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 campaign 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.
Jewish Chronicle 30 October 2015