Incitement to assassination

We just went to see New Movie Looks Through the Eyes of the Man Who Killed Israel’s Prime Minister. In Israel, the film is called Yamim Noraim which has a religious meaning, but in English is it titled, “Incitement”. This is an interview with its director followed by some passages from the above-linked article.

At the core of “Incitement” (“Yamim Noraim” in Hebrew) is an artistic decision that will cause the Israeli viewer’s heart to skip a beat: The decision to turn Yigal Amir, the man who murdered former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, into a cinematic hero. This is a choice that appears, at least at first, to be completely unreasonable if not outright mad. After all, Amir, in the eyes of most Israelis, is the number one enemy of the Jews – not a national hero. He is the man who crossed the line that nobody crossed before him. We thought that a Jew doesn’t kill a Jew. But Amir did. And he even found a justification based on halakha (Jewish religious law) for it.

Is it ethical to discuss Yigal Amir’s motives? Is it ethical to decipher his personality, to give him volume and feelings?

Twenty-four years after he committed murder, Amir has become the hero of a full-length feature film which was screened earlier this week at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in the coming weeks in Israeli movie theaters. The very idea of watching such a film causes great unease. We have become accustomed to loathing him, to regarding him as an abomination.

What happens when we suddenly see him as a well-rounded character, like the medium of cinema requires? Is it ethical to discuss Yigal Amir’s motives? Is it ethical to decipher his personality, to give him volume and feelings? What happens if we identify with him? What happens if the sharp and clear boundary we have drawn between ourselves and the murderer for the past 24 years begins to fade? Will we find ourselves understanding Yigal Amir?

The plot of “Yamim Noraim,” directed by Yaron Zilberman (who also wrote the script with Ron Leshem) begins about two years before the assassination. Amir, portrayed well by Yehuda Nahari Halevi, is a law student at Bar-Ilan University, who participates with his friends in stormy demonstrations against the Oslo Accords and then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

And the issue is not whether you agree with the policies adopted by Rabin. The issue is whether there are circumstances when the assassination of a political leader is legitimate. A fascinating film that had me gripped the whole way through since following the logic of the debate is what it is about.

Should Hitler have been assassinated? By1945, the answer was easy. But any such assassination would have had to occur in 1933-37 to have mattered. History just unfolds with all of its might-have-beens that can never be answered. I will say only this. That a political leader with a majority of 61-59 in Parliament should not attempt such divisive policies. And for more on that, there is this article to consider: Religious Zionism and The Rabin Assassination.

Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Orthodox Jew, a student in the law school at Bar Ilan University, and a graduate of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, two of the most prominent educational institutions of Religious Zionism. Amir claimed religious justifications for his act, quoting halakhic arguments widely discussed in rabbinic circles of Religious Zionism at the time. He determined that Rabin’s policies endangered Jewish lives, which placed Rabin in the category of rodef (pursuer), whom one is permitted to kill. It has not been determined whether Amir had specific rabbinical approval for his act. He has denied it, saying that the permissibility of the assassination was sufficiently clear that he could act on his own. His brother Hagai, who was convicted as an accomplice to the assassination,
has repeatedly asserted that there had been rabbinical approval, although
he has not mentioned a name. In the broader community there remain strong suspicions that Yigal Amir’s actions were approved by many Religious Zionists, including rabbis, even though only a small fringe has openly said so.
But religious approval is also not a justification for murder. The movie however does go through the various considerations that went into the assassination, as well as the personal circumstances that surrounded Amir. It tries to explain why he did what he did, not in any way to justify what he did.

1 thought on “Incitement to assassination

  1. Pingback: Incitement to assassination - The Rabbit Hole

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