29 August 2015

Whose freedom is more valuable - a loved Israeli prime minister or his murderer?

Yitzhak Rabin (1922–1995) eventually became an Israeli politic­ian and elder statesman. But even from his humble beginnings, Rabin’s family path exactly followed my own family’s and that may be why my parents admired him so warmly. Rabin’s parents, who came from the Ukraine, raised their children with a strong sense of Zionism, socialism and workers’ rights. Rabin had a long career in the military, both before Israel's 1948 War of Independence and then after the War, in the new state’s national army.

Post-army Rabin took up ambassadorial and then political roles, being elected as Prime Minister of Israel in 1974. Later he became Israel's Defence Minister. It has been argued that his true moment of world fame came in 1992 when Rabin was elected as prime minister for a second term. This heroic individual signed vital agreements with the Palestinian leadership as part of the Oslo Accords. Quite deservedly Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 (alongside Israeli politician Shimon Peres and Palestinian politician Yasir Arafat). Most critically, Rabin signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 so that Jews throughout the world would feel safer and more joyful.

Yet in November 1995, Yitzchak Rabin was murdered at one of the biggest peace rally the Middle East has ever seen. Yigal Amir (born 1970) was a very nasty and violent young man who wanted to sabotage the peace process. He planned for a long time how to achieve the murder, successfully ending the life of a hugely popular leader only on the third attempt. Soon he became the most hated man in Israel because he displayed to the entire world that even a Jew could a] smuggle a gun into a civilian function and b] kill civilians as if he was in the Wild West.

Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin
Oslo, Nobel Peace Prize winners, 1994

Amir was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment plus six additional years for attempted murder of the Prime Min­ister’s guardsman. Since I do not believe in capital punishment for any crime at all, the life sentence in gaol seemed appro­priate. Hopefully Amir would never see the light of day again.

In July 2010, after 15 years of solitary confinement, Amir conducted an appeal, asking to participate in group prayers in accordance to Jewish law. Unfortunately it was allowed. Then he wanted to watch television, use a phone, do exercise in a common court yard, meet a woman (Larisa Trembovler), marry her and make her pregnant.

Peace rally and memorial to Rabin, 
100,000 people in Tel Aviv in 2010

Now a film has come out that celebrates the deep love between the hated Amir and the softly spoken, well educated Trembovler. Beyond the Fear, created by the late Herz Frank, was a controv­er­sial film from the outset. What would make this otherwise intelligent mother of four make the decisions she did? She set up meetings with Amir in gaol; then she divorced her first hus­band; married Amir by proxy; conceived a baby through artificial insemination in 2007; and finally she faces an almost univer­sally hostile reception by the citizens of Israel. Of course an adult could do what she liked, if she was the only person affected. But her four children must be fearing for their lives, every day the brutal Amir and his co-conspirators remain in gaol.

Bernard Dichek (The Jerusalem Report 10th Aug 2015) criticised Israel’s Culture Minister for protesting the showing of the film at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival. And, Dichek said, the Minister threatened to cut off government funds for this festival, if the film was included in the programme. He was anxious to see whether or not the rights of artists will continue to be “protected” during this Minister’s reign.

In my opinion, freedom of expression is worth sod all, if an angry young man can murder a community leader yet go on to live the Good Life (albeit behind bars). The prime minister Yitzhak Rabin needed to be protected; no one needs to protect the right of a murderer to express his political opinion, nor the right of film artists to express themselves in a public forum.


Deb said...

My heart was broken when Mr Rabin died. God did not speak to Amir.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I'm with you here. I'm dismayed when criminal prosecution goes topsy-turvy, blaming the victims and fighting for the 'rights' of the miscreants.

Andrew said...

Tricky. I speak as an outsider and from basic instinct. Your first two paragraphs were as I remembered the events well enough, yet I totally forgot Rabin was assassinated. Women, even men, falling in love with bad boys in prison is not unknown. Amir should of course rot in an very uncomfortable gaol with few privileges, along with others who murder in cold blood. Without seeing the film or the context, I do really believe in the right of film makers to make films and however controversial, for them to available to the great unwashed. Take David Irving. I think he should have been allowed to visit Australia and put to the grill by our media and thoroughly and directly exposed to Australians for what he is. The archetypical Aussie bloke would have regarded him as a lying tosser.

I hope I have taken anything you wrote out of context.

Hels said...


you and hundreds of thousands of mourners stopped what they were doing for two minutes of silence. In addition, President Clinton, Prime Minister Paul Keating and hundreds of world leaders paid their respect at the grave site.

Apparently God did actually speak to the assassin Amir. CNN World News (November 5, 1995) said Amir told police that he was satisfied, that he had no regrets and was acting on the orders of God.

Hels said...


the original prosecution was conducted appropriately, I believe, and the outcome was also appropriate. But what went so wrongly 15 years later? Had the justice system partially forgiven Amir for being a murdering terrorist who stalked Rabin at at least 3 huge peace rallies before he succeeded?

Another question that I didn't address in the original post. Knowing that right wing haters were looking to assassinate the peace-seeking prime minister, how did Rabin's security fail so dismally?

Hels said...


this is a vexed question. I too have not seen the film Beyond the Fear, and I assume Bernard Dichek (The Jerusalem Report 10th Aug 2015) was simply reflecting the view of many people in criticising the state’s Culture Minister. She had protested (but not banned) the showing of the film at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

My view is not that there should be censorship or defunding of the Film Festival. Rather that I believe the rights of film makers to make controversial or even horrid films should be protected, only AFTER public figures are guaranteed protection from assassins. I would say exactly the same about Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden, who was assassinated in Feb 1986.

The Big Story said...

The film paints a non-judgmental portrait of the family, never directly confronting Trembovler over what her husband did, even as she talks of him as a hero.

The film shies away from interrogative questions for Amir's wife's — Kravchenko said she never discussed Amir's actions with her. Instead, the camera follows Trembovler as she lugs groceries up a staircase alone, sends her son off to school, and drives to the desert prison where her husband is kept in a one-man cell.

She talks about falling in love with Amir, calling him an "idealist" who "sacrificed himself" for the sake of others. She speaks of her concerns about the impact of her marriage on her children from her first husband and whether it was wise to bring into the world a son who must carry the burden of his imprisoned father.

Hels said...

Big Story

hmmm perhaps the film was not seen as a non-judgmental portrait by most of the film festival goers. Naturally Trembovler was not in any way implicated in the murder, but why didn't the director confront her over her husband's hideous crime?

Amazon said...

A dramatic tale of treachery and betrayal, "Murder in the Name of God" investigates and recreates the historic events of November 1995. On that night a 25 year old student named Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an act that abruptly changed the course of Israeli politics. Based on exhaustive research, including an exclusive interview with the assassin, this is the first book to give the full story of the people whose words and actions made Rabin's assassination inevitable: the nationalist rabbis who condemned Rabin by invoking an arcane Talmudic ruling; the militant settlers and right-wing politicians who launched a sophisticated campaign of incitement against him; and the security experts who saw what was coming but failed to act. In a series of shocking revelations, the book ranges beyond Israel to expose the extent of American support, financial and ideological, for the movement that produced Rabin's killer.

Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman
"Murder in the Name of God", 1998

Hels said...

many thanks.

I am always afraid biographers get so close to their subjects that they become less historian and more apologist. But Karpin made it clear that Amir dedicated himself single mindedly for two years to the slaughter of the prime minister, from Sept 1993 (signing of the Oslo Agreement) until Nov 1995 (murder of Rabin). Yigal Amir was obsessed with "his task", day and night for 2+ years!