New Movie on Rabin’s Murder: Sensationalist or Sober?

Categories: Israel, Letters from the Leadership
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Since J. Hoberman, a highly respected film critic, is not a right-winger, I found the vehemence of his Tablet magazine put-down of Amos Gitai’s new docudrama on Rabin’s murder surprising:

‘Rabin, The Last Day’ Makes Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ Look Stone-Cold Sober Amos Gitai’s polemical new documentary—opening in U.S. theaters Friday—on the 1995 assassination that rocked Israel sacrifices facts in favor of sensation

This contrasts with my review in Jewish Currents: Rabin’s Last Day and the Israeli Right’s Rise to Dominance.  The title I had intended was “How Rabin’s Murder Was –and Was Not– a Conspiracy,” but the editor’s choice also fits.  Gitai’s wrenching look at the assassination, what led up to it, and the official inquiry that followed, was riveting.  Still, I felt that Hoberman’s main criticism (as I understand it) also has merit, albeit without the level of ire he expressed: Gitai didn’t clearly document some of his important scenes, even as he claimed in the press notes that they were all true, virtually word for word:

Our film is completely factual; it is based entirely on existing documentation. For every line spoken in this film, we have the relevant documents with the words as they were originally spoken….

A factual basis is easy to see in Gitai’s recurring scenes — re-creations of sessions and deliberations of the Shamgar Commission — the official inquiry into the assassination.  Likewise in the video recordings of the fatal peace rally, and especially the murder itself (the latter accidentally captured on camera by an amateur video buff).  And this was undeniable in the news footage capturing the raucous right-wing rally in Jerusalem, addressed by the then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, rhetorically fanning the flames of anger even as activists went crazy with threatening chants and posters accusing Rabin of being a traitor and worse.

But Gitai’s claim of documentation is hard to imagine in the indoor scene of a small gathering being emotionally addressed by an unidentified personage wearing a kippa, and then by an Orthodox woman identified only as a clinical psychologist.  The first denounces Rabin’s government as traitorous and sacrilegious, while the second declares that Rabin is psychotic.  There are also powerful, nearly wordless scenes depicting extremist “hilltop youth” establishing an unauthorized West Bank settlement, and then resisting IDF soldiers evicting them — with no indication of exactly who, where or when.  It’s not hard to believe that events like these did happen, but these specific ones?

A. O. Scott is closer in his NY Times review to my nuanced appreciation for the film than to Hoberman’s harsh critique: “Amos Gitai’s ‘Rabin, the Last Day’ Looks Back in Anguish.”  The conclusion I come to, as expressed in my review, is as follows:

The film does not prove an actual conspiracy, in the sense of an organized effort around a specific plan. Yet it shows a tragic confluence of circumstances in which the lone gunman, Yigal Amir, was influenced by his milieu to act as he did, and Rabin’s security detail failed to protect him. …

About Ralph Seliger

A veteran editor, freelance writer and blogger, I edited the print magazine, "Israel Horizons," from 2003 until 2011; and I've blogged for and edited the Meretz USA and now Partners for Progressive Israel Blog since its inception in 2006 (although I no longer edit the PPI Blog). I've been an active supporter of the Zionist peace camp since 1982. Other print and online platforms where I've been published include: The Forward, The Daily Beast, History News Network, Tikkun, In These Times, Jewish Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Jewish Currents, Huffington Post, and Dissent.
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