Revisiting Israeli Peace Activist Emil Grunzweig's Murder, 33 Years Later

Despite biting criticism in 1983 of the atmosphere of verbal and physical aggression, and of the incitement behind and 'criminality' of killing a person for his political views, it seems that not much has changed.

Yael Gruenpeter
Yael Gruenpeter
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Emil Grunzweig (second from right) shortly before his murder, Feb. 10, 1983.
Emil Grunzweig (second from right) shortly before his murder by a hand grenade thrown at a Peace Now protest, Feb. 10, 1983Credit: Vardi Kahana
Yael Gruenpeter
Yael Gruenpeter

On February 10, 1983, some five months after the massacre in Beirut in the Sabra neighborhood and adjacent Shatila refugee camp, the Israeli cabinet was debating the conclusions of the Kahan Commission which investigated the killings. The commission’s report harshly criticized the conduct of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, and recommended that the latter be fired.

Parallel to the discussion in the Prime Minister’s Office, the left-wing Peace Now movement organized a demonstration in Jerusalem to call on the country's leadership to implement the report’s recommendations. The demonstrators encountered physical and verbal brutality, topped off by a grenade being tossed at them. The grenade killed Emil Grunzweig, a 35-year-old divorced father with a daughter, and wounded 10 others.

Grunzweig’s funeral was held in Haifa, with police estimating 20,000 people in attendance. “The funeral," Haaretz reported, "became a massive demonstration against violence and in favor of freedom of expression and the culture of debate.” The paper noted that many of those attending the funeral didn’t even know the peace activist, adding, “But the criminal act of murdering someone for his political views had shocked them.”

The government was represented at the funeral by Deputy Prime Minister David Levy, who at the family’s request did not speak at the ceremony. In a conversation with reporters, Levy said, “Emil was everyone’s victim we must make sure such a thing does not recur. That there shouldn’t be baseless hatred. We will be tough in order to prevent such phenomena – our lives are at stake.”

Published in February 11, 1983.Credit: Haaretz

Grunzweig’s killer, Yona Avrushmi, was arrested a year later. Under questioning, he admitted committing the murder, but at the trial he changed his story and claimed he hadn’t thrown the grenade. He was given a life sentence. Avrushmi tried to argue in his defense that he had been influenced by the incitement against Peace Now, and said he had been a tool in the hands of right-wing activists who denied responsibility for him after the incident. He admitted that he indeed thought that Peace Now activists were traitors. In 1995 then-President Ezer Weizman commuted Avrushmi’s sentence to 27 years and he was released in 2011.

A day after the 1983 murder, Haaretz also reported that, “the Alignment [forerunner of the Labor Party] refused to issue a joint statement with Likud condemning violence.” The idea had been to issue a joint statement, and for Begin and Alignment leader Shimon Peres to make a joint television appearance to speak out against violence. The head of the Alignment faction in the Knesset, Moshe Shahal, said he would have agreed to the move, “If the Likud had deigned to condemn every expression of violence by coalition MKs over the past few months.”

Grunzweig’s murder didn’t come from nowhere. Once Likud came to power in 1977, verbal and physical aggression became a widespread phenomenon.

On February 13, 1983, Haaretz published a piece by Amnon Rubinstein, leader of the Shinui party, in which he wrote, “The grenade that was thrown on the Peace Now demonstrators was not thrown because of nasty words it was thrown because of two different phenomena – incitement to murder, including death threats, and attacks on property and people in the public square We’re talking about criminal phenomena that are distinctly different from the aggressive use of language.”

According to Rubinstein, a jurist, “On campus in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, people from the right are enforcing their rule using fists, sticks, and bicycle chains ... In addition, anyone who speaks against the Likud and especially against Ariel Sharon can expect a battery of death threats.” He added that whoever thought that only politicians were the targets of these threats was mistaken, and as proof he cited the police protection assigned to Supreme Court justices. “Whoever overturned the broadcast van and threatened Israel Radio people in the Mahaneh Yehuda market were not guilty of [mere] verbal violence,” he added.

His article ended on a somewhat nave tone: “Let us hope that the victim in Jerusalem [Grunzweig] did not die for nothing Let there be no more outbursts, no more accusations of being a fifth column and traitors If we don’t nip this process in the bud, our fate will be bitter.”

Today, 33 years later, it is indeed bitter. It was also bitter nearly 13 years after the events described, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in November 1995.

Adding fuel to the fire

An illustration by Zeev, Published in February 11, 1983.Credit: Haaretz

Journalist Amnon Dankner was less ingenuous. On February 18, 1983, he wrote in Haaretz, there would be no civil war here, “Not because there won’t be war, but because it won’t happen between brothers I refuse to call the other side, ‘my brothers.’ The people who hit the Peace Now wounded in the emergency room are not my brothers. Those who curse me and call me ‘traitor’ and ‘PLO’ are not my brothers.”

Dankner didn’t pull any punches. Regarding remarks by MK Geula Cohen of Likud, who declared that the ostensible quiet, civility and culture of Peace Now members constituted “arrogance" that added fuel to the fire of hatred, he had an unequivocal response: “Really! You put me in a cage with a frenzied baboon and tell me, ‘You’re together. Start a dialogue’ Excuse me, but he’s biting my neck. How can I speak to him? He is full of hatred that I’m not equipped with – what do you want me to talk to him about?”

Dankner’s only mistake in that column was his prediction about the next victim of political assassination: “What will they say after the first political assassination? What sanctimonious speeches will they deliver at the funerals of [left-wing figures] Yossi Sarid, Shulamit Aloni, or Uri Avnery?

"Will we have to return home afterward with our heads bowed, glance at the attic and ponder packing our suitcases? That’s a terrible option, a disgrace. We have to stay here and fight. But it will not be a war between brothers, my friends. Those people are not my brothers.”

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