“Israelis had grown tired of peace conferences. And it wasn’t at all clear whether the extremists, Arabs or Israelis, were declining or ascending.” Those words, describing the situation in the aftermath of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, are just as true 20 years later.
In a single moment, the Jewish zealot Yigal Amir derailed the Oslo negotiations and forever altered the destinies of two nations. Former Newsweek Jerusalem bureau chief Ephron argues that the murder presaged the rise of the Israeli hard right, and today, with Rabin’s archrival Benjamin Netanyahu serving as prime minister and a quarter of the population supporting clemency for Amir, peace with the Palestinians seems as distant as at any time since 1948. In tense, gripping prose, the author dissects Amir’s background, describing him as a bright student who, “in his own view…knew God’s word better than most Jews, even most rabbis. And he was a doer—the characteristic that defined Amir more than any other, that distinguished him from his peers in school and in the military.” In college, he threw himself into activism but “racked up nothing but failures: the failure to draw millions to the streets; the failure to form a serious militia; and the failure to stop Rabin.” The story of Rabin’s evolving relationship with Yasser Arafat and Amir’s growing militancy unfold in parallel, Amir making repeated attempts to get close to his quarry as he schemed with his brother and harangued his college friends. Amir considered Rabin rodef, a villain who pursues Jews with the intent of killing them, and Ephron makes the solid point that “any honest interpretation of the Talmudic principle he fixated on would have pointed back at him. Amir was the real rodef.”
In a book with broad appeal, Ephron cogently analyzes the origins and ramifications of a national tragedy he reported on as a young journalist.