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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolomski)
Something terribly ugly is happening in Israel. It started during Yitzhak Rabin's term as prime minister when right-wing extremists and religious fanatics joined in calling for his death and it would seem to have culminated with his assassination.
But the ugliness continues. Yigal Amir, Rabin's assassin, turned out to have been no "lone lunatic," no Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan who acted for reasons that were perhaps psychological and not political.
Not Amir. Yigal Amir was inspired to kill the prime minister by a community which believed that taking Rabin's life was a necessity ordained by God. Rabin was preparing to give up land promised to the Jews, and so it was necessary to kill him. Amir has always been proud of what he accomplished. In his mind, he did it for Israel. A joyous, triumphant smirk can be seen on Amir's face in every photograph for 12 years.
The ugly thing to which I refer is not just the assassination itself. The killing of Rabin was the worst disaster in the history of the Jewish State. Its repercussions are felt every day. I believe that had Rabin lived, Oslo would have ended with an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty and a resolution of the conflict. (By the last years of Oslo, there was virtually no terrorism in Israel thanks to IDF-PLO security cooperation.) The assassin and his friends also believed that Rabin would achieve peace which is why they wanted him dead.
But even uglier than the assassination is the nauseating fact that Yigal Amir is today a hero to a portion of the Israeli public, especially the ideological settlers. He has been treated with kid gloves by the Israeli judicial and prison system, which not only allowed him to marry while in jail but also allowed him to father a child. This week the assassin's son was circumcised in prison so that the proud father could attend.
This is crazy stuff. Can you imagine if Oswald had lived, and been found guilty, that Americans would tolerate for a minute the idea that he would either be allowed to father a child from prison or attend that child's christening? Of course not. But then there was no public lionizing of Oswald, or Sirhan, or James Earl Ray. Yes, there were people who hated their victims and no doubt some wanted them dead, but those who celebrated the murder of Kennedys and King did so very very quietly.
Not so in Israel.
LAST WEEK in Haifa during a major league soccer game between Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa, a moment of silence to commemorate the Rabin assassination was interrupted when half the stadium hissed and booed Rabin's name and sang songs extolling the virtues of his assassin. Most Israelis were appalled. Many commentators said that these fans were a small minority of soccer hooligans. But many observers disagreed, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said that the assassination cheerleaders were "not a small group, as some would like to minimize it, but a large, loud, influential and raging group. . ."
By no means are these people a majority of Israelis or even a substantial number. But they are a loud and vocal minority, and most Israelis - who despise Amir and venerate the memory of Rabin - seem too weary to stand up to them.
OLMERT LINKED the obnoxious fans with the people who virulently oppose any agreement with the Palestinians. This is not to say that all peace opponents admire Rabin's assassin but rather that the Amir admirers (and those who prayed publicly for the death of Sharon for giving up Gaza or attack random Palestinians) come from the extreme right. That is a fact.
To be fair, these extremists have their counterparts here too. Just as Rabin's murderer is a hero in certain parts of Israel, he is also a hero in parts of New York and Los Angeles. There are people among us who believe that all is fair in the effort to preserve the settlements and keep the Palestinians under occupation.
In a sense, it is not surprising that occupation produces this kind of ugliness. By definition, occupation coarsens the occupier.
FURTHERMORE, an occupation that started as the retention of lands won in a defensive war evolved, once the settlement movement began, into a fierce religious nationalist movement that is less about love of Israel than hating those perceived as Israel's enemies, especially fellow Israelis and Jews. These new nationalists, for the most part, have little use for the State of Israel and its leaders. Their attachment is to the Land of Israel, a place located in the Bible, in their hearts and in the West Bank settlements. They have as little use for Tel Aviv and Haifa as they do for Cairo and Damascus.
These are the Israeli counterparts of the much ballyhooed Islamo-Fascists - although the people so up-in-arms about Arab crazies tend not to see the similarity with their Jewish brethren, and vice versa. That is one of the remarkable things about extremists. They never recognize their mirror image in the people they hate most. One of the many things these fanatics have in common is that their biggest fear is Arab-Israeli reconciliation.
That is nothing new. Following Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1995, the far-Right in Israel organized to defeat prime minister Shimon Peres in order to ensure that the Oslo process had died with Rabin. At the same time, Hamas terrorists began a campaign of suicide bombing to achieve the same goal. Hamas succeeded when Peres lost the election.
Now the crazies on both sides are determined to see Annapolis fail. Israel's security agencies are on alert, with Olmert under even more protection than usual. Hopefully, the same precautions are being taken by the Palestinian Authority which needs to guard against both attacks on the Fatah leadership and an increase in attacks on Israeli targets.
ALL THIS adds urgency to Annapolis. Without movement toward peace and an end to occupation, the lunatics on both sides are going to triumph in both Israel and Palestine. Yitzhak Rabin's son, Yuval, predicts that, at the rate things are going in Israel, Amir will be freed and his children will be treated as princes of the state. Many Palestinians, for their part, worship suicide bombers and other vicious killers (note the insistence by some Palestinians on the release from prison of Samir Kuntar, the monster whose claim to fame is that he murdered a young family in Nahariya.) The bottom line is that the status quo is a disease that is destroying two societies. If you support Israel, you have no choice but to support what Olmert, Abbas and Rice are trying to do. The alternative is supporting continuation of the occupation and the death of the Zionist dream.
The writer is the director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.
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