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Israel’s religious extremism twenty years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

Written By | Dec 3, 2015

WASHINGTON, December 3, 2015 – The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel on November 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. Instead he 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 United States.

Now, 20 years later, those who demonized Rabin and created the atmosphere in which his assassination became a reality are running Israel.

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-Nurz, a kabbalistic curse of death.

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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.”

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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.”

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 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 deed.”

Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.