Israel lifts ban on rabbi who called for Rabins death

Interior Minister Eli Suissa of Shas announced this week that he saw no reason for continuing the ban that prevents Rabbi Abraham Hecht from entering the country.

Suissa said in a radio interview that he has forgiven Hecht because he had repented, taken back his statements against Rabin and paid dearly for them.

The New York rabbi made headlines in June 1995, after he said at a news conference that Israeli leaders who concede land for peace deserve the death penalty and should be killed before they can perform the deed.

But four months later, Hecht, a staunch opponent of the peace process with the Palestinians, expressed regret for that statement in a letter he sent to Rabin.

Rabin was assassinated on Nov. 4, 1995 by a student, Yigal Amir, who told investigators that his act was justified by halachah, or Jewish law.

A month after his assassination, then-Interior Minister Haim Ramon barred Hecht and six other American Jews from entering Israel because of their alleged involvement in activities that endanger state security.

Suissa's move to lift the ban prompted an outcry in the government.

Meretz Knesset member Amnon Rubinstein said that if Hecht tried to visit Israel, he would petition the High Court of Justice to block it.

"In essence, [Hecht] gave someone like Yigal Amir the green light by saying that whoever murders Yitzhak Rabin would be doing something good. Such a person cannot be allowed to set foot in our country," Rubinstein said.

Labor Party leader Ehud Barak said that if Hecht comes, the opposition would demonstrate against him throughout the country.

Facing heavy criticism and a reprimand by his own party leader, Suissa later backed off from his conciliatory tone toward Hecht.

"Hecht is a villain and not wanted here," Suissa said. "I urge him not to make use of the removal of the entry ban."

Hecht could not be reached for comment. Michal Yudelman of the Jerusalem Post Service contributed to this report.