In light of the security situation following the events of Black Sabbath on October 7, and the outbreak of the Swords of Iron War, the annual state ceremony commemorating Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, 28 years after his assassination, was canceled for the first time. However, it is imperative not to overlook this event, which has created a deep and lasting cultural trauma and an unhealed rift in Israeli society.

Below, I present three perspectives to understand the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir. Each perspective offers a unique lens to decipher aspects of this political assassination. These viewpoints aim to shed light on the mindsets of the key figures involved in the incident. The testimonies considered are those of Yigal Amir, his brother Hagai, and his wife Larissa.

Yigal Amir acted according to a distinct religious motive. He claimed that he would not have done what he did without his religious duty to protect the People of Israel (following the “law of the informer,” din moser, and especially the “law of the pursuer,” din rodef, both punishable by death). This perspective aligns with the views of many rabbis concerned about the fate of the People of Israel. However, contrary to the general public’s perception, he primarily viewed his thoughts and actions as politically realistic, rather than solely religious. His interpretation of the dinnim was not strictly based on religion. He believed that anyone with a basic moral sense, witnessing what he had experienced, would have committed the same fateful act. In his view, it was a universally human act. He considered it a mitzvah but asserted that he would have acted similarly even if he were not-religious. According to him, the principle “You shall not stand on the blood of your neighbor” does not necessitate a religious perspective. He argued that even a secular Jew should adhere to it, although it would not be considered a mitzvah for him. Hence, he could compare his act to that of Eliyahu Bet-Zuri (see below), who was not only secular but an atheist and had refused to confess before the rabbi on the eve of his hanging.


The First Key: The Position of Yigal Amir—Eliyahu Bet-Zuri

A person committing a political assassination must believe in one thing—that his act will alter the course of history.

—Yitzhak Shamir, leader of the Zionist militant group Lehi, who ordered the assassination of Lord Moyne


I initiate with the first and perhaps most significant perspective offered by Yigal Amir himself: the case of Eliyahu Bet-Zuri. Yigal Amir highlights how political assassinations can be motivated by secular, not just religious, ideals. He directs attention to Gerold Frank’s book The Deed, which narrates the story of Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim. Yigal Amir’s focus is on Bet-Zuri, portrayed as a child prodigy from a well-respected Sephardic Jewish family, educated and intelligent. Bet-Zuri, a key figure in the National Cells (organized for the socialization of gymnasium pupils for entering the Irgun—the Etzel), later joined the Lehi organization and participated in the assassination of Lord Moyne.

The trial of the “Two Eliyahus” is significant, especially Bet-Zuri’s defense, where he argued that their act was not criminal but a political action for moral reasons. He stated that if their ideals were just, then so was their action. Similar sentiments were expressed by Yigal Amir, who viewed his assassination of Yitzhak Rabin not as a crime but as an ideological act for the people and land of Israel.

Both Eliyahu Bet-Zuri and Yigal Amir faced trials where their political motives were scrutinized. Bet-Zuri’s lawyer, Asher Levitsky, advised him to plead for mercy based on the Jewish people’s suffering, but Bet-Zuri refused, stating his act was purposeful and justified. Similarly, Yigal Amir remained unrepentant, believing his action protected the people of Israel.

In conclusion, the parallel drawn between the “Two Eliyahus” and Yigal Amir demonstrates how political assassinations are framed within the context of personal beliefs and the perceived greater good of society.


The Second Key: The Position of Hagai Amir—Shalom Schwarzbard

In one of my meetings with Yigal Amir’s brother, Hagai, he stressed the importance of a particular book in understanding Yigal and his planning collaborators, Hagai himself and their friend Dror Adani. He handed me a faded greenish hardcover book, showing signs of aging, titled The Schwarzbard Trial, authored by Dr. Meir Kotik. An internet search revealed that Dr. Kotik (1908–2003) was an Israeli lawyer, born in the Russian Empire, known for investigating anti-Semitic laws and blood libel cases.

Prompted by Hagai’s recommendation, I delved into the book, contemplating why he deemed it crucial for understanding Yigal’s and his own deeds (taking part in the planning, but not in the fateful act itself). The book narrates the story of Shalom Schwarzbard, a Jewish watchmaker, who assassinated General Symon (Semion) Petliura, the Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian People’s Army, and the leader of the Ukrainian People’s Republic during the Ukrainian War of Independence, a part of the wider Civil War. Petliura was suspected of allowing large-scale pogroms against Jews in Ukraine from 1918–1920. Schwarzbard, openly admitting to the assassination, claimed he acted deliberately. During his trial, his role shifted from an accused to an accuser.

Dr. Kotik’s analysis highlighted two fundamental questions raised during Schwarzbard’s trial: the legitimacy of political assassination as a form of personal terrorism and the responsibility of a leader for the actions of their subordinates. These questions later contributed to the definitions of “crime against humanity” and “war crimes,” which became central in the Nuremberg trials, held against representatives of the defeated Nazi Germany for plotting to carry out invasions of other countries and atrocities against their citizens in World War II.

Schwarzbard, described as a hard-working and well-regarded individual, was born in Russia and later became a French citizen. After hearing about Petliura’s role in the pogroms, Schwarzbard decided to assassinate him to prevent future disasters for the Jewish people. On May 25, 1926, he identified and shot Petliura in Paris. His trial, commencing in October 1927, portrayed him not as a criminal but as a redeemer, seeking justice for his people. Schwarzbard was ultimately acquitted amidst public acclaim.

The parallels between Schwarzbard’s and Yigal Amir’s actions are evident. Both men used firearms to assassinate perceived enemies of their people and did not deny their actions. However, unlike Schwarzbard, Yigal Amir was unable to transform from the accused to the accuser due to lack of public and media support. The trials of both men raised significant questions about the morality and consequences of their actions.

Yigal Amir’s act, like Schwarzbard’s, was a profound shock to the Jewish community, altering the course of history. Yigal Amir’s assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a pivotal event, reshaping the State of Israel and its society. This act, stemming from a conviction of preventing greater harm, is mirrored in the motives behind Schwarzbard’s assassination of Petliura.

In conclusion, Hagai Amir’s reference to the Schwarzbard trial emphasizes the complex nature of political assassinations. It raises questions about responsibility, justice, and the extent to which individuals are driven to act by their convictions. The comparison between the fates of Shalom Schwarzbard and Yigal Amir highlights the divergent outcomes and interpretations of similar actions in different historical and societal contexts.


The Third Key: The Position of Larissa Amir—Friedrich Adler

In a conversation with Larissa Trimbobler-Amir, she proposed another perspective on the case, drawing a parallel with Friedrich Adler, a Jewish-Austrian politician and socialist revolutionary. Adler assassinated Count Karl von Stürgkh, an Austrian politician and Minister-President of Cisleithania during the July Crisis in 1914, which led to the outbreak of World War I. A staunch opponent of the war, Adler shot von Stürgkh in October 1916, while he was dining at a hotel restaurant in Vienna. He rationalized his actions by accusing Stürgkh of prolonging the war and suppressing the parliament. Despite being condemned by the Social Democratic Party as an act of individual terrorism, Adler was tried and sentenced to death.

In court, Adler rejected the notion, also suggested by his father, the Doctor of Medicine and Neurologist Victor Adler (a politician, foreign minister of Austria, founder, and leader of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria) that he acted in a moment of insanity.

Friedrich explained that upholding his beliefs was more important than sparing one more life in Austria during the war. Adler stated that his deed was not a spur of the moment decision but a deeply considered one. He had contemplated the assassination for a year and a half, weighing its consequences from every angle. He entered the courtroom fully aware that, given the political climate, the likely outcome would be a death sentence.

However, after being sentenced to life imprisonment, Adler’s sentence was commuted by the new emperor to 18 years. Ultimately, he served only one year in prison, being released following an amnesty at the end of World War I. Upon release, Adler played key political roles and served the International Working Union of Socialist Parties in 1921. He was subsequently active in the formation of the Labor and Socialist International, serving as secretary-general until 1940.

Like Friedrich Adler, Yigal Amir sought to dispel the notion of insanity. He, too, emphasized that his actions were the result of deep consideration and not a rash decision. Yigal Amir had thoroughly studied the issue as part of his preparation to assassinate the prime minister, acknowledging the possibility that his life might end as a result.

Larissa pointed out that political assassinations sometimes succeed in achieving their objectives, while at other times, they fail. In Yigal Amir’s case, many believe the assassination largely achieved its goal. Adler’s eventual pardon after a short imprisonment period suggests that political assassins might ultimately be released, subject to historical judgment, trial, or grace. This possibility resonates with a case of two brothers involved in the “Jewish underground,” whose mother expressed unwavering belief in divine intervention and justice beyond the court’s sentence. Similarly, supporters of Yigal Amir expressed hope for his eventual release.

Hagai, Yigal’s brother, is confident that Yigal will be released within his lifetime, not by government decision but through divine intervention. Some even fantasize about Yigal Amir becoming a political leader, believing he sacrificed himself for the redemption of his people and country.

Nevertheless, the “Yigal Amir Law,” passed by the Israeli Knesset, stipulates that a prime minister’s murderer cannot be granted amnesty or have their sentence reduced. Despite the family’s hopes, Yigal Amir has remained in prison for over a quarter of a century. The parole board, in its February 2021 decision, stated its lack of authority to question the constitutionality of the request for release, thereby rejecting it.



In the above discussion, key figures related to the assault on Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s life—the assassin Yigal Amir, his brother and accomplice Hagai Amir, and his wife Larissa Amir—all viewed the act as a “political assassination.” Contrary to many who insist on defining Yigal Amir’s act as “murder,” I prefer to categorize it as “assassination” in a political context, rather than “murder” in a strictly criminal sense.

More precisely, I believe the proper definition is “terrorist act”—not merely a “criminal act” or even a “political assassination.” While terrorism is technically a criminal offense like any other, it is distinct in that it is not committed for personal gain. Larissa commented on this, stating that “Yigal was convinced that he would not gain anything from this, but he felt an obligation to carry out the act.” A terrorist is not a criminal in the conventional sense; his actions are motivated by religious, political, or ideological intentions.

Yigal Amir is a “terrorist” in every sense. He used “deadly violence,” primarily targeting the citizens of the country. He employed this violence as a means to convey a terrorizing message and to threaten a large segment of the Israeli public opposed to his views. While the direct target of his violence was Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the indirect goal of stopping the Oslo Process was, in his view, far more significant. Yigal Amir sought to redefine the collective goals; to impose a political-security order entirely different from that pursued by the elected representatives of Israel. He testified that his act was not motivated by personal hatred or loathing toward the prime minister. His motives were national, not personal.

Judge (retired) Prof. Oded Mudrik summed up the verdict in Yigal Amir’s trial: “Beyond the personal tragedy, the grief, pain, and even rage over the murder of a man, a soldier, and statesman, there is another essential and unique aspect: The three gunshots fired by the accused were metaphorically aimed at Yitzhak Rabin as the leader of the State of Israel. These shots, intended to kill, were also aimed at wreaking havoc on the entire country.”