Right-wingers view themselves as conspiracy victims

In Israel's far-right-wing circles, the talk is of conspiracy.

Nearly all extreme rightists believe there was a conspiracy by the government of Yitzhak Rabin to make right-wing demonstrations appear hateful, violent and inciteful, when — in the right's view — they weren't.

Some suggest the assassination itself was a Shin Bet plot to smear the right that "boomeranged" when the bullets turned out to be real. Nobody has yet publicly accused anybody in the government or Shin Bet of actually intending to get Rabin killed, but a lot of the innuendo goes in that direction.

"This may sound crazy, but how is it that there were thousands of yahrzeit candles in Kikar Malchei Yisrael so soon after Rabin was shot?" wondered Shmuel Sackett, co-chairman of the radical opposition group Zo Artzenu (This Is Our Land), and a self-described "former" member of the outlawed Kahane Chai.

"Most people have between zero and one yahrzeit candle in their homes, it was a Saturday night, the stores were closed, and all of a sudden there were boxes of yahrtzeit candles being handed out. Somebody must have known what was going to happen."

Told that the candles lit in Kikar Malchei Yisrael on the night of the assassination were mainly of the household variety, commonly stocked in homes by the box, Sackett replied, "That's interesting."

But this was just one more point that must be checked, he said, and illustrated the growing number of questions that are swirling among the people Sackett meets.

Such conspiracy theories are arising as the right, especially the religious right, finds itself on the ropes since Rabin's killing. Rightists have been defending themselves, by saying confessed assassin Yigal Amir and his co-suspects were aberrations, marginal figures whose violent tactics and incitement was largely condemned by opposition leaders.

The explanation has not exactly caught on; recent polls showed public opinion shifting en masse toward the government and away from the opposition.

Then along came Avishai Raviv. Raviv, in his late 20s, was the head of a tiny organization called Eyal that pledged to murder Arabs and leftist Jews. He worked very closely with Yigal Amir. Raviv, as it turns out, was also a Shin Bet informer.

At a demonstration in Jerusalem one month before the assassination, Raviv showed Israel TV a photomontage of Rabin dressed as an SS officer. That picture has been an albatross around the right-wing's neck, but with Raviv's exposure as a Shin Bet informer, the hardline right is now on the attack — insisting that Raviv was not only behind the photomontage, but was the point man in the Rabin government's campaign to ruin the opposition's name.

The recent arrest of two yeshiva boys for creating the photomontage has not changed their opinion.

"Everything came from Raviv," argued Elyakim Haetzni, a former Knesset member and a militant settler leader in Kiryat Arba. "He paid youths to write, `Rabin is a murderer,' on walls."

Still, Haetzni dismissed the notion that the Shin Bet was in any way connected with the assassination, but maintained that it was the sole source of the incitement, acting on orders from above. All the ubiquitous expressions of menace could likely be traced to their man Raviv, he said.

Evidence that Raviv was a true-blue, right-wing fanatic at the same time he was working for the Shin Bet cut no ice with Haetzni.

"Raviv was not an informer, he was an agent provocateur," he maintained.

Nadia Matar, the fiery leader of Women In Green, compares the aftermath of the Rabin assassination to the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination, with conspiracy theories and unanswered questions multiplying.

"A Pandora's Box has been opened…[But] I fear the whole truth will never come out," she says.

"A lot of people on the street are talking about it. Many of these ideas sound far-fetched, but who knows? My feeling is that a lot of weird things have been going on."

The most far-fetched idea is posed by Shmuel Sackett and his co-leader in Zo Artzenu, Moshe Feiglin. They note that Leah Rabin says she heard someone in Rabin's guard yell after he was shot, "Don't worry — they were only blanks." Not long after the shooting, an organization calling itself "Revenge" notified the media, "We missed this time; next time we'll succeed." (For more than a half-hour after the shooting, the TV replayed an interview with an eyewitness who claimed the bullets missed Rabin. It was not confirmed until later that Rabin had been hit.)

From this, the Zo Artzenu leaders conclude that the Shin Bet, probably acting through Raviv, meant to stage a failed assassination attempt by putting blanks in Amir's gun and inciting him to go after Rabin. The idea was to further smear the right, goes the theory.

"The irony is that the Shin Bet, whose incitement led to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, was under the direct authority of Rabin himself, who directed the Shin Bet to act against his political adversaries," Sackett says.

It might have worked, he adds, "except someone switched the blanks for live bullets."

Asked who he thought it might have been, Sackett replied that he didn't know yet.

Most other people seem to feel that Rabin was assassinated because right-wing religious fanaticism was allowed to flourish in Israel. Yet the conspiracy theorists of the far-right see a Rabin-led campaign to get them, which got him in the end.

They are trying to shift the blame from themselves onto the murdered man, whom they blamed for everything while he was alive. What is obvious to them is unthinkably bizarre to everyone else. They are standing on the other side of a looking glass from the sane majority of their countrymen.