Friday, October 31, 2008

TV interview with Yitzhak Rabin assassin shakes Israel

JERUSALEM – Israelis from across the political spectrum on Friday slammed a decision to air the first-ever television interview with the extremist Jew who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The interview comes on the eve of the 13th anniversary of Yigal Amir's assassination of Rabin at a Tel Aviv rally on November 4, 1995, which aimed to torpedo the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians.

The decision to air the interview hit a raw nerve in the Jewish state, which remains deeply divided over the Middle East peace process that has made little progress since the collapse of the Oslo talks in 2000.

Amir, 43, who is serving a life sentence, was able to speak on the phone to reporters from the privately-run Channel 2 and Channel 10 without the prison service's knowledge in recent weeks.

Following the uproar, Channel 2 announced it cancelled its plans to broadcast the interview, according to local media. Channel 10 was still set to air the comments on Friday evening.

Amir told Channel 10 his act was influenced by the rhetoric of right-wing politicians and generals, including former prime minister Ariel Sharon and former army chief of staff Rafael Eitan, whom he said made it clear the 1993 Oslo agreement "would lead to disaster."

Amir has never expressed any remorse for the killing.

The few comments released before the interview was to air have already drawn sharp reaction from the media and both sides of the Jewish state's political world.

"Yigal Amir ought to wither in prison for the rest of his life and he should under no condition be part of the mediatised public debate," Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who today heads Rabin's centre-left Labour party, said in a statement.

The chairman of the right-wing National Religious Party Zevulun Orlev also slammed the decision.

"I think that the interviews with the despicable murderer have broken the boycott and ostracising that exists, and ought to exist, on Yigal Amir... I regret that the race for the golden calf of ratings between the private news channels has distorted this principle," Orlev told public radio.

Most Israeli media were critical of the decision to air the controversial interviews.

"These interviews contribute nothing to the freedom of expression. Nothing. The legitimisation process of this wretched murderer has been going on for a long time," wrote Ben Dror Yemini, an editorialist for the mass-selling Maariv daily.

Sever Plotzcker, a senior correspondent for the Yediot Aharonot daily, said that "broadcasting the interview with Yigal Amir is a contemptible journalistic act, which no stammering can excuse."

Airing "the murderer's statements is motivated by one urge: To make money out of trash," he said.

Channel 10 anchor Ofer Shelah defended the decision to air the interview.

"The Israeli society decided not to face the question and remain in a bubble saying that Yigal Amir does not exist," Shelah said.

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