I have a new neighbor, sort of. He doesn’t exactly live next door, only about a 15-minute drive from my house, in his parents home the city of Herzliya. And he’s not exactly new. He’s returned home after serving a prison stint for conspiring with his brother to kill the Prime Minister of Israel.
Yes, Haggai Amir became a free man on Friday, after he assisted his brother Yigal, in committing an act that tore this country apart nearly two decades ago. The factual evidence of actual direct involvement in Rabin’s shooting was minimal: his 16-year sentence was based primarily on conversations reflecting on the possible ways to assassinate Rabin, and surveillance around the Prime Minister’s home. There was no evidence that he actually assisted in the concrete planning or execution of the actual crime: the shooting for which his brother is serving a life sentence. And he was punished harshly for bragging to a prison guard in 2006, that with a phone call, he could have Prime Minister Ariel Sharon killed as well, with a full year tacked on to his sentence as a result.
Most Israelis know this, understand that Haggai Amir has served his time, and would have had the stomach to accept his freedom if he’d left prison quietly with a bit of humility. But instead, Amir emerged from jail triumphantly, making a ‘“V” for victory’ sign and declaring that he had no regret for his action (he never has), was proud of what he did, and would do it again (Odd, considering that he claimed in court that he didn’t do anything...)
Rubbing additional salt into the national wounds, he was greeted by his jubilant family outside the prison, and the celebration continued near his sister’s house in the settlement of Shavei Shomron where he spent his first Shabbat - but not all of the settlement’s residents were thrilled to see him there. On Friday and Saturday, news channels ran footage over and over of his mother, Geula Amir, clutching a pot of food, dancing and prancing her way into her daughter’s house to celebrate her son’s freedom, accompanied by other jubilant family members.
Now, far be it for me to blame a mother or sister for being happy that her son or her brother was released for prison after being away for 17 years, no matter what crime he committed. But if Geula Amir and the rest of the family had a modicum of understanding for the pain of the Rabin family, and the sensitivities of the rest of the Israeli public, they would have done their celebrating behind closed doors.
And so, the family has presumably left the West Bank and headed home to the neighborhood not far from mine. What happens now? Do we forgive and forget, treat the Amir clan like any other Israeli family with a member that has paid and one that is paying their debt to society? Some already do that. Geula Amir runs a private daycare that is fully enrolled, which I have always found stunning. Apparently there are some people who are willing to have their children educated by a woman who raised one son to be a proud murderer and another to be a proud accomplice to murder.
Most of us never would. Though we know Yigal Amir acted alone, his family’s behavior demonstrates that his tendencies grew in fertile soil. The physical family resemblance makes it even harder to separate Amir from his family. The horrific smile that Yigal Amir displayed in the aftermath of the murder is the same smile on the faces of the family members who were celebrating Haggai’s release.
The Amir family was a big topic of weekend conversation in Israel, over Friday night dinner tables, on television news programs and on Facebook walls. The question of how the Amirs - their parents, and Haggai and Yigal’s siblings - should be treated was most divisive on the left.
The Labor Party Young Guard has declared its intent to regularly demonstrate outside the Amir family home in protest of the fact that he was freed. Yitzhak Rabin's daughter, Dalia, said that she thought he, too, should be in jail for the rest of his life. A statement issued by Peace Now declared that, “Now is the time for the Israeli public as a whole to boycott the Amir family, first and foremost Haggai Amir, to refuse to employ them, to refuse to purchase goods and services from them, and to continue to punish them through the actions of citizens, even when they are outside of prison walls.”
On his Facebook page, left-wing activist Didi Remez reacted to this statement, and similar posturing by politicians on the left with a plea:”Can we please stop with the anti-democratic orgy? Do we really believe that the punishment handed down by the courts isn't enough? All of a sudden we’re in favor of collective punishment for the parents and siblings of criminals?”
He’s right. Personally, I would never leave my child in Geula Amir’s care and I would certainly never hire Haggai Amir to fix my house or tend my garden. I can’t force him to regret his actions, but I truly hope that he has the humility and common sense not to put himself in the spotlight and glorify his or his brother’s actions in media interviews, and that the media has the restraint not to turn him into a celebrity.
As long as the Amir family keeps a low profile, and show no signs of working actively to promote their murderous son’s legacy - the proposals to shun or formally organize a boycott of the entire family are out of place. I am not thrilled to have them as neighbors, I wish they would publicly acknowledge that no political agenda can ever justify their son’s horrific crime and acknowledge the damage it caused an entire nation. But even if they don’t - they should be left alone to live their lives.