been an escalation of anti-Christian activity from  
Israeli Jewish extremists. The Galilee's symbolically and religiously  
significant Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish was  
firebombed by militants who scrawled on its wall, "False idols will be  
destroyed." The anti-Arab group, Lehava, which opposes the presence of both  
Muslims and Christians in the country, has stepped up its activism,  
including a protest at a Christmas celebration in front of the Jerusalem  
YMCA. "The Arabs won't defeat us with knives, and the Christians won't buy  
us with presents," the Lehava protestors chanted. In December, Bentzi  
Gopstein, the head of Lehava, wrote an opinion piece in Kooker, an ultra-  
Orthodox online publication, calling for the outright removal of Christians  
from Israel.  
He wrote: "Missionary work must not be given a foothold. Let's throw the  
vampires out of our land before they drink blood again." The Israel  
Religious Action Center, a religious rights group affiliated with the  
country's Reform Judaism movement, has called on legal authorities to launch  
a criminal investigation into what it views as Lehava's incitement to  
violence. Orly Erez-Likhovski, the center's legal director, says that,  
"Unfortunately, against this blatant incitement, accompanied by unruly  
violence, there's deafening silence by law enforcement."  
Many believe that Judaism's moral and ethical values lie in tatters. Rabbi  
Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Ansche Chesed Congregation in Manhattan, declares: "I  
feel ashamed, appalled and heartsick, watching Judaism slouch toward  
Bethlehem. Yigal Amir was not the first fanatic in whom Torah teachings  
nurtures a murderous hatred. But he represents an early bellwether of  
Judaism transformed before our eyes, from an ennobling path of wisdom,  
devotion, and ethics to an angry, bloody weapon … Jews must recognize that  
there are places in the Palestinian Territories that are basically  
Mississippi in 1963 — places where the powerful may kill the powerless  
without fear of prosecution … Before our very eyes, Judaism and the Torah  
are increasingly captured by those with hatred in their hearts and blood on  
their hands. What we need above all is a religion of Chesed, of agape, of  
love. The Torah of Israel depends on it."  
A Savage, Unrepairable Society  
There are Israelis who share this view, although their numbers seem to be  
declining. Assaf Gavrom, a novelist who was an IDF soldier in Gaza 27 years  
ago, during the first intifada, writes that, "We seem to be in a fast and  
alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society. There is only  
one way to respond to what's happening in Israel today. We must stop the  
occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though  
they have surely suffered at our hands for too long) … No, we must stop the  
occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes … So  
that we can return to being human."  
In his book, Killing a King, Dan Ephron has written an epic story which  
helps the reader to understand Israel's troubled past and precarious future.  
"Had Rabin lived," he writes, "he might plausibly have re-shaped Israel  
broadly and permanently. In killing the Israeli leader, Amir had done better  
than the assassins of Lincoln, Kennedy, and King, whose policies had gained  
momentum as a result of their murders. During the years of his imprisonment,  
he had the satisfaction of watching Rabin's legacy steadily evaporate …  
(Dalia, Rabin's daughter) has come to view the last twenty years as the  
story of a power shift from the likes of her father — secular, pragmatic and  
moderate — to the advocates of the settler movement: ethnically chauvinist,  
uncompromising, often messianic. That the assassination would mark the birth  
of this new Israel is nothing short of horrifying to her. When a foreign  
correspondent asked Dalia at a small gathering of journalists a few years  
ago whether she and the Israeli mainstream had diverged at some point, she  
nodded without hesitation. 'I don't feel I'm part of what most people in  
this country are willing to do.'"  
Many View Amir as a Hero  
The family of Yigal Amir are viewed as heroes in many sectors of Israeli  
society. Amir's brother Hagai, who served time in prison for his role in the  
assassination plot, is already free and is comfortably back in Israeli  
society. Ephron reports that, "The Amirs seemed to lead something close to  
normal lives. On one of the evenings I interviewed Hagai, he and the family  
had just returned from an outing with friends at the beach in Herzliya. On  
another night, they came from a wedding in Jerusalem. They were invited by  
the bride's father, a prominent right-wing activist. 'We have a lot of  
support,' Hagai told me. 'People come up to us on the street and say it  
clearly … If I had any reason to doubt it, Hagai's Facebook page seemed to  
bear it out. He created it soon after his release to post his own political  
observations and advocate on his brother's behalf. In a typical comment on  
his wall, one supporter wrote, 'We're all with you, Hagai Amir. We hope your  
brother will be freed soon.' Another wrote: 'The drinks will be on me.'  
Within a few months he had more than 600 friends … The fact that fully a  
quarter of Israelis now supports commuting of Yigal Amir's sentence make it  
not quite unimaginable."  
In Ephron's view, "Through the lens of the murder, much can be gleaned about  
Israel today … Rabin probably stood a better chance of forging a durable  
reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians than any leader before or  
since. That we'll never know how close he would have come is one of the  
exasperating consequences of the assassination."  
Killing a King causes the reader to wonder what Israel would look like today  
had Yitzhak Rabin lived. The Israel it portrays is one few Americans  
understand or recognize. Israel is widely considered to share Western values  
of democracy. But Israel's right-wing, as Dan Ephron shows us, has an  
entirely different agenda. And at the present time, it seems to be in  
charge. Sadly, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, rather than discrediting  
it, has propelled it to power.

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.