News Analysis: End of Rabin Killing Inquiry Leaves Open Wounds in Society
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News Analysis: End of Rabin Killing Inquiry Leaves Open Wounds in Society

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The publication of the findings of a state commission that investigated the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, coupled with the sentencing of Rabin’s killer, revived some still-painful memories.

But from a political standpoint, the two events were an anti-climax.

It is now clear that the Nov. 4 assassination of Rabin will not, as was thought immediately after the slaying, provide the basis for a resounding electoral victory for his successor, Shimon Peres.

The Labor Party and its allies can now hardly invoke the assassination, which was carried out by right-wing religious fanatic Yigal Amir, to issue a condemnation-by-association of the parties and ideology of the right.

Certainly not, after the judges in the Amir trial and the members of the Shamgar Commission pointedly declined to do so.

By the same token, the Likud and its allies can now redouble their vehement protests against any such attempts at tarring the right.

Indeed, on the far right, voices already have been raised criticizing the commission, which on March 28 issued its findings on the circumstances surrounding the Rabin assassination.

In a report made public one day after Amir was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, the commission said lax security measures on the part of the police and the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, had given Amir the opportunity to carry out the assassination.

Voices on the far right criticized the commission for failing to deal exhaustively with the issue of the agents planted by the Shin Bet within right- wing fringe groups.

One such agent, Avishai Raviv, was a personal friend of Amir’s and was closely involved with him in political activities directed against the Rabin government and its peace policies.

These far-right critics now argue that Raviv, and others like him, deserve most of the blame for the ominous atmosphere of threats and political violence that enveloped the country in the weeks before the assassination.

Among the mainstream forces of the right, the trial’s end and publication of the commission’s report were greeted with relief.

The murderer himself, in his final statements to the court, talked mainly about the religious motives for his deed.

He gave no help to those who have sought to link his act to his broader political milieu or to the rabbis, teachers, yeshivas and universities that shaped his education.

The judges in turn handed down a ringing rebuttal of his twisted interpretation of the Jewish sources that he said led to his crime.

But they deliberately stopped short of extending that rebuttal to the national- religious circles that openly debated in the period before Rabin’s death whether the prime minister was a traitor to his people.

Justice Meir Shamgar and his two colleagues on the state commission — in their 214 pages of published findings that accompanied a 118-page classified appendix — were even more circumspect in their conclusions.

They decided from the outset on a minimalist reading of their mission.

As a result, they gave a technical examination of the security breakdown that resulted in the assassination.

But they refused to be drawn into the political, educational, social and psychological aspects surrounding Amir’s personality and his act.

The commission’s approach was starkly criticized by the most senior “victim” of the panel’s findings — the former head of Shin Bet, Carmi Gilon, whose earlier resignation the commission roundly endorsed.

Addressing reporters on the steps of the building where the commission met in Jerusalem, Gilon warned that there were still many others “out there” who were plotting political assassinations.

“They serve with us in the Golani Brigade,” he said, “in the paratroop brigade.”

The implication was obvious: Gilon was referring to young men of the religious ultraright, of Amir’s political and religious persuasion, who were serving in even the most prestigious units of the Israel Defense Force.

Commentators have preferred not to focus on Gilon’s remarks.

Some cite the rabbinic adage that a man ought not to be “caught out in his grief.”

But even without embracing Gilon’s dire warnings, many leading Israeli commentators have found fault with the Shamgar Commission’s insistence on reading its brief narrowly, on steering clear of the major political and social issues highlighted by the assassination.

“Where then is the heart-searching?” one writer asked, recalling the guilt that swept through large sections of the religious Zionist community in the aftermath of the murder.

The commission had been widely expected to encourage that process of introspection.

Instead, there was silence.

And the process, already fading with the passage of time, is now uninhibitedly declared passe in broad religious Zionist circles.

The National Religious Party itself, at first afraid that the assassination would lead to wholesale defections from its ranks, recently voted for an even more hardline slate of Knesset candidates than those now serving.

There is a certain sense of missed opportunity.

Some critics, moreover, assert that for Shamgar, the recently retired president of the Supreme Court, this is the second such missed opportunity.

He previously served as head of another commission of inquiry that also bore his name which looked into the February 1994 Hebron massacre, in which Kiryat Arba settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

In that inquiry, too, Shamgar preferred to look into the laxness of security measures at the site rather than consider the broader sociological and political realities that furnished the backdrop to the killings.

Shamgar, still a judge to his fingertips, will not reply publicly to his critics now, just as he declined to do so after the previous commission issued its findings.

His defenders suggest that his minimalism is grounded in a wise belief that for him to speak to the inevitably divisive issues of politics, ideology and religion would be to court a backlash that Israeli society, still raw and reeling from the trauma of the prime minister’s slaying, is not yet ready to grapple with.

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