Editor’s Notes: To prevent history repeating itself

By David Horovitz October 8, 2004

No one in Israel today can seriously doubt the potential for irresponsible opposition breeding fanaticism and ultimately murder

Outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, in October 1995, a small group of extremists gathered to curse Yitzhak Rabin and wish him gone. ‘Smother him and the specter of him,’ they urged, reciting the text of the ancient pulsa de nura (lashes of fire), ‘until he reaches his death.’

These were torrid times for a country utterly riven by the Oslo II accord, under which Israel would shortly withdraw from most major West Bank cities. Some rabbinical champions of Greater Israel were privately debating whether Rabin might theoretically merit the death penalty, were Israel governed by Halacha, for relinquishing divinely promised territory. At a large anti-Oslo demonstration in Jerusalem’s Zion Square days later, voices in the crowd called Rabin a traitor and a Nazi, and handbills were circulated showing the prime minister, in a crude photomontage, in SS uniform.

Day by day, a climate was being intensified and spread in which Rabin was portrayed as acting beyond the pale, as deserving to die – a climate in which an assassin might convince himself that many Israelis regarded the demise of the prime minister as crucial to the well-being of the country, and that orchestrating Rabin’s permanent departure might even be deemed legitimate.

Last Tuesday night, Jerusalem Post reporter Yaakov Katz witnessed the re-enactment of another ancient ritualistic ceremony in the capital, beside the running water at the Shiloah Spring – a ceremony designed, according to one of its organizers, Prof. Hillel Weiss, to harness ‘religious powers’ in order to ‘remove’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Branding the prime minister’s disengagement plan insane, another of the organizers, Rabbi Yosef Dayan, said that he wished for Sharon’s death. Barely three weeks ago, Dayan had said he would be prepared to officiate at a pulsa de nura ceremony if Sharon did not abandon disengagement and if he were asked to do so by rabbinical colleagues.

Earlier that same Tuesday, Women in Green activist Nadia Matar, summoned for police questioning after describing Sharon’s disengagement chief Yonatan Bassi as worse than the Judenrat, extended the same castigation to Sharon, and accused the pair of ‘serving as the operational arm of the Hamas-Nazi enemy.’

THERE IS a legitimate argument, indeed a powerful one, to be made that Sharon, in pushing ahead with disengagement, is skating on thin democratic ice. The only major forum to which he put the issue, his own Likud party membership, firmly rejected the program in May. He sacked two of his cabinet ministers rather than give them the opportunity to vote against it, and thus smoothed passage for the in-principle approval of his plan in June. The positions he staked out to voters, in securing re-election in February 2003, most certainly did not include his current pledge that there would be no more Jews in Gaza by the end of 2005. Quite the reverse. He and his Likud party made plain their rejection of the unilateral withdrawal platform that was being advanced by Labor’s then-leader Amram Mitzna.

Rabin in 1995 was criticized for acting undemocratically, too – for not having warned the public, before winning election in 1992, that he might negotiate with Yasser Arafat; for securing Knesset approval for parts of the Oslo program with only the narrowest of majorities, aided by defectors from opposition parties, and for not having put Oslo to a nationwide referendum.

But Sharon’s change of course has been dramatically more radical: Rabin secured election as the ‘peace candidate,’ the moderate alternative to Yitzhak Shamir’s obduracy on territorial compromise; the voters knew, when electing him, that they were essentially authorizing Rabin to accelerate the peace process with the Palestinians. In 2003, by contrast, it was Mitzna who was the ‘peace candidate,’ and Sharon the uncompromising alternative. And yet, despite so dramatic a change in direction over the past year, Sharon stubbornly refuses to go back to the voters for a mandate for his new positions, resisting growing pressure for a nationwide referendum or, perhaps more appropriately, new general elections.

All of which is bad, self-defeating politics. Nationwide opinion polls suggest that a firm majority of Israelis favor Sharon’s plan. Many perceive it as the least bad of the various less-than-stellar alternatives for keeping Israel Jewish and democratic. Notwithstanding the trauma of removing thousands of Jews from their homes, they regard the relinquishing of authority over 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza as an immediate means of improving a worsening demographic equation that, right now, sees Israel in overall control of almost as many non-Jews as Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

But the snap surveys among 1,000 or so Israelis are meaningless. Opinion polls in the run-up to the Likud’s disengagement referendum also showed a purported majority in favor. By declining to put his program to a national forum for approval, Sharon has empowered his critics, providing them with no shortage of verbal ammunition. His approach has prompted ever-widening criticism from within his own Likud and his former natural right-wing constituency, with moves to unseat him certain to intensify as the Knesset’s winter session gets under way next week.

THE ACUTE danger now, though, in this renewing climate of vicious extremist attempts at delegitimizing the prime minister – with Nazi references again entering public discourse, revived theoretical discussion about halachic death penalties for giving up Jewish land, and the resumption of bizarre ancient ritualistic ceremonies – is of a prime ministerial opponent eschewing verbal ammunition for the physical kind.

For months, now, the security services have been warning of the threat to the prime minister’s life. In July, Tzahi Hanegbi, then the minister of internal security, said he was sure that some people had already decided they would resort to murder ‘when the time comes… to save the people of Israel.’ At around the same time, I was told by one of the most senior security officials in the country that the Shin Bet was consumed by the issue of protecting Sharon from assassination.

For months before Rabin was killed, we know now, Yigal Amir had been stalking the prime minister, attempting to gun him down, before finally seizing the opportunity on November 4, 1995.

No matter how heartfelt and justified they may feel their criticisms of him to be, Sharon’s opponents have an urgent obligation, to themselves and to the future of our people, not merely to confine their attempts to bring him down to the political arena, but also to ensure that none of their followers is given to understand that a more radical ouster might be desirable.

With the self-inflicted wounds of 1995 still so fresh, no one in Israel today can seriously doubt the potential for irresponsible opposition breeding fanaticism and, ultimately, murder. And no one can doubt that, however grave they may consider the potential consequences of Sharon’s policies to be for his people, a second prime ministerial killing would unleash a national crisis of a whole different order – a likely fatal blow to the sovereign heartbeat.

© The Jerusalem Post