Ten years ago today, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated while attending a peace rally in the coastal city of Tel Aviv. A recently released poll indicates that most Israelis believe Mr. Rabin's assassination will not be the last in their country.
Yitzhak Rabin's assassination stunned Israelis and the world. Ten years on, a poll released by the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute says people here are more divided then ever about Mr. Rabin's legacy.
Mr. Rabin, an Israeli war hero, became prime minister in 1992. Under his leadership, the Oslo peace accords and a peace treaty with Jordan were formalized.
However Israeli hard-liners condemned Mr. Rabin as a traitor for agreeing to withdraw from Israeli-occupied lands. Opposition Likud Party politicians compared him to a Nazi, and several Rabbis issued calls for his death. After addressing a peace rally in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down by Yigal Amir, a young Jewish ultranationalist.
Now, 10 years later, a poll indicates that how Israelis feel about the assassination depends on what their political beliefs are. Asher Arian, is a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, and a professor at the City University of New York.
"The effect of the assassination has a differential effect on different populations," Prof. Arian said. "Many in Israel see it as the most dramatic and most important event in Israeli history. This is especially true of moderate left-wing Israelis. It is also true, interestingly, of Israeli Arabs. It is not true of more right-wing, or religious Israeli Jews."
Professor Arian who conducts the "democracy index poll" every year says there is great apprehension in Israel about what radicals on either side of the political spectrum may do in the future. He says that is best expressed by the fact that a vast majority of Israelis believe more political assassinations are likely.
"We asked them specifically, if they thought it was likely that political assassination would occur again, and 84 percent said, 'yes,'" he said.
According to the "democracy index poll," 42 percent of Israelis believe that a civil war could break out over any future attempts to disengage from the West Bank, while 28 percent believe that will not happen. Professor Arian says Israelis are also divided about what should happen to Mr. Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence for the crime.
"It has the same polarizing effect. Most, 75 to 80 percent, think that the punishment given the assassin was appropriate, or even too soft and too lenient," said Asher Arian. "Others, a third or so, 20 percent, feel that he should be released, he should be paroled. One of the interesting issues is his attempted marriage in prison, and the population is divided along those lines as well."
Professor Arian says he expects this polarization along political lines in Israel to intensify, and he says the country's recent disengagement from the Gaza Strip should be regarded as admirable, given the political realities in Israel.
While the "democracy index poll" shows the nation divided, it also shows that a vast majority, 79 percent, regard Yitzhak Rabin as a person of substance, who put Israel's interests above politics. The poll rates the late prime minister as the most effective in Israel's history, ahead of Menachem Begin, who signed the historic peace accords with Egypt, and David Ben Gurion, the nation's first leader.