Predictor of Rabin murder sees no similar tragedies on horizon

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin has tormented Professor Ehud Sprinzak like few other events in his life.

"The reason it's painful for me is that I saw it coming," he said last week.

Sprinzak, a Hebrew University political science professor who studies religious fundamentalism and terrorism, was publicly predicting such a catastrophe in the months leading up to the November 1995 murder.

On a visit to San Francisco in September 1995, he told an audience and the Jewish Bulletin: "I'm afraid of the possibility of political assassination."

He specifically mentioned religious extremists opposed to the peace process — and Rabin.

Sprinzak, who will return to the Bay Area this month, has no similarly dire predictions for now.

In fact, he doesn't see another assassination happening any time soon in Israel.

"There have been dramatic changes," said Sprinzak in a phone interview from Washington, D.C., where he is currently on sabbatical.

Not only has the right wing altered its rhetoric, Sprinzak said, but also the left wing seems incapable of assassination — at least for now.

As for the right, Sprinzak doesn't expect a recurrence of the same "terrible environment" that preceded the Israeli prime minister's death. Rabbis and other spiritual leaders, he said, now understand the effect of hostile language such as labeling someone a traitor.

"In my judgment, there will be many more restraining elements. The memory of Rabin's assassination is not going to go away," said Sprinzak, who is currently a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a government-funded research group that examines the causes of war and the ability to build peace.

And what about the left?

Philosophically, the self-described leftist said, the left is capable of creating an assassin. But the left is not experiencing the crisis of legitimacy the right suffered as the peace process moved forward.

"If the left would have had the same experience as the right and would have been marginalized and involved in low-level violence for 20 years, then they would have been able to produce a killer," he said.

"Right now, they aren't even organized."

All this analysis, however, doesn't ease the burden of Rabin's death.

Sprinzak witnessed the radicalization of the right building up from 1993 — the year the Oslo Accords were signed — to 1995.

If everything had gone ahead as planned, Rabin would have destroyed the right wing's long-term goal of retaining the territories.

"It wasn't just their anger about his policies, but their personal feeling of humiliation and desertion. Rabin so humiliated them. They felt they had to get back at him."

Sprinzak spoke personally with the prime minister about dealing with the Israelis most opposed to any land-for-peace deal.

"I was trying to talk Rabin several times into greater understanding and empathy of the other side," he said.

"He was unable to bring himself into any kind of sympathy with the people who attacked him ferociously. He just looked at them as political opponents. I suggested he also had to look at them as victims of a terrible tragedy."

Though Sprinzak doesn't blame Rabin for his own murder, the professor does assert the late prime minister ignored repeated warnings.

"Specifically, if people were more alert Rabin would not have been assassinated. The security around him was so lax."

Regarding the current government, Sprinzak is predicting its demise this year, as well as early elections.

The professor, who clearly opposes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said division within the Likud-led coalition and the prime minister's own incompetence will bring him down in the end.

"The Israeli right should look very quickly for someone more effective and attractive than Netanyahu," Sprinzak said. "Netanyahu today is a weak Likud candidate. He cannot win the elections."

Once Netanyahu is out of power, Sprinzak doesn't expect the Israeli public will be very forgiving.

"There is no legacy there. People would like to forget about the Netanyahu government."