Far-right Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich refused to back down Monday in the face of outrage over remarks he made the day before that blamed the Shin Bet security service for the 1995 murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist.
Smotrich was accused by critics of promoting conspiracy theories in his speech to the Knesset during a ceremony marking 27 years since the November 4, 1995, assassination.
Smotrich argued that right-wing rhetoric against Rabin at the time was justified and played no role in inciting his killing. Instead, he alleged the Shin Bet, which is charged with protecting politicians, bore responsibility.
“Those who failed in protecting prime minister Yitzhak Rabin,” Smotrich said to jeers, “were not the right-wingers and the religious Zionists and the settlers who justifiably decried his government’s policies — it was the security services, which not only failed to protect him, but also used irresponsible manipulations, which haven’t been fully exposed to this day, to encourage the murderer to carry out his plan.”
“There is no conspiracy,” he tweeted Monday in the face of strong criticism. “The despicable murderer Yigal Amir murdered Yitzhak Rabin z”l and we are all still in pain and shock from the terrible murder. Yes, there was a significant failure on the part of the Jewish Division at the Shin Bet, and yes, to this day it refuses to take responsibility.
“The media, as usual, is again twisted and distorted,” he added, referring to reporting on his comments at the ceremony.
Dvir Kariv, who served as an agent in the Shin Bet’s Jewish Division from 1994 to 2012 and was a senior member at the time of the assassination, told Radio 103FM that he was “shocked” at Smotrich’s remarks, saying they amounted to accusing the service of murdering the prime minister.
“These statements are utter nonsense, they’re very dangerous, there isn’t a grain of truth to them,” said Kariv, who was also involved in the probe of the assassination. “The very fact that he says that the Shin Bet agitated a murderer to commit the murder — he is actually saying that the Shin Bet murdered Rabin, that the State of Israel murdered itself.”
Smotrich, he asserted, had spread “delusional conspiracy theories” by suggesting the assassination was “deliberate” and had been orchestrated by the security service.
“This man wants to be the defense minister?” Kariv lamented, referring to one of the cabinet roles that the Religious Zionism leader is reportedly interested in.
Lior Akerman, the Shin Bet agent who was the first to interview Amir after the assassination, acknowledged the Shin Bet’s failure to protect Rabin, but bitterly disputed Smotrich’s assertion that the climate of incitement had not been a factor and rejected as utterly false Smotrich’s claim of Shin Bet encouragement.
“There were intelligence failures… in collecting information prior to the assassination,” Akerman told Army Radio. But the rest of Smotrich’s allegations were “utterly unconnected to the reality.”
“Throughout his investigation,” said Akerman, Amir was pleased and proud of what he had done, and he had drawn encouragement “from a long line of rabbis and other inciters” against Rabin.
Akerman lamented the law authorities to prosecute these inciters — attributing it to “fear of the rabbis” and weak law enforcement. He also expressed anger that neither outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid and incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had failed to denounce Smotrich for his comments.
Gadi Eisenkot, a former commander of the IDF and now a member of the National Unity party that is headed into the Knesset opposition, called Smotrich’s comments “a false and deplorable accusation.”
“The choice to make these extreme and conspiratorial statements from the Knesset podium, on the national day of remembrance for Rabin’s assassination, is indicative of Smotrich’s point of view,” Eisenkot wrote on Facebook. “There is no place for such statements in Israel, especially not by an elected official. I call on his future partners in the government to condemn his harsh words.”
A statement distributed Sunday to journalists and attributed to “unnamed Shin Bet sources” expressed shock over Smotrich’s comments.
“On this day of all days, an elected official has chosen to encourage conspiracy theories and slander an organization whose sole purpose is to thwart any sort of terror and to defend the state’s security,” the statement said. “Such remarks, which encourage extremist discourse, should be condemned.”
In the plenum speech, Smotrich did not elaborate on the accusation against the Shin Bet, which revolved around Shin Bet agent provocateur Avishai Raviv, codenamed Champagne, who joined the ranks of far-right extremists before Rabin’s murder and was indicted — and later acquitted — for allegedly knowing about gunman Amir’s intention to kill Rabin and failing to prevent the assassination.
A confidential section of the 1996 report of the Shamgar Commission, the official state inquiry into Rabin’s assassination, included details about the Shin Bet and Raviv in relation to the murder.
Raviv has claimed that while he heard Amir make a Jewish vow known as din rodef, declaring Rabin worthy of killing, he hadn’t believed his intention was serious.
Amichai Ataeli, a journalist for Yedioth Ahronoth who conducted years of extensive interviews with Amir in jail, told Channel 12 on Monday that Amir was “broadly contemptuous” of Raviv, that Amir and those around him considered Raviv to be less than “fully baked” and not trustworthy, and “they suspected that he was being operated by the Shin Bet.” As regards Smotrich’s specific suggestion Sunday that Raviv had caused Amir to carry out the assassination, Ataeli said, “I don’t see it that way.”