Talk about a film that is hard to watch! In this political thriller, you’re watching the evolution of assassin Yigal Amir (Yehuda Nahari Halevi), a law student who decides that it is religiously justified to murder Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because he is signing a peace treaty with the Palestinians. It was in September 1993 that Rabin sat down with PLO Chairman Arafat and President Clinton and hammered out the Oslo Accords, sending the Orthodox Israelis into the streets to protest the agreement because it was giving up territories they believed were theirs by God-given right. Incitement is a film that takes you inside the ultra-Orthodox community where all question of right and wrong are vetted by rabbis, and their view is that Rabin is a traitor to the Jewish people and murder is justified. And while it may take place a couple of decades ago, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in Israel or many other places around the world where extremist ideology can subvert democracy. It’s a scary movie.
Amir begins the film as a charmer, talking his way out of getting arrested at a protest by claiming he’s getting married. He’s got his eye on a young woman and since they’re both Orthodox, it’s all very chaste but they have to meet each other’s families. That doesn’t go so well as their differences in background render them incompatible. She’s Ashkenazi and he’s Yemeni. So when that falls apart, he’s angry and looking for something to focus on. And stopping the Peace Accord becomes his goal. He looks to various religious writings for direction and organizes protests and retreats where he can spread his political gospel. He also consults a number of rabbis who help him cement his ideology citing The Law of the Pursuer (*see below), which says that someone with murderous intent must be stopped according to Talmudic law.
The film mixes archival footage from the time with the newly shot scenes, creating a very seamless and engrossing narrative. And even though we all know that Rabin was assassinated, you can’t look away. The film doesn’t paint Amir as a monster either. You see step by step how he came to be the religious zealot, how his contacts with religious leaders and right-wing politicians helped turn him from protester to killer. Director Yaron Zilberman (A Late Quartet) says he made the film as “a warning . . . as well as an appeal” to prevent “the path of violence and the destruction of democracy.” One can only hope that this is seen widely by the people who can be persuaded.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: ‘Incitement’ was Israel’s official submission to the Academy for Best International Feature Film, though it failed to make the final cut. It plays like a biopic of the young extremist Jew who saw Rabin as a dangerous traitor for participating in the Oslo Peace Accords and therefore felt justified in killing him, effectively killing the fragile plans for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The tragic story helps illustrate why a lasting peace is so near-impossible to achieve. It’s frustrating and sad for all peoples in the region, and around the world. For many, the 1993 Accords symbolized hope for the future. But as we know, the cycle of violence and distrust raged on, and continues to this day. I’m not sure the film – in Hebrew with English subtitles – will appeal to many beyond the arthouse and Jewish Film Festival circuit, even though it should resonate extra loud in today’s political climate. Scary stuff indeed. -hb]
*I was interested in this “Law of the Pursuer” and looked to a few rabbis myself. One of them had this to say about the assassination: “Amir stated that Rabin was a “pursuer” who was poised to spill the blood of many Jews by giving up control over part of the West Bank and it was therefore permissible to murder him. This is a gross distortion of this law. First of all, the law of the pursuer only applies to a spontaneous act, whereas Yigal Amir planned this assassination for two years. Secondly, the law of the pursuer is only intended to save a potential victim from imminent death. There is absolutely no proof that withdrawing from certain territories will directly lead to the death of any Jews. On the contrary, Prime Minister Rabin, over half the members of the Knesset, and over half the population of Israel believe exactly the opposite – that it will save Jewish lives. Lastly, this law does not refer to elected representatives, for if Yitzhak Rabin was really a pursuer, then so are all his followers and that would mean that Amir should have killed over half the population of Israel! In other words, even according to the law of the pursuer, this act was totally futile and senseless since the peace process will continue.”