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Why The Film 'Incitement' Is Hitting A Political Nerve In Israel

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A recent film is hitting a political nerve in Israel. It tells the story of the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The English title of the film is "Incitement," and it tells the story from the point of view of Rabin's murderer, Yigal Amir. Naomi Zeveloff reports from Tel Aviv.

NAOMI ZEVELOFF, BYLINE: In one pivotal scene in the new film, an actor playing Yigal Amir hints of his plan to kill the prime minister by telling his father that the murder would be justified. His father shouts back at him...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INCITEMENT")

AMITAI YAISH: (As Shlomo Amir, non-English language spoken)

ZEVELOFF: He says, "it would take generations for us to atone for this." Today, a generation has passed since Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin after Rabin agreed to the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians.

YARON ZILBERMAN: We're talking about one of the, I would say, deepest traumas for Israel society.

ZEVELOFF: That's Yaron Zilberman, the director of the film. He says he chose the topic in part because some still deny the facts around the murder. Though the case against Amir was open and shut - Amir confessed - many believe conspiracy theories about what happened. Some say the murderer was planted by the left in a plot to disgrace the right.

ZILBERMAN: And you see today that people just can't handle that it happened, so they come up with all sort of crazy stories. I think that's where we are at right now - which is a denial, an active denial.

ZEVELOFF: The film seeks to break through this denial by telling the story through Amir's perspective. It looks at the factors that led him to kill Rabin. One of them is incitement, which is also the film's English title. Predictably that has earned the film an audience on the left which has long blamed right-wing rhetoric for demonizing Rabin before he was killed. But some people on the right are also connecting with the film.

Yair Sheleg, a researcher on religion and state with the Israel Democracy Institute and a journalist at a right-wing newspaper, says the movie tries to answer a question that people on the right often raise about the assassination.

YAIR SHELEG: Why, from all the hundreds of thousands of people who were against the Oslo process, why especially Yigal Amir was the murderer?

ZEVELOFF: The film shows Amir's troubled personal life. He gets dumped by a woman from a European background whose family looked down on his Middle Eastern roots. Amir's mother fills his head with delusions of grandeur.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INCITEMENT")

ANAT RAVNITZKI: (As Geula Amir, non-English language spoken)

ZEVELOFF: "Be proud," she tells him in one scene. "You are destined for greatness." Sheleg says this focus on Amir's private turmoil is new for Israeli society.

SHELEG: It's important for both rightists and leftists to understand that, to understand that, of course, one cause of the murder is the ideology, but it won't be done without the biography.

ZEVELOFF: But some on the right have slammed the film. On Facebook, Israel's culture minister said it was unfair to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At the time of the assassination, Netanyahu was opposition leader and present at some right-wing rallies people blamed for the incitement. He gave a speech at a protest where people waved doctored photos of Rabin in a Nazi uniform. Netanyahu has always insisted he didn't fan the flames. Today, all that and the film is being discussed in classrooms.

YAEL SHULIM LEVY: (Non-English language spoken)

ZEVELOFF: In a high school in Jaffa near Tel Aviv, a teacher asks a class if the assassination could happen again today. Some say yes, some say no. Yael Shulim Levy (ph) took her students to the film. She worries about extremist language she sometimes hears in the school.

LEVY: (Through interpreter) It was important to me to expose them to where this could lead.

ZEVELOFF: High schooler Emanuel Shimonov (ph) gets the point.

EMANUEL SHIMONOV: (Non-English language spoken).

ZEVELOFF: "I understand that violence really is bad," he says. "And it really does erode democracy." It's a message that will soon find an American audience. The film is coming to U.S. theaters in January. For NPR News, I'm Naomi Zeveloff in Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.