Theories of late Rabin conspiracy theorist Barry Chamish never gained traction

‘There was no conspiracy – there was just a single man who managed to get close to Rabin and kill him,’ says MK Shai

August 24, 2016 21:36
3 minute read.
Yitzhak Rabin

A boy touches the bust of Yitzhak Rabin before a rally commemorating the 20th anniversary of his assassination in Tel Aviv, October 31. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The main proponent of a conspiracy involving the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin died this week, years after his theories had faded into obscurity.

Barry Chamish, a Canadian who moved to Israel in the mid- 1970s and wrote several books, but was best known for his 1998 tome Who Murdered Yitzhak Rabin, was found dead at age 64 in Florida, according to media reports.

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In his polemic book, Chamish contended that Rabin assassin Yigal Amir was not the shooter, but rather a patsy for former prime minister Shimon Peres and the Shin Bet.

The book claimed that police reports and ballistics evidence showed that Amir was not the killer.

Chamish was just the most vocal of many conspiracists who emerged in the wake of Rabin’s assassination in 1995, which never gained any traction within Israeli society.

“There were a number of conspiracy theories [about Rabin], and that was another one,” Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Nachman Shai (Labor) said by phone on Wednesday.

Shai compared the Rabin assassination enthusiasts to the numerous conspiracy theories that arose in the US claiming that Lee Harvey Oswald was not responsible for the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“In our case, some blamed the Shin Bet, some claimed it was just an exercise, and not real,” he said. “But Amir happened to pick up a gun somewhere and he managed to be close to Rabin in order to kill him, and that’s it. Every few years it’s popular to come up with conspiracy theories because there is no one to deny or attack you.

They do it for attention, to sell a book or speak somewhere, but I don’t think it has any ground.”

According to veteran journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, now a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, the geopolitical climate in Israel was so fraught with anger and fear at the time of the assassination that voices like Chamish’s were raised to the fore.

“What’s clear is that Chamish succeeded in articulating the tremendous rage and sense of betrayal that many on the Right felt toward the Labor leadership during the Oslo years,” said Halevi. “And the sense of betrayal went so deep that some were willing to believe the absolute worst about the motives and behavior of Israel’s democratically elected leadership.”

While Halevi said it remains difficult to fully reconstruct the emotional milieu of that time, he noted that many in Israeli society were horrified by any partnership with former PA head Yasser Arafat.

“At the time it was simply inconceivable to many Israelis that a sane Israeli leadership would have empowered Arafat, who for Israelis across the political spectrum had been the symbol of the post-Holocaust renewal of attacks on Jews,” he said. “So there was fertile ground on part of the Right to imagine the absolute worse about Rabin and Peres.

And, as in any major historic moment, there are unanswered questions and contradictions in some of the evidence about the Rabin assassination. Historic events are rarely transparent and neat.”

To that end, Halevi said Chamish seized on any perceived inconsistencies regarding the postmortem of Rabin’s murder for a limited, albeit disillusioned, and badly shaken audience.

“He provided a scenario that seemed to make sense to those Israelis who were, in some cases, losing their minds with grief and rage,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine Chamish’s theories being less credible, added Calev Ben-David, political correspondent for IBA News and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, “since Amir admitted it and was convicted, and has never denied it, or made any other claim. He said, ‘I killed Rabin,’ and he’s proud of it. It’s different than say Lee Harvey Oswald, because Oswald was gunned down within 48 hours, and he actually denied that he was involved. He probably lied, but at least he denied it.”

A Gallup poll taken on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination showed that only 30 percent of Americans believe that Oswald was the lone gunman in the murder, with 61 percent believing that others besides Lee Harvey Oswald were involved.

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