In the days leading up to the 1995 Israeli elections, several politicians participated in rallies where placards depicted then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin as a Nazi and a murderer. They also marched in a protest featuring a symbolic coffin, which to some may have symbolized the death of the peace process. To others, it clearly meant that the body of the prime minister should have been inside. The increasingly hostile environment, which included vitriolic personal attacks against Rabin and others, led to the prime minister’s assassination and inflicted a permanent wound on the Jewish people.
Are those who encouraged open hostility, or at the very least failed to condemn calls to violence, responsible for Rabin’s murder? Did their incitement encourage Yigal Amir to kill? These questions will be hotly debated for eternity. Before the internet trolls sink their teeth into this, I only raise these oft-asked questions; you must answer them for yourself. I do, however, fear the United States is heading in the same direction, and believe there are lessons to be learned.
Rhetoric has its place. Encouraging or turning a blind eye to rhetoric that glorifies hatred and violence does not. Granted, under certain conditions our tradition does allow for the killing of a rodef (one who is in pursuit of another in order to murder; this is Yigal Amir’s justification for his heinous act), but none of us – Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative – can reasonably turn this into a political category.
We should reserve final judgement until law enforcement agencies complete their investigations, but hoax or not, let this sink in: assassinations against two former U.S. presidents, current and former government officials, and other government critics may have been attempted. They would likely not have occurred in a different political climate. Our collective fear is that one day, they may turn out to be very real and very successful.