May/June 2000

Thinking the Unthinkable

By Herb Keinon

(June 13) - Less than five years after the Rabin assassination, the country woke up to warnings this week that it may be on the brink of another political assassination. Is this true, or an attempt to muzzle the opposition? Herb Keinon looks at the issues.

In October 1995, after his car was set upon by hooligans at the Kikar Zion demonstration where Avishai Raviv distributed pictures of Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform, then-housing minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned the cabinet that there might be an assassination attempt on prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. A month later, Rabin was dead.

This week, after reading an article published by Kedumim rabbi Daniel Shilo which called giving up parts of Eretz Yisrael "treason," Ben-Eliezer issued the same dire warnings.

In an article headlined "A Clarification of Positions," which appeared in the Kedumim local newsletter, Shilo wrote, "The transfer of parts of Eretz Yisrael to foreigners, when these parts can be protected and such a move prevented, is a grave crime against the Jewish people. Even the most evil Jewish leaders throughout the Land's history never willingly did such a thing. It is treason, not only to historic Torah tradition, but to the entire national legacy.

"The transfer of communities to foreign rule in Eretz Yisrael stands contrary to the Torah commandment of settling the Land, even if the foreign rule is just and fair," Shilo wrote.

"When the transfer is to a hostile and corrupt regime, it is simply a vile act... The Holocaust was made possible by politicians' ideas and illusions, and by the blindness of the Jewish leadership that did not heed the dangers. The spiritual descendants of those struck then by blindness are leading this move [today].... In light of this scheme, there must be a general and comprehensive mobilization to act firmly and wisely to thwart it."

THESE WORDS, said Ben-Eliezer Sunday night on Razi Barkai's One on One interview show on Israel Television, "took me back five years to October 1995, when I was a victim of the big demonstration at Kikar Zion. The next day I did the same as I did today: I told the government that murder would be committed.

"On October 5, 1995, I warned of what would happen on November 4, and it came about," Ben-Eliezer said, referring to the Rabin assassination. "And I say to you that there will be another assassination. Let there be no misunderstanding. We will again see a prime minister or cabinet minister prone before us."

And, just as many did not take Ben-Eliezer seriously in 1995, dismissing his words either as an overreaction or an attempt to delegitimize the strident opposition from the Right, his chilling words this week were also greeted by mixed reactions.

Predictably, the reaction split along party lines. The Left said that the country is witnessing nothing less than the same right-wing hysteria and incitement that was evident in the fall of 1995. A d*jˆ-vu nightmare.

This assessment was strengthened by press reports that police intelligence unit head Haim Klein told a group of police officers last week that the extreme pronouncements heard increasingly on the Right are similar in tone and frequency to those heard on the eve of the Rabin assassination.

The Right countered that Ben-Eliezer and others are merely raising the specter of another assassination to deflect mounting rightist protests, stifle legitimate criticism, and shut down public opposition.

"The way to deflect opinion," editorialized Hatzofeh, the National Religious Party newspaper Monday, "is to charge the atmosphere through provocation and create an artificial storm. It appears to us that heating things up through incitement - as if the settlers are about to assassinate the prime minister - is the very best solution. We are touching on society's raw nerve."

Thrust into the breach to decide where freedom of speech ends and incitement to murder begins was Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein.

"I suggest that settlement leaders think 20 seconds before speaking and wage a campaign without [dangerous] pronouncements," said Rubinstein. "On the other hand, I call on the leadership of other sectors not to engage in manipulation, and not to turn every legitimate statement into incitement."

The premise Ben-Eliezer and other government spokesmen took for granted this week, one apparently supported by Klein's statement to his police officers, is that the public atmosphere today is similar to that prior to the assassination.

BUT, SAID Ehud Sprinzak, an authority on right-wing extremist groups, today's circumstances are different.

"After Rabin's assassination thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people were frustrated, emotionally distraught, and rhetorically ready to talk about Rabin's death," said Sprinzak, a Hebrew University political science professor and dean of the school of government at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

"There were rabbinical discussions about din rodef and din moser [rabbinical decrees calling for the execution of anyone persecuting Jews or handing over Jewish land]. There were massive demonstrations.

"We have to remember that immediately preceding Rabin's assassination was the nervous anxiety of Oslo II. For the first time, seven cities in the West Bank were to be handed over to Arafat. It was emotionally a very loaded situation."

Today, Sprinzak said, the social and cultural milieu is much different.

Sprinzak, author of Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination, argued that the situation today resembles the settlers' situation in October or November of 1993, immediately following the Oslo Accords.

"What is happening now is similar to what happened then, when the settlers first started to discuss how to struggle, and first started to blame Rabin. But remember, it took another two years for things to heat up to the assassination.

"The situation may develop, but right now my assessment is that things are very moderate, although they may get out of control."

One factor leading to this moderation, said Moshe Feiglin, is that Barak does not antagonize the Right like Rabin.

"Barak is smarter than Rabin, even though he is more dangerous for the settlements," said Feiglin, who was convicted of sedition in 1997 for his role as leader of the fiery Zo Artzenu campaign against the Rabin government in 1994 and 1995.

"Barak's wisdom is that he would never call the settlers 'propellers,' or refer to them as 'Hamas.' [Rabin's assassin Yigal] Amir emerged from an atmosphere where Rabin was perceived as the enemy, and where he declared the settlers an enemy by calling them 'Hamas.' Barak is constantly saying that we are on the same team."

Indeed, even in this week's cabinet discussion of threats on his life, Barak made sure to preface his words by saying he "deeply respects the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria."

SUICIDE terror was another critical factor in the Rabin assassination that is not evident today, Sprinzak said.

"One of the things that played into the hands of the radicals at the time was the argument that Rabin was responsible for Hamas terrorism, because he took the IDF out of the West Bank and relaxed the General Security Service's hold on Palestinian extremists," said Sprinzak.

"Fortunately today we don't have that factor."

Likewise, Sprinzak said, another element setting the two periods apart is that the GSS is now tragically aware that a political assassination may occur.

"That makes a hell of a difference," he said. "As we know, they were not sufficiently vigilant before the assassination. Now Barak and others are much, much better protected than in the past."

Furthermore, he said, the settlers - the rank and file as well as the leadership - know full well the dangers of assassination. As such, discussions of din rodef or din moser - halachic concepts that some might use to justify assassination - are less likely to arise today.

"Today I expect rabbis will be very careful when they toy with [the concepts of] din rodef and din moser," Sprinzak said. "We know today that many who brought this up at the time did not have assassination in mind - but they were careless, irresponsible. Today they know better."

Furthermore, he said, the rank and file are more likely to volunteer information on those who seem to pose a danger to the prime minister.

"I am sure that once there is a serious danger, many more informers are likely to come out than did before," Sprinzak said.

"It was a total disgrace before the Rabin assassination to be a GSS informer, so they needed Avishai Raviv and other shady characters," Sprinzak said.

"But today I am certain there are large numbers of responsible settlers who - if they know anything - will volunteer information to the GSS. They will do it for their own sake, well aware of the damage an assassination or attempted assassination would bring upon them."

Yet another element differentiating the two periods, maintained Sprinzak, is Barak's commitment - a commitment Haim Ramon reiterated Monday from the Knesset - that any final-status withdrawal will be dependent on a national referendum.

What this does, Sprinzak said, is take the onus off Barak.

"If at some point settlements will have to be evacuated, the evacuation won't come from Barak, but from the Israeli people, and that makes a big difference."

SPRINZAK enumerated four political-assassin models.

The first is the "kitchen assassin," exemplified by Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley. Kitchen assassins are completely disconnected from their surroundings, undergoing some kind of mental crisis, and have no need of external conditions to spring into action.

"For kitchen assassins," said Sprinzak, "it's all in their own psyche, and they develop their own outrage."

Two other models, the ideological lone wolf and the ideological underground group, need a supportive, sympathetic environment in which to operate.

Amir was an example of a ideological lone wolf, said Sprinzak. This type "interacts with the radical milieu; he participates in everything, absorbs everything, but then makes his own decision. However, he needs the milieu. Without the milieu - without the rabbis, the outrage, the participation in the confrontations - he would have no strength to take action. But when those conditions are present, he may, due to his personality, jump right in, viewing himself as zealot, a biblical Pinhas, convinced that he will save the Jewish people."

Since Sprinzak said that this milieu does not exist now as it did in 1995, he sees the greatest immediate threat to be from certain "anarchistic elements in the settler community, who are not really known or controlled by any traditional Gush Emunim or even Kahane rabbi."

These people, he said, are often newly religious and highly mystic.

These individuals, Sprinzak said, fit what he calls the fourth model, the "Avrushmi model," a reference to Yona Avrushmi who killed Emil Grunzweig when he threw a grenade at a Peace Now rally in Jerusalem in 1983. The person who fits this model is generally unknown to security agencies, not a political activist, often distraught and unstable, and may be full of anti-Left hatred and needs no ideological reasons and underpinnings in order to act.

This person, Sprinzak said, may just need a political speech here or there to justify his actions.

"The good news about the Avrushmi scenario," said Sprinzak, "is that he is not very capable or methodical - so he is not as dangerous as Yigal Amir. The bad news is that for someone like that to go ahead, you don't need all the intense surroundings. Even a relatively low degree of incitement is enough."

© Jerusalem Post 2000

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