In the dark days after Rabin's assassination three years ago, Israeli democracy came under attack from a wave of anti-democratic McCarthyism, which held that the assassination had been caused by free speech in Israel that needed suppression. In the following days, the authorities launched a jihad against free speech, where anti-Oslo dissidents were carted off for questioning and prosecution, where "incitement" and "sedition" became the synonyms for dissent, where people could be arrested for telling a questionable joke or by reading certain passages from the Bible in public.
In the hysteria caused by the assassination, Israelis lost sight of the greater threat to Israeli democracy - anti-speech McCarthyism.. The perpetrators of that McCarthyism were Peres and Labor and Meretz.
The theory that the Rabin assassination was caused by "incitement" in the free speech of demonstrators has become the official gospel of the event, and is repeated in parrot-like manner by all Israeli media and politicians of the Left and Right. The evidence for such a theory consists of nothing. True there were noisy anti-Rabin protests that preceeded the killing, but Yigal Amir ALSO went to law school before the killing - so how do we know that going to law school did not cause the Rabin assassination?
It is true that some anti-Rabin demonstrators used tasteless rhetoric but since when is that a crime? The student demonstrators this week demanding free tuition are using rhetoric just as tasteless.The entire definition of "incitement" revealed the deep anti-democratic inclinations of so many Israelis of the Left and Right. Now I am no free speech absolutist and accept the idea that here and there limitations to free speech are needed. But the term "incitement" was not used for someone saying "Here take this gun and shoot Rabin and I will pay you and if you do not I will shoot your sister", a statement that might be considered legitimately to be criminal incitement and should be prosecuted. Rather, "criminal incitement and sedition" were terms applied to those who blocked traffic intersections (note again the absence of similar application to this week's student hooliganism), to those who yelled "Rabin is a traitor and a murderer." Now, the latter may be tasteless and maybe even wrong, but making it illegal for demonstrators to chant tasteless and incorrect things is tantamount to destroying democracy. Similarly, I see no reason why even praying for Rabin to die should have been illegal. Tasteless and sacriligious perhaps. A felony? Will we have prayer patrols checking what people are asking of God?
Anyway, that dark chapter in Israeli history is now returning, with a new wave of assault upon freedom of speech, this time by a Likud government, which is deptermined to out-Mapai the Labor Party in all things, not just Oslo. The Likud had been the main victim of Labor McCarthyism in 1993-4, with Laborites and lefties still chanting that Netanyahu personally murdered Rabin, and the black widow Leah Rabin still says so also. Well, in the aftermath of Wye, some anti-Oslo folks are mad and they are demonstrating and expressing themselves with emotion, and this includes signs that say Netanyahu is a Liar, Netanyahu Betrayed us/his Principles, signs showing Bibi shaking a bloody hannd of Arafat, even Bibi in a kafiya. You see, chant the Left (and this time with Likud concurrence), the demonstrators are trying to murder Netanyahu! The bodyguards for Netanyahu are noisily and gleefully increased, Netanyahu gets to benefit from some of the martyrdom of Rabin to boost his poll standing, and the Free-Speech-Causes-Murder thesis becomes the official theology of the Likud and the Right. Not a single politician has the courage to say, Rabin was not killed by free speech but rather by a murderer with a gun. And the Wye agreement equates anti-Oslo dissidents with the Hamas and requires Netanyahu to jail Jewish "anti-peace extremists", meaning apparently anyone who disapproves of the Wye deal. This clause was accepted by Netanyahu as part of the Wye accord. The press is already reporting increased police surveillance of anti-Oslo rightists. But have no fear - no one will be watching or harassing the Arab Communist who just became Deputy Speaker of the Knesset (with the approval of Knesset Speaker High-School Dan = Dan Tichon), who has called for the murder of Palestinians who sell land to Jews. (The Commie that is, not High School Dan)
Now no one heard any of the demonstrators calling for violence against Israeli politicians, although some called for revenge against Arab terrorists. Haaretz jumps on the McCarthist bandwagon and links these "inciters" to the murder two days ago of a Palestinian Arab, the same day as a Jewish settler was murdered. You see, pontificates Haaretz, Jewish and Arab extremists are the same and need be suppressed and are murderers. The twin murders prove it.
All except one itsy-bitsy detail. There is no connection whatsoever between the rightist demonstrations and the murder of the Palestinian, which police say they believe was not political at all but rather think was a revenge murder by non-political friends of Itamar Doron who was murdered a couple of weeks back, and the suspect they are hunting is a non-political Bratslav Hassid. But why let the facts get in the way of your McCarthism.
Dr. Steven Plaut teaches business at the University of Haifa.