Yigal Amir: Religious fanatic or Zionist
by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 6, 1998
No one, until now, has tried to pin the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on the haredi community. And for good reason.
The very traits for which the haredim are ridiculed make them unlikely assassins. The standard Zionist caricature pictures them as essentially unchanged from their European forebears, who bowed and scraped before the local landowner. (As we all find ourselves shuffling before the American hegemon, that critique has become more muted.)
Haredim are disdained for their passivity; their trust in God, not their own might, to right every wrong; and their reliance on their rabbinic leaders for guidance on every crucial life decision. Unreconstructed 'galut Jews.'
Alex Auswaks thus broke new ground in last week's Magazine when he charged the 'ultra-Orthodox" with complicity in the Rabin assassination.
Describing the national mood preceding the assassination, he writes that the increasing radicalization of the ultra-Orthodox obscured the lines between them and religious Zionists. The settlers and the haredim, in his account, were the two groups who regarded Oslo as an ideological challenge.
Auswaks' portrait is nonsense. Oslo did not narrow the gap in theological perspective between religious Zionists and haredim. With the possible exception of Habad, haredim were conspicuous by their absence at the demonstrations following Oslo.
Haredim were not theologically challenged by Oslo. True, they were deeply pained by the loss of parts of the Promised Land. And they tended to be critical of the Oslo process as a threat to Jewish lives. But they never believed that the ultimate disposition of the Land has anything to do with the actions of this Israeli government or that.
From their theological perspective, the real tragedy is that God is taking the Land back from the Jewish people. And their solution, as always, is directed inward: Make ourselves once again worthy of possessing the Land.
Certainly they have no difficulty finding causes for divine displeasure within their world and without.
For religious Zionism, of course, the matter was far different. The religious Zionist claim that the Jewish people have entered the climactic era in Jewish history is predicated on the theological significance of the creation of the State of Israel and renewed Jewish sovereignty over the Land. When that same state became the instrument for giving back the Land, the theological tension became unbearable. Someone was bound to snap and conclude that the state had fallen into the hands of usurpers.
Yigal Amir rejected the defining haredi concept of da'at Torah when he boasted, 'I consulted no rabbis. Anyone who knows me, knows I am an independent-minded person.'
The view that great Torah scholars are the natural leaders of the Jewish people and that any action with profound consequences for the entirety of the Jewish people must pass their scrutiny belongs, for Amir, to the Exile. Rabbis are for deciding issues of dairy and meat mixtures.
BUT IF Amir's heinous crime had no basis in haredi theology or sociology, it was hardly the anomaly in Zionist history it is portrayed as being. Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik is said to have commented on an early Zionist promise to reclaim the Land by any and all means, 'Jews will kill Jews.' That prophecy was soon fulfilled.
In 1924, Prof. Ya'acov Yisrael DeHaan, a brilliant Dutch jurist who acted as a de facto 'foreign minister' for the old yishuv of Jerusalem, was killed on the eve of his departure for England for discussions with British Mandatory authorities.
Prior to the assassination, the Zionist press had accused DeHaan of being a national traitor and the Va'ad Haleumi posted denunciations of his proposed visit to London as an act of treason. Al Hamishmar lamented, 'We do not yet possess the power of an independent nation to judge traitors, but if we did, we would be obligated to impose the strictest punishment upon him.'
Yehuda Slutzky, the official historian of the Hagana, identified the assassin as Avraham Tehomi, acting on orders of the Hagana high command. To the end, Tehomi remained unrepetant. In a television interview with Shlomo Nakdimon, co-author with Shaul Mazlish of DeHaan: The First Political Murder in Eretz Yisrael, Tehomi insisted that DeHaan had to be eliminated. He added that no Hagana action took place in Jerusalem at that time without the express order of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, later Israel's second president.
After the assassination, the Histadrut journal Ha'olam foreshadowed Yigal Amir by justifying the murder with copious citations of halachic authorities.
Nor was assassination a forbidden tool in intra- Zionist disputes.
David Ben-Gurion records in his diary threats on his life by one of the leaders of Hashomer Hatza'ir, and two Hashomer members shot and wounded Yosef Leshinsky, an activist in the anti-Turkish Nili organization.
The best-known instance of Jews killing Jews in internal Zionist struggles is, of course, the sinking of the Altalena. Long after the ship had sunk, Palmah forces kept up their fire on those in the water in the hopes of killing Menachem Begin. Sixteen Jews died as a result.
In his memoirs, the Palmah commander recalled his feelings at that time: 'Jews shooting Jews - over a prolonged period. Jews injured and killed by the bullets of other Jews. But my heart is at peace with the decision of Ben-Gurion.'
Moshe Beilinson, one of the few Zionist leaders to condemn the DeHaan assassination, wrote at the time, 'Blood always draws in its wake more blood. Blood is always avenged. If we start once on this path, we can not know where it may lead.'
If only his words had been heeded.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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