Poll: 1 in 5 Israelis think Rabin’s killer should be pardoned

Survey comes ahead of 24th anniversary of PM’s assassination by Yigal Amir, also finds 40% of Israelis fear toxic discourse could lead to another political killing

Yigal Amir, appearing in court in 2004. (Yoram Rubin/Flash90/File)
Yigal Amir, appearing in court in 2004. (Yoram Rubin/Flash90/File)

One in five Israelis thinks that Yigal Amir, the right-wing extremist who assassinated former prime minister Yizhak Rabin should be pardoned, according to a poll released Wednesday.

Amir shot Rabin to death on November 4, 1995, at the end of an event the prime minister had addressed in Tel Aviv that was held to demonstrate public support for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.

Amir is serving a life sentence for the killing and the poll found that 63 percent of Israelis want to see him remain behind bars until he dies.

But 20% of the respondents said Amir should be pardoned.

In 2006, a poll by Yedioth Ahronoth found that 30% of Israelis thought Amir should be pardoned at some time, though most thought it should not be for 25 years.

President Reuven Rivlin has vowed that he would never pardon Amir.

“As long as I am president, Yigal Amir will never be pardoned,” Rivlin said on the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s death. “May my right hand wither if I ever sign a pardon for that damned man.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin speaks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before a news conference September 25, 1994, at the Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The poll, which was commissioned by the organizers of a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to commemorate the 24th anniversary of Rabin’s death, also showed that many Israelis fear there could be further political killings in the country.

Forty percent of Israelis believe that there is the likelihood of another political killing in the country, citing the violent public discourse in the Israel, said Channel 12 TV which published the results. The survey polled 501 Israelis. No margin of error was given.

Of those who feared further violence, 39% believed it would come from the right, 21% from the left and 16 % were concerned that an Arab Israeli would attack a right-wing politician.

“The results of the survey are concerning and emphasize how important it is now, more than ever, to unite and demand that violence be removed from the Israeli discourse,” the organizers said.

The poll comes a day after an Israeli professor claimed Rabin was not assassinated by Amir, and asserted that the 1995 slaying was orchestrated by a senior politician against the backdrop of the landmark Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians.

Mordechai Kedar (via Facebook)

On Wednesday, Mordechai Kedar, a scholar of Arabic culture at Bar-Ilan University, stood by the remarks he had made the night before, telling Channel 12 that he would rather resign than apologize for asserting the possible innocence of  Amir.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the “nonsense remarks in connection with Yigal Amir, the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin.”

The Yitzhak Rabin Center said that Kedar is “a sick conspiracist.” Bar Ilan University distanced itself from Kedar, saying in a statement that it “completely condemns” his remarks and that his opinions “do not represent the university and its employees. We maintain that there is no place for such remarks in Israeli society.”

The case against Amir was clear-cut: He was caught on video raising a gun to Rabin. He calmly confessed to the police, re-enacted the crime for them and never recanted his testimony.

Still, fringe conspiracy theories have posited a number of possibilities other than Amir being the assassin. The theories rely on some purportedly ambiguous facts surrounding the night of the murder: claims that the bullets were blanks, witnesses who say they didn’t see blood at the scene, and a supposedly abnormally long drive to a nearby hospital.

A screen capture from an amateur video showing bodyguards and police jumping on Yitzhak Rabin assassin Yigal Amir in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995. (screen capture: via YouTube)

Although in solitary confinement, Amir has been allowed phone calls, family visits, and conjugal visits. Those privileges were recently suspended after he tried to use his phone to form a political party ahead of last month’s elections.

Rabin served as Israel’s chief of staff during the 1967 Six Day War. Other posts that he held during his career included ambassador to the US, defense minister and prime minister.

In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat for his part in signing the Oslo Peace accords.

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