The answer to that question is very much in the eye of the beholder.
With the release from prison of Haggai Amir, after sixteen and a half years of solitary confinement, the controversy over his actions, and those of his brother, Yigal, who was convicted of firing the shots that fatally wounded Yitzhak Rabin, has erupted again.
Most of the demonstrators protesting his release were children when the shooting occurred and have no direct knowledge of the circumstances. And, as far as the older protesters are concerned, everyone has an agenda.
It is certainly not politically correct to even try to understand what caused the brothers to act as they did, far less to attempt to justify their actions.
But, in order to start on the path of understanding, we need to examine the very structure of a democracy, and how it is supposed to function. In fact, there are multiple forms of democracy – and some are more democratic than others.
For example, The UK with its ” first past the post” electoral system, and only two major political parties, can lead to a situation is which the Prime Minister can find himself (or, indeed, herself) with such an overwhelming parliamentary majority that the government can pass any legislation it chooses without limitation.
Not so different from a dictatorship, in practical terms.
In America the situation is similar, but not identical. There are still only two major parties, but the differences between them are less than those in the UK. A combination of mid-term elections and a complicated machinery of checks and balances, tends to inhibit even the strongest President.
So one would imagine that Israel, with its proportional representation system, would guarantee that a dictatorial type Prime Minister simply could not exist. The permanent requirement for a coalition government would inhibit the total freedom of action of any Prime Minister.
And so it was for Yitzhak Rabin when he was trying to persuade the Knesset to approve the agreement, known as the “Oslo Accords”. The tortuous manner in which the agreement was secretly negotiated needs an article in itself. Suffice to say that Rabin, although initially opposed to the agreement, was eventually persuaded to accept it. The Americans, who were disturbed that they had not been party to the negotiations, eventually stopped sulking and put their support behind the accords.
Rabin’s problem was that he had to “sell” the whole concept not only to the Knesset, but also to the Israeli public and, of course, the media. The media, with its inherent left wing slant was, more or less, a pushover. The public was very divided, and the media had to work overtime to present the situation as if the the majority were in favour.
Those Israeli citizens already living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza were, obviously, very vociferous in their objections. Their protests really got to Rabin, who was known to have a short temper when his authority was questioned. His widely reported remark that these protesters could ” spin like propellers” as far as he was concerned, and would not cause him to deviate from the course he was on, did nothing to improve his image with the general public.
And when it came to the fateful vote in the Knesset, which was actually a motion of no confidence in the government, he only succeeded in obtaining 61 votes out of a possible 120 – a majority of 1! There were 50 votes in favour of the motion, and 9 abstentions.
The manipulative manner in which he was able to secure 2 crucial votes from a tiny party that had splintered away from the Tsomet faction, gave rise to perceptions and accusations of bribery, which he ignored. Many people were also incensed that the accords required Israel to relinquish almost all of the territory it had acquired in the 1967 war, with the Jerusalem question still unresolved, and that the 61 votes had included 5 votes from the Arab parties.
It may be understood that, as far as the general population was concerned, the combination of bought votes and Arab votes needed to achieve the single vote majority, removed any vestiges of legitimacy from the final decision.
Which brings me back to my previous point of defining a democracy. When the electorate feel betrayed, the next time that they can participate in an election can seem to them to be too far into the future. The possibility that the sense of frustration can become too strong to contain then arises.
It is true that we have all become cynical of politicians and their promises. Most broken pledges are simply greeted with a sense of resignation and a mental note of who to vote for next time.
But some situations are simply too egregious to accept meekly. Rabin’s way of dealing with the Oslo Accords was one such act. Ariel Sharon got away with the evacuation of Gaza by the skin of his teeth. Had other circumstance not intervened, it is highly possible that any attempt by him to remove Jews from Judea and Samaria would have resulted in him meeting a similar fate.
Before anyone accuses me of trying to defend the indefensible, I must point out that throwing up the word ” democracy” is really usurping the concept to cover for, essentially, undemocratic acts; Rabin’s machinations to secure votes were widely criticised at the time.
I know the arguments about the imperfections of democracy, and that it’s still better than any other political system. But, when it comes to situations that could be interpreted as existential threats to the state, maybe the cloak of democracy is simply not a sufficient protection.
And, it is in such circumstances, that some people feel driven to take action.
Political assassination is a risk that all leaders take. Their ability to steer a course that does not lead to a sense of impotent rage by some part of the electorate is a measure of their success.
Failure in this essential element of leadership can have dire consequences.
It did for Yitzhak Rabin.
Andyboy – Telling it as it is!
- As Haggai Amir goes free, protesters await (timesofisrael.com)
- Hagai Amir, brother and accomplice of Rabin’s assassin, released from prison (haaretz.com)
- Amir Family Not Talking to the Press (israelnationalnews.com)