Until last month Yigal Amir and I seemed to have a lot in common—both in our mid-20s, university educated professionals of immigrant stock, and Jewish. Admittedly he lived in Israel and I in the diaspora. He claimed to be observant and I am wholly ignorant of Jewish law. But no matter; we shared a pride in a 5,000 year history and the distinction of being Jews. Not any more. When Amir stepped out of the crowd and popped three bullets into the chest of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister, he shattered my naive faith in Jewish unity.
When news of the murder broke I was dancing at a disco in the Israeli beach resort of Eilat. The music stopped. A minute’s silence was called. One minute grew into four. By the time we lifted our heads, things did not look the same. Even before Rabin’s assassination, I realised that a Jew claiming to act on higher spiritual authority could, in theory, kill another Jew. I had known the Jewish people were a fractious bunch. But I had presumed that the bickering was contained in a pluralistic society bound above all by a shared history. Our common past was enough, I thought, to hold us together. Even the fundamentalists, whose rigid faith sets them apart from other Jews and non-Jews alike, and compromisers like me, whose Jewish identity blends into our broader secular lives, could at the very least agree to disagree. Today I see that we are not one people of differing opinions but, in fact, different peoples. And some are beyond the pale.
On the day of Rabin’s funeral I was in the West Bank, where extremist settlers delighted in his death. As with Hitler, so with Rabin, they told me; the death of a man with Jewish blood on his hands was a cause for celebration in the struggle to preserve the lands of Israel as God decreed. Survivors of Hitler keep his language alive.
They had no qualms in declaring their hostility to me and my kind of compromising Judaism. “We are in a war between two cultures,” one Californian emigré declared. Another predicted that if it came to a straight fight, the devout followers of God’s law would vanquish the compromisers, “who are homosexuals unable to carry guns.”
Before Rabin’s murder I knew such fanaticism existed. But out of deference to their conviction and…