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Smotrich comes under fire after blaming Shin Bet for Rabin killing

Former Shin Bet chief Dichter, now potentially allied with Religious Zionism head, calls speech ‘unhinged’; security service hits back with unsigned statement from ‘shocked’ agents

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a special plenum session to mark 27 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, November 6, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a special plenum session to mark 27 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, November 6, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Politicians and others spoke out against Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich Sunday after he pointed blame at the Shin Bet security service for the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, accusing him of spreading conspiracy theories and harming the agency’s reputation.

Criticism came from both members of the outgoing government and at least one MK allied with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s presumptive right-wing religious coalition, which is set to include Smotrich and other far-right lawmakers.

Avi Dichter, a Likud MK who headed the Shin Bet from 2000 to 2005, said he fully condemned the remarks from Smotrich, calling them “unhinged from reality”

“Comments like these harm the good name of the organization and its people, who work night and day in order to protect Israel’s citizens,” he said in a tweet.

Speaking at a special Knesset session in memory Rabin, who was assassinated by far-right extremist Yigal Amir on November 4, 1995, Smotrich argued that right-wing rhetoric against Rabin at the time was justified and played little 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.”

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich speaks in the Knesset during a memorial ceremony marking 27 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in Jerusalem, November 6, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted out that Amir was the killer and “leaders” at the time were responsible for “creating a atmosphere of incitement,” a possible reference to Netanyahu, who led the opposition at the time and has been broadly implicated in helping whip up right-wing anger against Rabin over efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians in exchange for territorial concessions.

“Those who tried to protect Rabin, learned their lessons and carry out their role guarding public officials in a dedicated and professional manner are the Shin Bet,” Gantz wrote. “The accusations against the Shin Bet are conspiracy theories which should be wiped from the public discourse and not brought up by leaders and future senior ministers.”

A statement distributed 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.”

People visit a memorial at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2022, holding signs that read “We will not forgive.” (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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 Amir’s intention to kill Rabin and failing to prevent that.

But Smotrich did delve into the accusation in a statement responding to the unsigned Shin Bet protest, writing that it was unfortunate that the agency was “shirking responsibility for its failings in Rabin’s killing and the unequivocal finding of the Shamgar Commission on its responsibility for running agent ‘Champagne.’ who committed provocations and contributed — through action and negligent inaction — to the terrible murder”

Several thousand right-wing Israelis hold banners as they participate in a protest march on April 17, 1995. (AP/Stf/Harnik)

Smotrich added that the Shin Bet was “adding insult to injury by attacking an elected official” over the matter.

“The inability of a state body to accept pointed criticism and make fixes should worry every Israeli citizen,” he said.

A confidential section of the 1996 report of Shamgar Commission, the official state inquest 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.

He has also said he informed his operators about Amir’s plans to kill Arabs and that other agents knew about Amir’s plot to murder the prime minister, but that nothing was done about it. He argued that his mission wasn’t to collect intelligence about right-wing activists’ plans to harm public figures.

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