With the publication of the secret appendix of the Shamgar Commission report on the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin providing the backdrop to the shameful spectacle of the Likud Central Committee convention, Ehud Barak, who now leads the Labor Party, can chalk up one success to his credit. In recent weeks, he has made a conspicuous effort to hold Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for the atmosphere of incitement that led to the murder. Barak’s incessant pestering helped to jog the memories of several right-wing leaders, who in turn pressed the prime minister to study the secret appendix. The ultimate result was yesterday’s publication of the document. The Shamgar Commission findings provide Likud leaders with a pretext for asking some very painful questions regarding the actions of the Shin Bet. The most difficult questions of all are: Did Rabin himself sanction Avishai Raviv’s employment as a Shin Bet informer? To what extent was the prime minister aware of the double agent’s incitement against him?
The key sentence in the secret appendix is: “His (Raviv’s) incitement, especially where it involved physical acts of violence against Arabs, and where it drew the public’s attention to the existence of violent and extremist political groups, was indirectly damaging to well-known legal political groups. His operators could not have overlooked this fact.” What this means is that Raviv’s acts of extremist incitement affected the public perception of the entire right-wing camp, including the Likud, and also furnished fuel for the left-wing counterattack before Rabin’s murder.
This conclusion leads one to ask a question that is so horrific that it is in fact difficult to put down on paper. Was Yitzhak Rabin, who paid with his own life for the brave peace policy he pursued, a victim of his own actions? In the past, his close associates used to rail against the disdain with which he entertained their warnings of possible risks to his physical safety, but now a different question arises. Was he a party, knowingly or not, to Raviv’s incitement activities? Did he continue to respond to incitement from the right even when he knew that it was stoked, or at least partially so, by the provocative acts of undercover agent Avishai Raviv? And if this is the case, did Rabin do so because it gave him a casus belli to flay his political adversaries?
On Wednesday, I asked Yaakov Peri, who headed the Shin Bet when Avishai Raviv was recruited, whether he had told Rabin about Raviv’s double-agent role. Peri says he does not remember. I then asked him if the director of Shin Bet routinely reports to the prime minister on the recruitment of such an agent, and Peri replied that it would not necessarily be reported, except in a case where it meant that criminal charges against the said agent would be dropped. In the case of Raviv, quite a few such charges were dropped. Does that mean that Rabin in fact knew of Raviv’s dual identity? We do not know.
There is a macabre aspect to the entire discussion. A great man was killed by an assassin, and the country is now being asked to ponder the questions of how responsible he was for his own death, and to what degree he treated his political adversaries – who allegedly created the atmosphere that led to his assassination – fairly. The questions will not die down, at least until the next political scandal comes along.
Yaakov Peri said Wednesday night that it would be wrong to place the blame for the entire right-wing attack on Rabin and his policies on Avishai Raviv. He pointed out that the incidents in which Raviv was involved took place against a background of daily anti-Arab attacks perpetrated by extremist Jews against Arabs. The Shamgar Commission report specifies several instances, some of which were criminal activities, in which Raviv took part: attacks against Arabs and against Tamar Guzinsky MK, damage to property, racist incitement against the Druse chairman of the student union at Tel Aviv University, violent attacks against Arabs and spraying slogans against peace. These actions did not directly affect the incitement campaign against Rabin and it is therefore unrealistic to attach any real influence to them – neither on the anti-Rabin political climate that was the handiwork of the right, nor on the response of the left. The problem, of course, is that Raviv also played a part in the direct incitement against Rabin.The secret appendix mentions three roles that Raviv played, all of which without a doubt were instances of dangerous incitement against the then prime minister. The first was the characterization of Rabin as a “rodef,” a biblical term for someone who is about to kill, and should be killed before he can do so; the implication being that it was all right to attack him. The second was the close cooperation between him and assassin Yigal Amir in organizing student demonstrations and Sabbath retreats for students in settlements in Judea and Samaria. The third was the distribution of the poster in which Rabin was photomontaged into an SS officer. The report also claims that at the request of his Shin Bet operators, Raviv painted graffiti slogans opposed to the peace process.
Raviv was, then, a double agent who overstepped the limits, who did not differentiate between his function of supplying information to those who sent him and his efforts to ingratiate himself with those whose trust he was supposed to secure. Leaders of the right will in the next few days make widespread use of the findings of the Shamgar Commission to prove their claim that the left was spreading foul libels when it accused them, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu, of creating the atmosphere that led Yigal Amir to pull the trigger. The right will claim that the more extremist demonstrations against Rabin were initiated by Raviv. The left will assert that although Raviv’s employment as a Shin Bet agent left much to be desired, the Shamgar Commission did not find any evidence that might diminish the role played by Netanyahu in the heated atmosphere that led to Rabin’s murder.
Yossi Sarid MK said on Wednesday that the secret appendix did not contain anything that might cause him to reassess his opinions regarding Netanyahu’s part in the incitement. Benny Begin MK said that in their propaganda campaign against the Likud and the current prime minister, Labor and Meretz have made use of slogans that we now know were instigated by Avishai Raviv. Begin added that Yossi Sarid needs to do a little soul-searching of his own. When Arabs were murdered in Halhoul three years ago, the Eyal group, of which Raviv was the head, boasted that it was behind the deed. Sarid called for the expulsion of the entire population of Kiryat Arba. When it later turned out that the murders were committed by Palestinian neighbors of the victims, Sarid did not apologize, and declared: “I did not cast aspersions on upstanding people. In Kiryat Arba, there are no upstanding people.” Begin summed it up on Wednesday night: Sarid was a member of the ministerial committee responsible for the Shin Bet; his response at the time was a blatantly cynical act.
Uzi Benziman is a senior columnist at Haaretz. He is strongly identified with the Israeli Left.