Killer's college atones for Rabin death

January 5, 1996

Bar-Ilan University is mounting what appears to be a campaign of public atonement for the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by one of its law students.

But it is an open question whether the lectures and symposia focusing on tolerance and democracy will make any difference to the university's now tarnished reputation or whether they could have prevented Yigael Amir's assassination of Rabin if they had been carried out more frequently in the past.

Even the appointment of a distinguished external committee to study the university's non-academic (religious, social and educational) programmes seems a serious case of "too little too late".

In the 30-day mourning period following the assassination, Bar-Ilan held several events in honour of Rabin's memory, including a memorial evening and a prayer vigil on the traditional seventh day of mourning held by students of the kollel (institute of Torah studies) where Yigael Amir also studied, and several symposia on "Political tolerance in Israeli society".

The university has also announced the establishment of a Yitzhak Rabin Centre for Brotherhood, Tolerance and Democracy and held a day of events focusing on tolerance and pluralism in Israeli society for students from all of the country's seven universities.

Three weeks after the assassination, the university announced the appointment of the external committee is headed by retired attorney-general Yosef Harish and includes Chaim Kubersky, former director general of the Interior Ministry and Aharon Kirshenbaum of Tel Aviv University's faculty of law.

However, university officials say that the committee's findings will not become public until the spring.

Shlomo Eckstein, president of Bar-Ilan University, said: "We believe that a strong university, confident in its educational direction and record, can afford to open itself up to external review. Bar-Ilan University will emerge stronger from the exercise."

The question has been raised of how much responsibility the university bears for allowing an atmosphere of political extremism on campus that eventually spawned a murderer. Since the university claims to have banned organised political activity, some of the academic staff say they should have spoken out themselves.

Professors Menachem Friedman and Nissan Rubin wrote in the daily newspaper Ha'aretz that their colleagues at Bar-Ilan had a responsibility "to raise their voices against religious fanaticism".

Because they did not, they argue, the professors at Bar-Ilan should feel "seven times" as much guilt and embarrassment as the rest of the country.

"Bar-Ilan should be aware that the most important political problem in our time [the possible results of the peace process] has become related to religion. I think the university has to take some responsibility as a religious and intellectual institution," Professor Friedman said.

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