Rabin murder inquiry steers clear of political conflict

JERUSALEM — The state commission report investigating the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin revived some painful, recent memories.

But it was politically anticlimactic.

It is now clear that the Rabin assassination will not — as was thought immediately after the slaying — provide the basis for a resounding electoral victory for his successor, Shimon Peres.

On the contrary, the Labor Party and its allies cannot tar the right-wing parties simply by invoking the assassination, which was carried out Nov. 4 by right-wing religious fanatic Yigal Amir. This is especially true since the judges in the Amir trial and the members of the Shamgar Commission pointedly declined to do so.

Meanwhile, the Likud and its allies have redoubled their protests against any such attempts at tarring the right-wing.

In the Shamgar report made public March 28, a day after Amir was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, the commission said lax security measures by the police and the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency enabled Amir to carry out the assassination.

Rightists criticized the commission for failing to deal exhaustively with the issue of Shin Bet agents planted within right-wing fringe groups.

One such agent, Avishai Raviv, was a personal friend of Amir's and closely involved with him in political activities directed against the Rabin government and its peace policies.

Far-right critics now argue that Raviv and other Shin Bet operatives in right-wing groups deserve most of the blame for the threats and political violence that enveloped the country before the assassination.

The mainstream right, meanwhile, met the trial's end and the commission's report with relief.

Amir himself, in his final statements to the court, talked mainly about the religious motives for his deed. He gave no help to those who have sought to link his act to his broader political milieu or to the rabbis, teachers, yeshivas and universities that shaped his education.

The judges in turn handed down a ringing rebuttal of his twisted interpretation of the Jewish sources that he said led to his crime.

But they stopped short of extending that rebuttal to national religious circles, which openly debated before Rabin's killing whether the prime minister was a traitor.

In their report, Justice Meir Shamgar and his two commission colleagues were even more circumspect, giving a minimalist reading of their mission.

They simply delivered a technical examination of the security breakdown that resulted in the assassination. But they refused to be drawn into the political, social and psychological aspects surrounding Amir and his act.

The commission's approach was criticized by the most senior "victim" of the panel's findings — the former head of Shin Bet, Carmi Gilon, whose earlier resignation the commission roundly endorsed.

Addressing reporters on the steps of the building where the commission met in Jerusalem, Gilon warned that there were still many others "out there" who were plotting political assassinations.

"They serve with us in the Golani Brigade," he said, "in the paratroop brigade."

The implication was obvious: Gilon was referring to young men of the religious ultra-right, of Amir's political and religious persuasion, who were serving in even the most prestigious units of the Israel Defense Force much as Amir himself did.

Commentators have preferred not to focus on Gilon's remarks. Some cite the rabbinic adage that a man ought not to be "caught out in his grief."

But many leading Israeli commentators have found fault with the Shamgar Commission's insistence on steering clear of the major political and social issues the assassination signaled.

"Where then is the heart-searching?" one writer asked.

The commission had been widely expected to encourage such introspection. Instead, there was silence. And soul-searching, already fading with the passage of time, is now declared passé in broad religious Zionist circles.

The National Religious Party, at first afraid that the assassination would lead to wholesale defections from its ranks, recently voted for an even more hardline slate of Knesset candidates than those now serving.

There is a sense of missed opportunity. Some critics assert that for Shamgar, the recently retired president of the Supreme Court, this is the second such stumble.

Shamgar had served as head of another commission of inquiry that bore his name, looking into the February 1994 Hebron massacre, in which Kiryat Arba settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

In that inquiry, too, Shamgar preferred to look into the laxness of security measures at the site rather than consider the broader sociological and political realities that furnished the backdrop to the killings.