Opinion |

Yitzhak Rabin's Killer and His Indian Doppelganger

Like Nathuram Godse, who murdered Mahatma Gandhi, Yigal Amir was outraged by his victim’s ‘appeasement’ of Muslims — and has many avowed supporters in his country’s ruling party

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
Yigal Amir during a court hearing in 2010.
Yigal Amir during a court hearing in 2010.Credit: Tomer Noiberg
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

In light of the extreme Jewish ultranationalist climate prevailing in Israel — which will continue to prevail, even if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu falls and is replaced by a Likud heir or by one of the claimants to the throne from the opposition, such as Yair Lapid or Avi Gabbay — what does the future hold for Yigal Amir, the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin? The case of his historical double, Nathuram Godse, who murdered Mahatma Gandhi, might prove instructive.

When examining the details of Gandhi’s assassination, in New Delhi in January 1948, it is impossible not to be amazed at the similarity to Rabin’s murder, so much so that Amir seems to be a copycat of Godse. Like Amir, Godse fired three bullets into his victim at close range. Like Amir, Godse was an ultranationalist extremist. He believed in Hindu supremacy and thought Hindus had the exclusive right to India.

Like Amir, Godse was outraged by his victim’s traitorous appeasement of Muslims. He believed it was his patriotic duty to save Hindus from the peace that Gandhi sought with the Muslims, from Gandhi’s willingness to share the Indian subcontinent with them equally and from his humanitarian gestures toward them.

Similar to Amir’s views on Rabin, Godse accused Gandhi of dividing the land, of establishing Muslim Pakistan alongside India and of responsibility for Muslim violence in Punjab and its victims. Like Amir, Godse murdered a man who contributed infinitely more than he himself had to the independence of his country and the national pride of its people.

The similarities do not end here. Like the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service, India’s security services were negligent, in a truly tragic-comedic fashion, in preventing the murder. And like Amir, Godse was photographed with a broad, victorious smile at his trial. The same smile.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party grew out of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in which Godse was active. The Hindu nationalist worldview (known as Hindutva) of its founder Vinayak Damodar Savarkar deeply influenced Godse. The two were in regular contact before Gandhi’s murder, and Savarkar supported and encouraged Godse. Hindutva is the official ideology of the BJP.

Yitzhak Rabin, file photo.Credit: Yaakov Saar / GPO

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian Donald Trump, follows Godse’s supporters on Twitter. These supporters claim Gandhi’s murderer was a freedom fighter, a martyr and a patriot, not a criminal. In 2003 a portrait of Savarkar, the chief inciter to Gandhi’s murder, was installed in the Indian Parliament, alongside that of the victim.

Like Amir, Godse has many avowed fans in his country’s ruling party. They are demanding that Modi put up statues of Godse in India’s cities and name streets for him. They made a documentary about him that was meant to make it clear that his motives were justified and that there was broad public support for him at the time. (A court has banned the film’s distribution, for now.) They plan to build a temple in his honor.

It is sad to see the spiritual legacy of Gandhi, which saw India as a nation of its Muslim citizens no less than its Hindu citizens, defeated by the extreme Hindu nationalism that murdered Gandhi in its name. Godse won.

Amir also won. The ideas for which he murdered Rabin are today in the consensus among Israel’s Jewish population. When the chairman of the Labor Party, the direct heir of Rabin, declares he will not remove even a single settler from Samaria, this means Amir has won.

If I were one of his supporters, I would be optimistic. The example of India teaches that 70 years after the murder, the murderer’s name is openly cleared by the government itself, or by its representatives. It can be assumed that in Israel of 2050, when the historic processes have come to fruition, there will be a street named for Yigal Amir in the middle of some neighborhood that was named for Rabin.

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