Lessons of killing yet to be learnt

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - COLIN SHINDLER Colin Shindler is an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at Soas, Univer­sity of Lon­don

THE as­sas­si­na­tion of Yitzhak Rabin 20 years ago was a watershed in the col­lapse of the peace process be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans. It also marked the low­est point in the far right’s march to power.

The far-right came into ex­is­tence when, op­pos­ing Me­nachem Be­gin’s sup­port for the 1979 treaty be­tween Is­rael and Egypt, it broke away from the Prime Min­is­ter’s broad right-wing coali­tion and formed its own bloc.

Mr Be­gin had re­turned Si­nai to Egypt, but many as­sumed that he would also cede the West Bank to the Pales­tini­ans. While this was never Be­gin’s in­ten­tion, the far right was clearly un­able to stom­ach any whiff of com­pro­mise with the Arab world. They ac­cused Mr Be­gin of heresy af­ter a life­time of im­pla­ca­ble de­fi­ance.

In re­sponse, Be­gin and his suc­ces­sor, Yitzhak Shamir, en­sured that far-right par­ties re­mained on the mar­gins and did not dis­place the Likud.

By 1995, the new and in­se­cure leader of the Likud, Benjamin Ne­tanyahu, was sim­i­larly con­cerned about be­ing out­flanked by the far right. He there­fore was a will­ing fel­low trav­eller in its cam- paign of in­cite­ment against Mr Rabin and his pol­icy of rap­proche­ment with Yasser Arafat’s PLO.

Mr Ne­tanyahu’s ri­val within the Likud, Ariel Sharon, po­si­tioned him­self on the right of the party to at­tack his vul­ner­a­ble leader. Mr Sharon felt that he had been deeply wronged by the wide­spread con­dem­na­tion of his con­duct dur­ing the in­va­sion of Le­banon in 1982 and wished to re­store his rep­u­ta­tion. To bol­ster him­self as a re­li­able pa­triot, Mr Sharon ac­cused Mr Rabin of be­ing “a col­lab­o­ra­tor”.

Af­ter the sign­ing of the Oslo Ac­cords, Is­raelis and di­as­pora Jews were urged by its op­po­nents on the right to protest vig­or­ously to “save Is­rael”. Such “pa­tri­o­tism” even led to the es­tab­lish­ment of an of­fice of Likud lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton with the ex­press task of prop­a­gat­ing an anti-Rabin gov­ern­ment line in Congress. The Oslo Ac­cords, some ar­gued, would lead to civil war in Is­rael.

There was also an abuse of lan­guage. At a demon­stra­tion against the Oslo II agree­ment, a few weeks be­fore the as­sas­si­na­tion, Is­raeli jour­nal­ists noted that Mr Ne­tanyahu and his col­leagues used the fol­low­ing terms to de­scribe the deal: “wicked”, “dis­eased”, “treach­er­ous”, “de­stroy­ing the dream of the Jewish peo­ple”, “lead­ing Is­rael to sui­cide”, “shrink­ing Is­rael into Auschwitz bor­ders”.

Did this at­mos­phere play a role is rad­i­cal­is­ing and per­suad­ing Yi­gal Amir to kill Mr Rabin? What is clear is that Amir was seen as nei­ther de­ranged nor dan­ger­ous be­fore the killing but just an­other far-right zealot who op­posed Oslo.

The far right has made a re­mark­able re­cov­ery since the mur­der. The fear of Is­lamism and ter­ror­ism has trumped any re­morse. Mr Ne­tanyahu is seen as a guar­an­tor of sta­bil­ity in dark times.

This week, Yi­gal Amir’s brother, Ha­gai, was ar­rested for in­cit­ing vi­o­lence against Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin, who said that Yi­gal would not be re­leased dur­ing his ten­ure. The mur­der of Mr Rabin was a stain on the na­tion’s soul. The jury is still out on whether Is­rael’s politi­cians fully com­pre­hend its mean­ing.


Mourn­ers at Rabin’s grave

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