Behind the Lines: It's time for the media to do their job

There is every reason in the world to conduct an in-depth interview with Yigal Amir.

By
November 3, 2005 21:43
Behind the Lines: It's time for the media to do their job

yigal amir 298 88 AP. (photo credit: )

 
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Shmuel Kasper, the attorney of Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, grew up with me in the same neighborhood. I still see him sometimes, usually at services at a Jerusalem synagogue popularly known as the shtiebelach. Each time I encounter him, I want to ask him for an exclusive interview with his client. But I never manage to get the words out. What could be more natural than a journalist asking for an interview with a man who changed the face of Israeli history? I even once toyed with the idea of writing a book on Amir, but immediately shelved it. No respected publishing company would ever take it on. And even if such an intrepid publisher could be found, there's a limit to the damage I'm willing to do to my career. Even if every adjective in the book used to describe Amir were along the lines of "devil" and "slime-ball," the subject's biographer would automatically be branded as his ideological soul-mate. Dozens of books have been published in the United States on Lee Harvey Oswald and their writers' stature wasn't diminished. But in Israel there is a minefield around Amir which prevents a journalist from treating him professionally. A highly-regarded editor-in-chief once told me: "I'm never going to run an interview with Amir. Why should I supply him a platform?" The other side of that coin can be seen whenever Amir makes one of his periodic appearances in court, demanding this concession or that from the Prisons' Authority. Each time this happens, a pack of reporters descend upon him desperate for a quote or a photo. Or a TV crew accompanies his mother until she agrees to let the camera film her participating in a conference call to the jail. Both attitudes - the moralizing and the trivializing - are wrong. There is every reason in the world to conduct an in-depth interview with Yigal Amir. A decade after the murder, we still haven't answered the most central question: How did a Hesder Yeshiva alumnus - an ex-Golani soldier and a law student - plan and carry out the assassination of the head of the Jewish state? Finding this out from a journalistic perspective should be the task particularly of religious reporters, who grew up in the same system, and are familiar with the context and culture. But they are wary, and quite right to be so, from their point of view. What kippa-wearing reporter would like to be identified with Public Enemy No. 1? The general hang-up regarding Amir is similar to the problem we used to have examining the Nazi era. At that time, writers and film-makers couldn't bring themselves to treat the Nazis as normal human beings. Identifying them as monsters - and Hitler's regime as an historical aberration - prevented a proper understanding of their crime for many decades. Ironically, transforming Amir into a monster seems to have been a joint effort by the Left, eager to portray him as the murderer of the peace process, and the religious Right, still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was a typical product of its own education system. Both the moralistic and the tabloid press collaborated in this, whether for ideological reasons or due to their typical shallowness. In the decade following the assassination, the images of both Rabin and Amir have been commercialized and become one-dimensional. In Rabin's case, it was a normal process in which a national icon's memory and legacy are hotly disputed and hijacked by political interests. But Amir is still here, living among us, and a public reckoning with him - the kind of reckoning which can't happen in a court-room - is long overdue. Instead, the media have been dealing for the last 10 years with trivialities. Amir's exaggerated monstrosity has turned him into the biggest celebrity in Israel. No nuptials in the state's history have attracted as much press attention as Larissa Trimbobler's campaign to wed her murderous sweet-heart. Every request by Amir for a relaxation in the conditions of his incarceration is given blanket coverage. Despite officially poohpoohing all the conspiracy theories surrounding the murder, every new one - or half-detail questioning of the official account of the events - causes media ecstasy and is heralded as a major development that could put whole country in a tailspin. Every traumatic event in recent history gives rise to fantastic theories, subscribed to for a variety of political and psychological reasons. The theorists naturally feed off conflicting accounts and official obfuscation surrounding all monumental events - the crucial stages of the Yom Kippur War, for example. Why should Rabin's murder be any different? This week's revelation, courtesy of a Channel 2 documentary, that an inexplicable third hole was found in Rabin's shirt (until now it was thought that he had been hit by two bullets), will add more wood to the conspiracy bonfire, though it is almost certainly a meaningless detail. The problem is that while concerning itself with the third hole, and with this week's other development - Amir's hopeless motion for a re-trial - the media continue to ignore the larger issue. The establishment - represented in this case by the Prisons' Authority - of course would prefer to avoid further controversy and would like nothing better than to lock Amir up in an underground dungeon and throw away the key. But in a democracy, it's impossible to hide him away indefinitely, like Alexander Dumas's Man in the Iron Mask. He will probably remain among us for decades to come, and Israeli society needs to understand the man and his actions. It's the duty of the media to provide that understanding - a duty they've been shirking for the past decade.

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