In 1994, Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his attempts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict between Jewish Israelis and Muslims in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Right-wing Israelis considered Rabin’s actions as an unacceptable compromise, a betrayal. On November 4, 1995, following a pro-peace rally, Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a right-wing extremist. Incitement tells the story of the run-up to Rabin’s murder…from the point-of-view of his assassin.
You can tell from the title that the goal of the makers of Incitement is to point fingers of blame as those political and religious leaders who incited Amir (played brilliantly by Yehuda Nahari Halevi). However, I found Incitement disturbing because, viewed by admirers of Amir, it can be seen as sympathetic to him. Unfortunately, the murder of Rabin is an example of a successful assassination. With Rabin dead, the right-wing gained control of the Israeli government and has controlled it ever since.
Yigal Amir, a law student, is part of a large Orthodox family of Yemeni immigrants. He has a chip on his shoulder about his heritage, but his mother keeps telling him that he is destined to accomplish great things. Amir is an admirer of Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein, who, on February 25, 1994, entered the Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank and murdered 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers, some as young as twelve years old, and wounded more than 125 others. Goldstein was beaten to death by the survivors. Amir considers him a martyr.
A pro-settler activist, Amir decides that the right thing to do is to assassinate Rabin. His brother and a friend think he might be overly ambitious, but they go along with his plans. Amir learns that to take such action, he must get the approval of at least one rabbi. No problem, although that approval is silent. The filmmakers include archival footage of anti-Rabin demonstrations, including scenes of then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu leading a procession with a coffin with the inscription, “Rabin kills Zionism.” Netanyahu is also seen speaking at a rally a month before the assassination while the crowd chants “Rabin is a traitor” and “In blood and fire we will get rid of Rabin.” By June 1996, Netanyahu had been installed as prime minister of Israel. After serving in the position for three years, he regained the office in 2009 and has led Israel ever since. He has used fear and hatred of the Palestinians to stay in power, while, on the other side, the leaders of Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah have used fear and hatred of Israeli Jews to maintain their own power.
I saw Incitement as part of The Los Angeles Times’ Envelope Live Screening Series. Afterwards, there was a question and answer session with director Yaron Zilberman, writer Ron Leshem, actor Halevi and Dalia Rabin, the daughter of Yitzhak Rabin. Asked how the film was received in Israel, Lesham replied: “The box-office records are incredibly high and there was never a political film that ever achieved these numbers is astonishing.” I suspect that is because the majority audience of Rabin supporters was augmented by the attendance of people who consider Amir, who is currently in prison, a hero.