Behind the Lines: And the plot thickens

For the first time since the assassination, the media has begun taking conspiracy theories seriously.

rabin special 298 (photo credit: )
rabin special 298
(photo credit: )
Every year that goes by following Yitzhak Rabin's assassination peels away another layer of taboos that have adhered to the image of the dead premier. During the first couple of years, Rabin was sacrosanct - he was the ultimate sabra who could do no wrong. Nothing was too good for him; hospitals, highways, schools and streets were named after him by the dozen, often at the expense of other greats previously commemorated there. Not a word of criticism was written and no doubts arose over the circumstances of the murder. It was clear-cut that a demigod had been slain by the devil. But as the years went by, it gradually became acceptable to write about less edifying chapters in Rabin's past, to criticize the exaggeration of the annual memorial festival. Even his family members were taken to task by the media for their outspokenness, especially the sharp-tongued widow, Leah. According to an unwritten rule, every year a different sector of the Rabin conglomerate became fair game. Lately, for example, it has become fashionable to belittle the much-vaunted "Rabin's legacy." Since Rabin was no intellectual, he wrote no books aside from a self-serving autobiography, and had no special, personal philosophy. The legacy was always a byword for a certain political platform, but only recently have mainstream columnists actually been admitting this. On this year's yarzheit, a return to orthodox veneration was to have been expected. After all, for the 10th anniversary special, even Bill Clinton's coming to the party. More the surprise, then, when it turned out that the particular cow to be slaughtered this year was one of the most sacred. For the first time since the murder, the "respectable" press began taking the conspiracy theories surrounding the murder seriously. Those sinister plots supposedly lurking beneath the surface of the official version need no introduction. They are familiar to anyone with access to the Internet. So many of the details have become accepted urban myths, widely believed not only by right-wing extremists eager to place blame for the murder on Shimon Peres, but also by a much larger public. BUT DESPITE their wide currency, the theories have always been totally discredited by the Israeli media, who have regarded them as fascist disinformation designed to undermine democracy and the rule of law. For that reason, it was extremely surprising to find in the last weekend two major features in Israeli newspapers dealing with the subject. Ma'ariv ran a wide-ranging feature offering all the different theories, their details, how they became prevalent, and added the "real facts," debunking the conspiracies. Of course, the piece came with a number of caveats, the most prominent of which was the headline, "Theory of lie" [in Hebrew it works much better], but the fact that a major newspaper has, for the first time, offered all the different theories was astounding. Even more surprising was a piece written by Ha'aretz columnist and popular historian Tom Segev, who tried to explain the different reasons why the conspiracy theories have become so widespread amongst the Israeli public. His conclusion was not that the theories should be chucked into the wastebin of history, but that a group of serious academics should undertake research in order to get to the bottom of it all. He wrote that "a democratic society is dependent on a correct balance between skepticism and trust, and as long as people believe in the possibility that the Shabak eliminated the prime minister, there is a danger to the democratic health of society." Not only did the newspapers suddenly take the conspiracy seriously, but Channel 2 television also aired a much-publicized documentary called "Unclosed Case," and tried to set question marks on previously uncontested assumptions. The show, which opened with a health warning that "the identity of the murderer is in no doubt," all the same tried to posit as many flaws in the official version of the murder as possible. In actuality, the only serious claim made in an hour of television was that in Rabin's shirt and vest there was an additional hole which could have been made by a third bullet, even though according to the autopsy reports, he had been hit only by two. All the drama and forensic evidence couldn't prove that the hole wasn't made, for instance, by a burning cigarette - but that's television. The sudden willingness of the Israeli media to ask about matters which have lain dormant for a decade gives rise to a number of uncomfortable questions. First, are they doing so simply because so much has already been said about Rabin that they need something new to excite the public? Second, what kind of journalism is this, that includes the question marks with totally different answers? It seems that some journalists want to have their cake and eat it too - ask embarrassing questions while, at the same time, continuing to regard other questioners as right-wing lunatics. But what is most disturbing of all is the realization that so much time has passed and still, the Israeli media has not gotten around to fulfilling its task of seriously investigating what really happened on that dark night of November 4th, 1995. Of course, we all know who shot Rabin and why, but there is still much to be answered.