Published in The Jewish Press
As I sat next to my mother’s bed in “Ichilov” hospital in Tel Aviv, I heard that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was just brought in with gunshot wounds. One hour before, I had listened to Rabin’s speech at the peace rally and disagreed greatly with his message. Now I mourn the death of my Prime Minister. I weep and hurt that a Jew was murdered by a fellow Jew just because of his political opinion. But much more, I weep for my country that will, and can never be the same.
In the 60’s when President Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, Israelis were united in the glory of the “Six Day” War. When President Reagan was wounded by an assassin, Israelis were proud that such a vile act could never happen in our democratic system. Sometimes, we felt that our democracy was much purer and maybe superior to the American one. We felt naïve childish excitement in our political fights and disagreements. Now this naiveté’ has been shattered. We are not in the “promised land” anymore.
In the US after the assassination and attempted assassination of its leaders, cynicism and distrust of the democratic and political system occurred. Voting turnout has been low . Those voters who cared have been, and still are, restless, seemingly looking for old times before the first ugliness occurred.
Now Israelis are looking in their own mirrors, not liking what they see. But they must decide where and how far they go from here. When the world asks repeatedly whether the assassination will affect the peace process, they misunderstand how deeply Israeli society has been affected. Before the “ Peace Process” proceeds, Israel must first decide how far can democracy go and is there a way to unite this country again. Israel cannot seek peace and take the risks of peace with its enemies if there is no peace inside Israel itself. Otherwise, the Israelis will self- destruct and the enemy will be joyous and seek war.
In the last several weeks since the assassination, Israeli citizens who affiliate with the Likud party and other religious parties who oppose the peace process, have been afraid to voice their opinions. So many choose to be silent or to speak whisperingly, looking behind their backs to see if somebody is listening. The police are investigating and arresting people believed to have incited violence. But no body knows where the line is that divides “freedom of speech” and “incitement of violence”.
Last month, a Jewish settler was arrested on suspicion of violating anti – terrorism laws by condoning , on television, the Prime Minster’s assassination. A textile worker, a teacher, and an airline worker have been fired for allegedly expressing support for the murder of the Prime Minister. The Attorney General is investigating whether to charge them with “incitement”. A hairdresser in Jerusalem was arrested for allegedly justifying the murder during a heated argument with a client. The client had reported his alleged comments to the police. A man in a restaurant was arrested and interrogated for four hours for allegedly speaking ag ainst the peace process. Much more, the Attorney General demands the news media to refrain from publishing interviews with, or quote from, the “inciters”. Otherwise, they will be charged criminally.
As a result of this newly created “witch hunt” atmosphere, many Israeli citizens are worried whether the bullets which killed Rabin, also killed their most cherished treasure in a democracy; their right to disagree and express it. They wonder what words or other symbols they can use.
Immediately after the assassination, Labor party leaders , political activists , and
media personalities blamed the murder on those who yelled in anti – peace demonstrations “ Rabin is a murderer”, Rabin is a traitor” and displayed pictures of Rabin in Nazi uniforms.
Maybe such words can inflame strong passions although it is doubtful if the murderer was motivated by simple slogans, but it would be a pity if the public misunderstand s the boundaries of free speech and believes, as many Labor leaders want them to believe, that every utterance against the peace process that differs from the government is an incitement to violence.