Twenty-four years on, the bottom line is that Yigal Amir won. He achieved all his goals and more. He not only stopped the peace process, killed the man who led it and brought his rival into power, he ushered in an era that shall bear his name – the era of there’s no one to talk to, nothing to talk about and anyone who does talk will have to face the consequences.
Amir was not a fantasist like Yehuda Etzion. He wasn’t interested in a Third Temple and a red heifer to sacrifice. Nor is a majority of the public. Most Jewish Israelis are not in favor of re-establishing the Sanhedrin, but they are opposed to “ceding parts of the homeland.”
Amir wanted to prevent this and he succeeded. Show me anyone on the right today, from Netanyahu to Gantz, who will talk about ceding territory, even in return for a lasting peace. Not only did the assassination get rid of someone who was open to doing just that, it also deterred all those who supported that idea. You no longer hear talk in Israel about our famous “yearning for peace,” and few still believe in “two states for two peoples.” The hope of living in peace alongside our neighbors has come to be seen as unnecessary.
We’ve discovered that we can manage without it. All it takes is a little repression in the mind and a Portuguese passport in hand. Yigal Amir won because his worldview won. The majority does not identify with the assassination but does identify with the outlook that led to it. And it’s no different than that of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. Yes, he was in favor of ruling over three million people while stealing their land, yes he would have supported the idea of a population transfer. Is that anything Ayelet Shaked wouldn’t support? The majority supports Amir’s ideology and the minority swallows it grudgingly, in angry silence for the most part. Hey, you’ve got to keep on living, right? And we’re a thriving high-tech nation even without peace and without hope – just let us take trips abroad, buy apartments and replace our old cars.
On Saturday night we’ll all turn out in the square to protest. We don’t like being on the losing side, but we can certainly admire victory. Victory doesn’t just highlight the winner’s advantage, it also underscores the opponent’s weakness. We were a feeble opponent. We gave in quickly, we ran away. We left behind the emerging apartheid, and the checkpoints, and the arrests of children.
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They’ll have to manage without us. We were defeated but we drew certain lessons from the experience. We learned that incitement works. We learned that three shots in the back resolve disagreements. We learned that violence pays. Not just in politics, but in the family, at work, on the road and in textbooks. We learned not to mess with the lunatics from the hilltops or their rabbis. We feared them. We were afraid, we came to terms with it and we accepted the loyalty and nation-state laws. We protested meekly and got on with our lives. Yigal Amir taught us to keep going. He is the first link in the chain.
As the poet Yitzhak Lamdan wrote: “We shall keep on in the chain/ wherever you lead, wherever you go/ onward, onward, onward/ let us not investigate, let us not ask.” Amir cleared the way for them, removed the obstacle that prevented them from going onward and onward, no questions asked.
The assassination tore the mask of a united people that we wore. That is not what we are. Look who received Amir’s worldview and who didn’t. Look who will be in the “unity government” and who won’t. The decent right moved to the center, the center to the left and the left has disappeared. Remember that the year after the assassination, Labor won 34 Knesset seats and Likud 32. The murder replaced disagreements with hatred. For 24 years now, we’ve been conducting a dialogue of hate. We learned that hatred is the fuel that propels the incitement and that the incitement is legitimate because it’s “freedom of expression.”
After the assassination, we learned to doubt the credibility of state institutions, we learned that everything is part of a conspiracy, including the State Prosecutor’s Office, the police and the courts. Amir the prisoner is now 49. Not the same as 25-year-old Amir the assassin, but we’re not the same anymore, either. He did not try to evade responsibility and expressed no remorse. Winners have no regrets.
We locked him up, but not his worldview. His Israel is also the Israel of Bibi and Gantz. There are no expectations of Bibi anymore, but don’t get carried away about any expectations of Gantz either. He is not Rabin, but an outgrowth of the Rabin assassination. He is a decent rightist who accepts Bibi’s outlook but not his corruption. Gantz is not Rabin. You won’t hear him singing “A Song for Peace.”