Israel has no room for violent speech, attorney general says here

Before deciding to prosecute the government agent who allegedly failed to prevent Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, Israel's attorney general spent a year weighing the possible implications.

On one hand, some said an indictment of Avishai Raviv could harm the reputation of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service. On the other were those pushing for any action that could help ease the lingering pain of the leader's murder.

"Criminal law is not aimed at public emotion," Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein stressed during a visit to San Francisco last week.

At the same time, "the magnitude of whether [Raviv] could contribute to the prevention of the assassination is an issue that has to be dealt with. There is a wish to expose the truth on this kind of a national trauma."

The prosecution of Raviv, a former Shin Bet undercover agent, was announced earlier this month on the third anniversary of the assassination.

Rubinstein has been touring the United States to visit law schools and discuss his 50-year-old country's system of law. He stopped in the Bay Area to chat with students at Stanford and Boalt law schools and to meet with Jewish communal leaders.

During an interview at the Consulate General of Israel, Raviv asserted that Raviv was aware of assassin Yigal Amir's plan to kill Rabin but did not inform his Shin Bet handlers.

Raviv will be charged with failing to prevent the crime, as well as with conspiracy and inciting racism.

Finding an impartial jury in the case will not be an issue; judges, not juries, decide cases in Israel. "There's no question there will be an impartial judicial approach," Rubinstein said.

He knows, however, that the public may not be so impartial. Three years after the assassination, emotions about Rabin's death still run high.

So do feelings about peace with the Palestinians, a subject that always evokes heated debate.

Still, Rubinstein believes Israelis may be more conscious about the way they publicly express their emotions about peace than they were before the murder.

"I think the body politic at large has digested the terrible effects of the way the political debate was interpreted," he said. "I think people do have a cautious approach because of what happened."

He cited a leader of a Jewish settlement who initially called the Wye Memorandum a "treason agreement," and then toned down his statement to call it a "surrender agreement."

"He said, `I deliberately changed the language because I don't want to use terminology that would be wrongly perceived,'" Rubinstein recounted.

These days, Israelis had best be careful of the way they express their political sentiments, Rubinstein said.

"Freedom of expression is quite sanctified, but when it has potential for violence we will investigate and even prosecute."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.