Panelist on right-wing TV calls to free Rabin assassin, to audience applause; is booted

Lawyer Ari Shamai says Yigal Amir, who is serving life term without possibility of parole, should be released; Channel 14 says he will no longer appear on network

Lawyer Ari Shamai says Yigal Amir, assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, should be released from prison, on a Channel 14 panel on July 30, 2023. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Lawyer Ari Shamai says Yigal Amir, assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, should be released from prison, on a Channel 14 panel on July 30, 2023. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A panelist on a popular right-wing TV news show on Sunday called for the release of Yigal Amir, the right-wing extremist who is serving a life sentence for assassinating prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

The comment was made in a discussion on Channel 14’s “The Patriots” about Sunday’s High Court ruling that a recent law passed by the Knesset was designed to specifically enable Boaz Yosef, the acting mayor of Tiberias and an associate of Shas party chair Aryeh Deri, to run for a full term in office, and therefore must only go into effect after upcoming elections.

“I am happy to hear one statement — that the High Court of Justice and Supreme Court are against personal laws. If that is so, then the time has come to release the assassin Yigal Amir because there are personal laws against him,” said Ari Shamai, an attorney who has represented Amir in the past.

The comment received applause from some members of the audience, but other members of the panel could be heard opposing the view. Host Yinon Magal said: “We’re not getting into this.”

Channel 14, a pro-Netanyahu conservative channel sometimes likened to Fox News, quickly disavowed Shamai’s remark and said he would no longer be invited on the show or on the network.

“The serious remarks Ari Shamai said represent his views alone. In light of the seriousness of the matter, Mr. Shamai will no longer be invited to appear on the channel’s programs,” the network said in a statement.

Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, by Amir, an extremist Jew who opposed the 1993 Oslo Accords under which Israel was transferring West Bank territory to Palestinian control and claimed religious legitimacy for the murder on the basis of din rodef. He has said he was prompted to kill Rabin by the 1992 election results that brought the Labor leader to power and encouraged by the massacre of 29 Palestinians by Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in 1994.

Amir shot Rabin to death at the end of a mass peace rally in Tel Aviv that was called to highlight opposition to violence and to showcase public support for his efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin speaks to a crowd of more than 100,000 Israelis at a peace rally in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995. Rabin, 73, was assassinated minutes later. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

In 2001, the Knesset passed the “Yigal Amir Law,” which bars parole boards from pardoning or commuting the sentence of a prisoner convicted of murdering a prime minister for political reasons.

Amir is trying to appeal against the law at the High Court.

Two far-right ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current hardline coalition have made comments that appear sympathetic to Amir.

Last year, Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, now the finance minister, sparked outrage at a commemoration event by saying that responsibility for the assassination lay with Israel’s Shin Bet security service, claiming it had used “manipulations” that encouraged a right-wing extremist to go through with the murder plan. He argued that right-wing rhetoric against Rabin at the time played no role in inciting the killing.

“Those who failed in protecting prime minister Yitzhak Rabin,” Smotrich said, “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.”

Smotrich’s remarks referred to 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.

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)

Amir told interrogators after the killing that the Shin Bet “didn’t know anything” about his plans ahead of the murder. “The Shin Bet never could have been alerted. The Shin Bet didn’t know anything about me at all,” the assassin told investigators after the killing.

“No one around me thought I was capable of doing something like that. Even today people are in shock,” Amir said during the Shamgar Commission, the official investigation into Rabin’s assassination, according to the recordings.

Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister, first gained national attention when he was interviewed after managing to steal the logo off Rabin’s vehicle. “We got to his car, and we’ll get to him too,” Ben Gvir said, weeks before the 1995 assassination.

Ben Gvir maintains that the clip was cut to not include the next section where he was asked what he would do if he reached Rabin himself, to which the young far-right activist responded, “I’d shout at him.”

Itamar Ben Gvir seen holding up an ornament from prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car, in an October 1995 interview. (screen capture: YouTube/IBA)

But Ben Gvir went on to campaign for Amir’s release and in previous election campaigns, he vowed to secure a pardon for Amir if elected.

Earlier this month, hundreds of former agents in the Shin Bet, including retired heads of the security service, sent a letter to Netanyahu accusing him of promoting conspiracy theories regarding the lead-up to the 1995 assassination.

In the missive, sent last month, the former agents denounced Netanyahu for accusing the Shin Bet of taking part in incitement against Rabin in the period before the murder in 1995, and demanded that he retract his statements on the issue, published in a recent autobiography.

Netanyahu’s book, “Bibi: My Story,” published in the fall of last year, details his military and political careers. In it, Netanyahu claims that Raviv, the agent provocateur within the extreme right, was tasked with inciting right-wingers against Rabin, using posters printed by the Shin Bet.

Netanyahu referred specifically to a demonstration that was held in Jerusalem a month before Rabin was murdered, at which he spoke from a balcony in Zion Square while protesters below held posters showing the then-premier dressed in Nazi uniform.

The protest was considered one of the key events at which incitement levels peaked in the lead-up to the assassination.

The letter from the Shin Bet chiefs said Netanyahu’s book contained “lies and distortions,” and asserted that his claims “damage the legitimacy of the secret service and harm national security.”

Netanyahu was elected for his first term in the aftermath of the killing.

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