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Friday, November 14, 1997
Did Rabin Know?

Uzi Benziman "Haaretz" Friday, November 14, 1997

[Uzi Benziman is a senior columnist at "Haaretz".Did Rabin Know?
Uzi Benziman "Haaretz" Friday, November 14, 1997

[Uzi Benziman is a senior columnist at "Haaretz". He is strongly
identified with the Israeli Left.]

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

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.

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