An Unhealthy Obsession

Twelve years after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the public discourse is now mostly concerned with his killer, Yigal Amir. What does the preoccupation with the murderer say about Israeli society and its means of coping with the event?

According to Yossi Lahmani, director of the Rabin Center for Israel Studies, the public and the media demonized Amir because they needed an arch-villan. The tendency can be observed in the preoccupation with his wife, Larissa Trimbobler, and with the child she is expected to deliver any day. Watching and reading the news, one might be left with the impression that the child is known to be carrying premier-killing genes.

"This year has been particularly distressing, because this is the year Yigal Amir and his wife, Larissa, became celebrities," Lahmani says. His observation is hard to refute. Larissa was invited to TV star Dudu Topaz's show this year to speak about love. News sites gave her prodigious coverage, avidly quoting her complaints about the conditions under which her husband is forced to serve his sentence.

Yesterday, Israel Television's veteran news anchor and editor Yaakov Achimeir postulated that if Trimbobler, who is in the late stages of pregnancy, elects to give birth at a hospital, the event will become a live media frenzy. Achimeir said "it would be of public interest."

Prof. Tamar Hermann, a sociologist and the dean of academic studies at the Open University, says that at face value, Yigal Amir should not have aroused such tremendous interest.

"There's the bizarre business of his marriage after he was sentenced to life imprisonment. There was the conjugal visit, and whether he would be allowed to unite with his wife. And then there was the attempt to smuggle his sperm out and give it to Larissa," Hermann recaps, "but in fact all there is to the story is a woman who fell in love with a convicted killer. And that's hardly a unique occurrence."

But it wasn't only Amir's character that gained epic stature, says Herman. She argues that just as Amir was painted in black, Rabin was bleached and whitewashed, so that he attained the status of sainted martyr. The fact that Rabin was chief of staff during the Six-Day War, the fact that he quoted as saying that the Israel Defense Forces should "break arms and legs" when dealing with the first Palestinian intifada, all that was erased. From being a politician with a controversial reputation, among those on both the left and the right, Rabin became a consensus figure, she argues.

The tendency to canonize Rabin, on the one hand, and present Amir as the personification of evil, on the other, according to Hermann, comes at the expense of serious discussion about Rabin's political importance and that of his murder.

"Centering on Amir prevents the examination of difficult questions. For example, questions that pertain to the collapse of the Oslo Accords that Rabin championed," Herman says. "Could Oslo have succeeded under different circumstances? Was the path that Rabin treaded the right one? Many prefer to leave matter at the hopeful pre-assassination stage, pointing to the murder as the cause for the breakdown of the peace process."