As more than 200,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to remember slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, about 200 right-wing Jewish radicals gathered here to remember slain Rabbi Meir Kahane, whom the government considers the spiritual guide of those who allegedly conspired to kill Rabin.
No tears were shed for Rabin during the sunset service at Kahane’s grave in the Har Hamenuhot cemetery to mark the fifth anniversary of the Brooklyn-born rabbi’s Nov. 5, 1990, assassination in New York. Whether or not the religious men and women who attended were happy about Rabin’s assassination--and clearly several were--they shared the view of killer Yigal Amir that Rabin was a traitor to Jews.
“The people here today belong to the group that is not afraid to identify with the truth,” Kahane’s son, Binyamin, told the gathering.
The truth according to the followers of Kahane is that Greater Israel, including the occupied West Bank hills they call Judea and Samaria, was given to Jews by God and that Arabs should be expelled; Rabin had no right to negotiate Jewish land with the Palestinians, they charge.
Amir told police after his arrest that he was carrying out God’s work when he shot Rabin at point-blank range in Tel Aviv on Nov. 4 and was acting according to Jewish law. He reportedly had a religious ruling from one or more rabbis identifying Rabin as a rodef , or pursuer of Jews, making the prime minister an acceptable target for death under Jewish law.
On Sunday, Rabbi Yoel Ben Nun, a religious leader from the West Bank settlement of Ofra, gave Israel’s chief rabbis a list of rabbis who reportedly have issued such rulings. Israeli television named three of them as Nachum Rabinowich from the Maale Edumim settlement, Dov Lior from Kiryat Arba and Eliahu Zini of Israel’s top technological institute, the Technion.
None of them could be reached for comment, but Israeli radio said the three denied they had ever sanctioned murder.
The case has brought out the deep divisions between Israel’s secular and religious communities and dealt a blow to the image of Orthodox Jews, who are struggling for influence in the increasingly secular state.
Police have said they believe Amir and his brother, Hagai, were the ringleaders of a group that conspired over two years to kill Rabin. They say Hagai Amir stalked Rabin at home and at public events and got close to him at least five times before Yigal Amir pulled the trigger.
Dror Adani, one of five other suspects in the alleged conspiracy who are still being held in jail, is a student at a Hesder Yeshiva in the Beit Hagai settlement and is believed to have relayed the rabbis’ ruling to the Amir brothers.
In court for a remand hearing Sunday, Hagai Amir, who is accused of providing the ammunition for the murder, told reporters: “As for my brother doing it . . . he wasn’t crazy. . . . He did what he did after a lot of thought.” Hagai Amir denied any connection with the murder.
Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, meanwhile, revealed that it had received a tip from a soldier in June that a “wiry, short Yemenite” was planning to kill the prime minister. Shin Bet said Shlomo Halevi, a sergeant in an army intelligence unit, claimed to have overheard the plot in a public bathroom at Jerusalem’s central bus station.
The agency said it took the threat seriously but was unable to identify the potential assassin. After the murder, Halevi told authorities that the source of the tip had really been a woman close to Amir who had pushed him to tell authorities but did not want to be linked to the plot.
The seven-day shiva , or mourning period, for Rabin ended Sunday morning with a private service at the prime minister’s grave in Mount Herzl cemetery attended by Rabin’s widow, Leah, other family members and Israeli leaders.
And as Israelis from all over the country gathered in Tel Aviv for the public memorial service in the square where Rabin was assassinated--now named Yitzhak Rabin Square--Israeli troops began pulling out of the West Bank city of Janin under the interim peace accord that Rabin signed with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Washington in September.
At the Kahane service, which was delayed a week by order of the Israeli government because of Rabin’s slaying, the rabbi’s son said he will continue to spread his father’s word against Palestinians in Greater Israel. Kahane was the founder of the anti-Arab Jewish Defense League, the forerunner of Israel’s outlawed groups Kach and Kahane Chai, or Kahane Lives.
Police have linked several of the Rabin suspects to Eyal, an offshoot of Kach and Kahane Chai.
“The only way to save Israel is to expel the Arabs and make Israel a Jewish state,” the younger Kahane said.
Around him, scores of American Jewish immigrants in baseball caps spoke of Israel as a police state and discussed conspiracy theories in Rabin’s death. One said Amir was a Shin Bet agent working for acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres; another said Rabin’s death was predicted in code in the Bible-in Genesis 15:17.
They wouldn’t give their names, ages, occupations or hometowns, but a few admitted to glee at Rabin’s removal from the scene.
Binyamin Kahane said he had “no feelings” about Rabin’s murder, “but a person could understand Amir. He didn’t do it for his own benefit. He did it because he saw Jews getting killed” in the peace process.
Rabbi Kahane’s followers see Rabin’s partner in peace, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Arafat, as a terrorist still committed to the destruction of Israel. They also believe that secular Israelis are trying to destroy Israel’s Jewish identity.
Asked about the possibility that rabbis may be arrested in connection with Rabin’s killing, Binyamin Kahane said: “That will be great. It’s time people understand the contradictions between Judaism and Western democracy. If they arrest rabbis, it will be because of the things that are written in Jewish law.”