Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein's decision to press charges dealing, in part, with an orchestrated "swearing-in" ceremony supervised by General Security Service (GSS) agent Avishai Raviv, was long overdue. It was three years ago that Israel's Media Watch (IMW) first brought to public attention the probability that Raviv's performance was staged, perhaps in collusion with Channel 1's film crew. And today, IMW is still concerned over the role then played by the electronic media in the coverage of the Raviv/Eyal escapades.
Rubinstein's decision, courageous as it was in the face of opposition from within the State Attorney's Office and the criticism of left-wing politicians, does not adequately deal with the issue of possible complicity that existed between the media and the political agenda of the previous government. Ami Ayalon, the current GSS director, admitted to the government last year that the prime minister's bureau was notified a few days after the ceremony was broadcast in September 1995 that it was "a sham, a double deception, also on behalf of the television." Former attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair has also gone on record that the footage was a hoax.
Thus, the sharp criticism by such left-wing political figures as Amnon Rubinstein, Yossi Sarid, Ori Orr and Shimon Peres, to the effect that Rubinstein is providing succor to those who would believe in a conspiracy theory in connection with Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, should be judged as self-serving in the extreme. Avishai Raviv was planted in that nebulous area of right-wing fringe groups. Ever since late 1987, when he was 21, he has been a paid employee of the state of Israel. But what exactly was he paid to do? What was his mission? One cannot avoid nasty suspicions concerning the GSS's motives when one reflects more closely on just what the Raviv affair is truly all about.
According to the Shamgar Commission Report, an intrinsic part of Raviv's job was the perpetration of violent and criminal deeds. He engaged in assault, spouted racist invective, battered Arabs, damaged property, solicited minors to commit illegal acts and, ironically, lied to his handlers. As the Shamgar Report makes clear, Raviv was engaged not only in violence but in provocation. The report notes that "his handlers even chose to order him to write graffiti against the peace process." In any normal society, his employers would be chastised for moral corruption in serving a partisan political direction. Despite the recent interviews of GSS officers, Raviv's main task was the promotion of an image, the image of a wild, anti-democratic, felonious and outlaw ideology. And, with GSS prodding, and the willing cooperation of key Israeli media personnel, that image took hold.
The media, especially the electronic media, with its demand for "action," for pictures and scandal, alighted upon Raviv. His ceremonies, his camps for arms training and his military-style exercise in preparation for the "conquest" of Orient House broadcast on Channels 1 and 2, became a focus of attention. Those scenes were engraved onto the public's consciousness. As British media observer Patrick Birkinshaw has written, "TV represents the most immediate and effective mass persuader and conveyor of information in our culture."
And Raviv was a TV star. Eitan Oren's September 22, 1995 clip of the Eyal group's swearing-in ceremony was the highlight of media self-enticement. As the Shamgar Report states: "[the clip] was a performance, for anybody who was present at the site must have been aware that it was a fake" (page 28). Oren's professionalism, it would appear, failed him. His personal agenda overrode ethical judgment for, it seemed, he was convinced that he was serving a higher principle: combating the right-wing.
Oren, his editor, Yisrael Segal, ITV director Yair Stern and IBA director-general Mordechai Kirschenbaum all sought to deny what everyone else perceived: Israel's state-supervised television channel was acting in complicity, willingly or otherwise, to convince the viewers that what they were seeing was truth, when it wasn't. Whether or not with malice aforethought, the media took a true outsider with no real support or representative status and with the help of millions of TV screens, placed Raviv, now the epitome of the "extreme Right," in everyone's living rooms and in their minds and thoughts.
One cannot deny the atmosphere of antipathy and wrath directed against Rabin and his policies at the time. But, for months, if not years, the outstanding and dominant example and role model of right-wing "incitement" was Avishai Raviv, media star and GSS agent provocateur, paid out of public funds.
The conspiracy to be investigated should not be whether the GSS staged Rabin's assassination; rather, it should focus on whether the GSS crossed the lines of democratic norms. The GSS is now perceived as having lent itself to the Labor-Meretz coalition to be used as a weapons against a massive public protest campaign. In this, the media was willingly compliant.
Whether there was actual complicity by the GSS and media elements to aid and abet Raviv's illegal activities may be difficult to ascertain. Raviv's trial, if there is to be one, will be conducted behind closed doors. But, as Raviv's defenders are now aware, no locked door can suppress the truth for too long.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1998
Yisrael Medad is director of Israel's Media Watch.