Give Yi­gal Amir his le­gal rights

The way Yitzhak Rabin’s mur­derer is be­ing treated in prison is turn­ing him into a mar­tyr

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS - MIRIAM SHA­VIV

IF ALL goes to plan, in two days’ time, the son of Yi­gal Amir will en­ter the Covenant of Abra­ham and have his brit mi­lah. Ac­cord­ing to the sec­u­lar cal­en­dar, it will be 12 years to the day since Amir shot Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin. The macabre tim­ing has en­sured that the fo­cus, as we approach the Novem­ber 4 an­niver­sary, is not on Rabin — where it should be — but on his as­sas­sin. Over the past few weeks, the Is­raeli pub­lic has been treated to an emo­tional DVD put to­gether and cir­cu­lated by his sup­port­ers, call­ing for his early pa­role; video footage of his ini­tial in­ter­ro­ga­tion, re­leased by Is­raeli po­lice, in which he calmly de­scribes how he car­ried out his crime and pro­fesses no re­grets; a re­quest — which was turned down — by the mur­derer him­self to be al­lowed out of prison to at­tend his son’s brit; and end­less, sick spec­u­la­tion on in­ter­net fo­rums as to what Amir will name his off­spring (the hot money is ap­par­ently on “Yitzhak”).

The pub­lic re­ac­tion in Is­rael has by no means been un­sym­pa­thetic. A poll in the Ma’ariv daily last week showed that a quar­ter of Is­raelis, and more than 40 per cent of re­li­gious Is­raelis, want Amir to be set free by 2015. A story on the birth of Amir’s child on Ma’ariv’s web­site gen­er­ated close to 100 com­ments by vis­i­tors con­grat­u­lat­ing Amir, ap­par­ently with­out irony. Even given the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of any in­ter­net site to ma­nip­u­la­tion, it all makes for dis­turb­ing read­ing.

The sad truth is that, 12 years on, re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael’s left-wing and right, sec­u­lar and re­li­gious, re­main sus­pi­cious and tense. The mur­derer Amir, who by rights should be rot­ting away in a cell, alone and forgotten, is still at the cen­tre of things — a light- ning rod for all those on the right who still feel that their voice is not be­ing heard by de­ci­sion-mak­ers, and who can­not bear the fact that the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries are still on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble; and all those on the left who see him as the em­bod­i­ment of an­tidemo­cratic forces in Is­raeli so­ci­ety.

Were he to dis­ap­pear from the head­lines, Is­rael’s prob­lems would not be solved. But with­out him as a fo­cus, the ex­treme right would lose a use­ful ral­ly­ing point. Per­haps the rest of the na­tion could fi­nally let go of its un­healthy ob­ses­sion with the de­tails of Amir’s prison regime — a vi­car­i­ous bat­tle over the ma­jor is­sues of con­flict within Is­raeli so­ci­ety, which are no more re­solved to­day than they were on the day be­fore Rabin’s mur­der — and start deal­ing with the prob­lems di­rectly. How can we make this hap­pen? Sev­eral com­men­ta­tors have sug­gested that it is the me­dia’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to deny Amir cov­er­age. “None of the things that deal with Yi­gal Amir should be pub­lished,” Motti Morell, a lead­ing strate­gic ad­viser, told The Jerusalem Post last week. “Jour­nal­ists can re­ject news items about this per­son’s life, but they don’t do it.”

I dis­agree. Amir is a pub­lic per­sona, and it is not the me­dia’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to avoid cov­er­ing events that are news­wor­thy sim­ply be­cause they are po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive.

The power sig­nif­i­cantly to shrink Amir’s pub­lic profile, rather, be­longs to the state. Over the past few years, most of the at­ten­tion paid to Amir has sur­rounded his bat­tles to be granted cer­tain rights which, by law, ei­ther be­long to ev­ery jail in­mate, but were de- nied to him, or which were even­tu­ally con­ceded to him by the courts any­way.

In Jan­uary 2004, for ex­am­ple, the Is­rael Prison Ser­vice for­bade him to marry his fi­ancée, Larissa Trim­bobler, in prison, de­spite a law that per­mits all pris­on­ers to wed. The re­sult was not only a pro­tracted and wide­ly­cov­ered le­gal bat­tle, but the bizarre spec­ta­cle of Amir mar­ry­ing his bride through a proxy, his fa­ther, who gave her the wed­ding ring on his be­half.

De­spite the same law giv­ing ev­ery pris­oner the right to have chil­dren, there were also long bat­tles over Amir’s right to con­ju­gal vis­its (the Is­rael Prison Ser­vice ini­tially de­nied him on the ground he was a “se­cu­rity risk”, but the de­ci­sion was over­turned by the High Court) and his right to con­ceive a child through ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion. Again, the re­sults were grotesque: ex­ten­sive me­dia cov­er­age; Amir smug­gling his sperm to Larissa in a plas­tic bag; de­tailed ac­counts of their first night to­gether.

The state’s im­pulse, in each of th­ese cases, was com­pletely un­der­stand­able. Amir’s crime was not only against an in­di­vid­ual, but against the state it­self and its demo­cratic na­ture. Surely he has for­feited all rights. But per­haps it is time to con­sider whether his ex­tra­or­di­nary treat­ment plays into his hands — al­low­ing him to en­gage in a se­ries of me­dia-savvy shenani­gans, keep his name in the pub­lic eye and por­tray him­self as a mar­tyr.

Amir must never again set foot out­side jail. But would it not make more sense to let him share more of the rights granted to other in­mates with­out hav­ing to re­sort to le­gal bat­tles and ma­nip­u­la­tions? Para­dox­i­cally, in grant­ing them, Is­rael would be deny­ing him his most prized lux­ury — the oxy­gen of pub­lic­ity.

Miriam Sha­viv is the JC’s com­ment ed­i­tor

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