Israel’s Experience Shows It Takes Just One Impressionable Person to Commit Murder

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Benjamin Netanyahu with a mask over his eyes during the coronavirus crisis.
Credit: Eran Wolkowski

When we talk about incitement, it’s not easy to find the connection between what people say on television and what’s happening on the street. The inciter appeals to everyone, but not everybody goes looking for a gun after being shown “traitors” and “leftists.”

The inciter knows who’s listening – the weak, the frustrated and the ones who want to shout but have nowhere to go. The ones who shouted last month for the burning of journalist Amnon Abramovich, who was covering a demonstration against the judicial system, listen to him.

The inciter protects himself. He’s not responsible for anyone who interprets his incitement as a call to murder. He just marks the targets – a leftist here, a non-Jew there, a traitor here and Abramovich over there. You know what to do. He marks the targets and hides behind freedom of speech.

The inciter hiding behind this freedom talks about the mob but always aims his message at somebody within it. He knows that there will always be such a person – someone who knows that cursing alone won’t silence criticism; only murder will do. You only need one such person.

This is no longer incitement, it’s solicitation to commit a crime. Incitement may be included in freedom of expression, but solicitation may not. The law states that “one who leads another to commit a crime through persuasion, encouragement, insistent pleading or any other form of pressure is soliciting to commit a crime.”

The person persuading, encouraging or pleading becomes a criminal when he addresses someone the law defines as a “minor, suffering from insanity … or [who] erred in understanding the situation.” Yona Avrushmi, who murdered Emil Grunzweig at a Peace Now demonstration in 1983, was neither a minor nor insane, but he didn’t understand the situation. He said “incitement” led him to throw the grenade that killed Grunzweig. “I was influenced by the atmosphere,” he explained.

Maybe that special someone in the mob that went after Abramovich didn’t understand the situation; after all, the speakers at the demonstration didn’t suggest cursing and spitting. Luckily, this person didn’t know that Abramovich would be there. Had he known, maybe he would have brought his weapon. Who would the responsibility have fallen on then, the inciter or him?

Incitement also influenced the assassin Yigal Amir, but it was impossible to guess that it would lead to murder. We can only evaluate the extent of the inciter’s responsibility when the body is laid in front of us. Incitement is the writing on the wall. Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t see incitement against Yitzhak Rabin as writing on the wall. He never connected it to the murder. As far as I know, he also didn’t really object to the attack on Abramovich.

Rejection is also taking responsibility, and when did Netanyahu ever take responsibility for anything? Did he want Abramovich harmed? I don’t think so – not because of love for the man but because it could hurt his image if there were a trial. Did he want Abramovich to think he could be killed? Possibly. If I were Abramovich, I wouldn’t go places where someone has a gun in his pocket and misunderstands the situation.

The mob from which the murderer emerges is an ocean of misunderstanding. Avrumshi developed a dependence on the group, which had a common enemy and a leader it could trust. The group turned him from a mere metalworker to a member of a group with power. The group’s enemy changes, and the guilty ones are marked. The undisciplined public is guilty of the coronavirus, and unemployment will be blamed on the radical left (Benny Gantz!). No one will call for harm to the leftists; only a misunderstanding will be responsible for such harm.

The members of the mob, who don’t always understand, find in the right wing compensation for being frustrated, rejected and humiliated. It’s not only pathetic people. The child in the mob also feels frustrated, rejected and humiliated, but no cursing or spitting – the expertise is to translate the curses and spitting into something allowed to say to the TV journalists there.

The members of the mob and the child take the leader’s deliberately vague statements and infuse them with practical content. They don’t say what the leader would want them to do. They just “understand” him. They do what they have to do by “condemning” the attack on Twitter.

“Condemn” is the older sibling of “regret.” That is, they piss on us, just from a different angle.

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