Israel Battles Words That Incite Killing
JERUSALEM — A DEEPLY troubled Israel has broadened the search for the killers of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to include those morally responsible for inciting Jews to commit murder in the name of religion.
The man who pulled the trigger already is in custody. And security lapses in protecting . Rabin have been exposed and are the subject of a major investigation.
''The more important question now is how to prevent the kind of vitriolic rhetoric and threats that created the climate for his assassination,'' says Rabbi David Forman, chairman of Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights.
Israel Police Minister Moshe Shahal said yesterday he believed that the alleged assassin, law student and religious Jew Yigal Amir, had not acted alone and that an organized group was behind the killing. Shahal said the assassin had received ''technical help and support'' from others.
Law-enforcement agencies have arrested five additional suspects since Amir was held at the scene of the shooting at a peace rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night.
They are Haggai Amir, the alleged assassin's brother, who allegedly knew about his brother's plans and manufactured the bullets used in the shooting; Avishai Raviv, founder and leader of the right-wing extremist group Eyal, the Hebrew acronym for the Jewish Fighting Organization; Dror Hadani, a religious student from Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv; Ohad Skornick of Tel Aviv, a close friend and classmate of Amir's; and Benny Aharoni, a West Bank seminary student and Eyal member. Police Minister Shahal said he believed Mr. Hadani was ''actively involved in the assassination plot.''
Eyal, founded in the 1990s, was visible at right-wing demonstrations outside the prime minister's office here. Leah Rabin, Rabin's widow, has said the group helped create the climate for her husband's assassination. Eyal is known to be an offshoot of the Jewish terrorist organization Kach, founded by the slain right-wing leader Rabbi Mair Kahane.
Police yesterday sealed off the road outside the prime minister's office and kept journalists covering a Cabinet meeting about 200 yards away.
The arrests coincided with the launch of a full-scale state investigation into the security failure surrounding Rabin's assassination. An initial inquiry by the Israeli Secret Service, Shin Bet, presented to the Cabinet Wednesday, raised serious questions about breaches of security.
* Why the parking lot where Rabin's official automobile was parked was not sealed off.
* Why the outer circle of police and special protection personnel was penetrated so easily.
* Why there was no advance group of security guards in position around the car.
* Why none of the guards fired on the assassin when he drew a weapon in clear firing line of Rabin and acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Following the release of the report Tuesday, the head of the Shin Bet protection unit resigned and three senior officials were suspended.
The arrests, resignations, and suspensions followed government orders for a severe crackdown on extremist Jewish right-wing groups and the launching of a series of investigations by the Israeli attorney general under incitement laws.
Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair asked Israeli newspaper editors Wednesday not to publish interviews that amounted to incitement, and Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet said his department would withdraw government funding of religious institutes whose publications included statements that could be construed as incitement.
Israelis are closely following the accounts of police arrests of suspects in a right-wing conspiracy and the debate about lapses in security.
But Israeli society has become more consumed with the moral responsibility of the right-wing and religious leaders who set the stage for the Rabin assassination by vilifying the slain leader as a ''traitor'' and ''murderer.''
In the past, the Israeli government has been lax in applying laws relating to incitement to the right wing. Israel's laws against incitement are far-reaching and cover the full range of criminal offenses committed both inside and outside the country by an Israeli citizen. Incitement to murder carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. No one can receive a punishment for incitement that is greater than the penalty for committing the act itself.
The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the subject of incitement - and how to deal with it - featured as the major topic at the Cabinet meeting.
Mr. Peres urged tough action to put an end to incitement by extreme right-wing groups.
''There will be freedom of expression in the country but not the freedom to kill,'' Peres reportedly told the Cabinet. ''I must say some things shock me: I do not know of anywhere else in the world where the media broadcast people calling for murder,'' he said.
''We must not hesitate to use all the means at our disposal against people indulging in incitement - the instigators and those who pull the trigger,'' Peres said.
The focus of Israeli wrath has settled, in particular, on right-wing rabbis in Israel and the United States who interpreted the Jewish scriptures in such a way that their interpretations were given precedence over the laws of the secular Israeli state.
The most controversial of these statements was one in July by New York Rabbi Abraham Hecht, who said that the leaders of the Israeli government were mosrim - people who betray Jews. Under Jewish tradition, it is permissible to kill such people.
Rabbi Hecht later qualified his statement and said he was not advocating that such people should be killed but that they should face heavy penalties. But he insisted that, from the viewpoint of Jewish law, Rabin was a ''traitor.''
Hecht's statement coincided with a meeting of the International Rabbinical Coalition for Israel in New York, an influential group of Orthodox rabbis that ruled it was not permissible for the government of Israel to relinquish any land to Palestinians.
This was followed on July 12 by the ruling of 15 leading Zionist religious rabbis, headed by former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, that evacuating military bases on the West Bank posed a danger to Jewish life.
This created an immediate dilemma for thousands of religious Jews serving in the Israeli Defense Force, effectively forbidding them from taking part in the partial withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from the West Bank - part of the plan to extend Palestinian autonomy. Religious Jews regard the land to be handed over to the Palestinians under the Israel-PLO accord as part of the Biblical land of Israel.
''The problem is that there is an element in Israeli society which believes that its way of interpreting Judaism is the only way - the absolute way,'' Rabbi Forman said. ''So anything becomes permissible to uphold the law of Judaism against the law of the state.''
Silent majority yet to speak
He said that a minority of extremist rabbis had created a climate that led to Rabin's assassination because the silent majority of rabbis in Israel, and the US had not spoken out. ''We have to isolate these people in a way that is forceful and clear,'' Forman said.
On the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sunset tonight, rabbis at some 7,000 synagogues throughout Israel will recall the Biblical commandment ''Thou shalt not kill'' and urge worshippers to end the violence that led to Rabin's assassination.
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to attend a Rabin sympathy rally in Tel Aviv at Kings of Israel Square, which already has been renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square.
* Settlers on West Bank regret Rabin murder. Page 6.