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THE EXTREMISTS : ASSASSINATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST : Right-Wing Groups Small But Deadly

November 05, 1995|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin may have been gunned down by a lone assassin, but the hatred that motivated the attack is shared by a small but increasingly visible and violent set of ultra-right-wing extremist groups in Israel.

Their passions stem from a deeply religious belief that, in espousing the peace process, Rabin was defying the word of God and thus taking Israel down a path that would eventually lead to the Jewish state's destruction.

"These are the people who see Rabin as a traitor to the Land of Israel, to its people and to God. His perceived crime dates back to the covenant made between Abraham and God to create greater Israel, which will in turn pave the way for the Messiah and the redemption of mankind," said Ehud Sprinzak, an expert on the Israeli right at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

In their eyes, Rabin committed the ultimate act of betrayal in September when he signed the latest agreement in the peace process ceding control of much of the West Bank of the Jordan River--what the Bible calls the lands of Judea and Samaria--to the Palestinians, and thus also ceding any imminent prospect of creating greater Israel.

The ultra-right believes that Israel's conquest of the West Bank and Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War was a sign from God. All of the current movements grow out of this belief.

The alleged assassin, Yigal Amir, a third-year law student at Bar Ilan University, reportedly told authorities that God had ordered him to kill Rabin. The act was apparently calculated and well planned. Amir also reportedly said he had tried on two other occasions to kill Rabin but had found security too tight.

Although the Rabin assassination is by far the most spectacular act of ultra-right violence, it is not the first. Among the most traumatic acts in Israel's history was the February, 1994, massacre of about 30 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Baruch Goldstein, a physician and ultra-right Israeli settler, gunned them down as they worshiped.

An Israeli commission later determined that he, too, had acted alone, although he had links to ultra-right groups. Goldstein was also described as obsessed with stopping the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

The ultra-right groups, which have been held responsible for sporadic waves of attacks and harassment of West Bank Arabs, are at Israel's extreme political fringe. And their numbers are tiny, probably less than 1% of the population, Sprinzak said.

But several have been so active lately that Israeli security was on alert for an attack against Rabin. Three days before the assassination, senior security officials with Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service, held a meeting to discuss the dangers.

Last month, the ultra-right held a mass rally in Jerusalem to protest the peace accords. On one set of posters, Rabin was portrayed in the uniform of Nazi Germany's Gestapo, a way of equating him with the very worst enemy of the Jews.

"This was not a surprise, like Lee Harvey Oswald killing President Kennedy. We had lots of indications that this kind of thing was not only possible, but quite probable," Sprinzak said. "Amir's name was not known to the police, and he was not on any list. But the atmosphere within the extreme right was such that the possibility of assassination was not at all far-fetched."

But Rabin, who refused to wear bulletproof clothing for fear of losing touch with the people, also said he would neither listen to nor compromise with the extremists out to sabotage his peace efforts.

The Israeli ultra-right consists of an array of small groups. They include:

* Gush Emunim, or the Bloc of the Faithful, founded in 1974 to oppose territorial concessions in any peace with the Arabs and to promote formal annexation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Its early leaders included right-wing rabbis Moshe Levinger and Hanan Porat. Porat is now a member of the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, for the National Religious Party.

Gush Emunim also launched a movement for Jews to settle in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula in the mid-1970s in defiance of the government--which was then, coincidentally, also headed by Rabin. It remains the largest right-wing movement, with a hard-core membership of about 30,000 and many more supporters and sympathizers.

* The Kach Party, launched by U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, also in 1974. It has since gained a reputation as the most violent group in Israeli history. Over the past two decades, its members have been linked with a number of assassinations or killings of Arabs. Goldstein was one of its members.

Kahane, who served in the Israeli Knesset, was murdered in New York by an Islamic extremist on Nov. 5, 1990, five years ago today. Baruch Marzel became its leader.

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