Margalit Har-Shefi
Margalit Har-ShefiIsrael news photo: Channel Two

The anniversary of the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin's assassination is rolling around once again, and the first issue to surface this time is Margalit Har-Shefi.

Har-Shefi,19 at the time of Rabin's death 15 years ago, was sentenced to nine months in prison for having "known in advance" of Yigal Amir's plans to kill Rabin, yet not divulging them.

Knesset Members and rabbis have begun an initiative on her behalf, asking Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to vindicate Har-Shefi retroactively. Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the Petach Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, explained that he joined the initiative because "of the terrible injustice that was done to this girl. They ruined her life with no justification." Carmi Gillon, who headed the Shabak (Israel Security Agency) when Rabin was murdered, said in the past that no one in his organization believed that Amir would try to kill Rabin - and others have said that Har-Shefi similarly did not know.

Many on the left-wing, such as Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now and MKs Tzipi Livni and Yoel Hasson of Kadima, have jumped to oppose the proposed vindication. In addition, Israel Broadcasting Authority political talk-show host Yaron Dekel ran a series of interviews on the topic Sunday, attacking the idea from several angles. He said that the timing of the initiative is suspect, and he angrily told Rabbi Cherlow that he resents the "rewriting of history" regarding "incitement by rabbis."

Dekel declared, "A prime minister was murdered, and before that there was incitement by rabbis, and there were those who said that he was a rodef [a Halakhic term referring to one who must be killed because he is endangering others – ed.], and this must never be forgotten."

In fact, however, the only mainstream rabbinic article or speech that mentioned rodef was one by Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who wrote in answer to a question that Rabin was not a rodef.

Attorney Penina Guy, who represented the State in its prosecution of Amir and later of Har-Shefi, also spoke with Dekel, agreeing that the timing was questionable, and added, "How can there be a request for a pardon when no new facts have come to light?"

Actually, however, one new fact that has come to light since the conviction of Har-Shefi is a statement by Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shabak, who said categorically that Har-Shefi had been wrongly convicted. "Har-Shefi did not know that Yigal Amir wanted to murder the Prime Minister," Ayalon is now quoted as having said in 2007. "I know this from intelligence sources; I was head of the Shabak. She paid a price… I know that she had no idea that he would kill the Prime Minister. She was just a part of an insane situation."

Among those backing the initiative to erase Har-Shefi's conviction are MKs Otniel Shneller (Kadima) and Uri Ariel (National Union); Rabbis Yaakov Medan (head of the Alon Shvut Yeshivat Hesder in Gush Etzion) and Cherlow; and grassroots activist leaders Orit Strook, Susie Dym and Nechi Eyal.

Shneller's endorsement of the idea has aroused great opposition within the Kadima party. Party MK Nachman Shai has publicized a letter he wrote, demanding that the party disassociate itself from the initiative and that Schneller do so as well.

Lador, not Weinstein
Attorney General Weinstein has disqualified himself from dealing with the case, because he was in contact with the Har-Shefi family regarding the case at the time when he was a private attorney. It appears that State Prosecutor Moshe Lador will handle the request.

Har-Shefi, an acquaintance of Amir's from college, heard him say - as did hundreds of others - that the Prime Minister should be killed. She was convicted more than five years afterwards of "knowing of a crime and doing nothing to prevent it." She was sent to prison for nine months in March 2001; after her request for parole was turned down in July, her sentence was reduced by then-President Moshe Katzav, and she was freed in August 2001 - nearly five months after entering prison.

"They Had to Find Someone to Blame"
When she began her jail term, Har-Shefi stated, "I am being sent to prison today for one reason only: They had to find someone to blame, to cover up for an entire network that fell asleep on the job - as if I, a 19-year-old girl at the time, was the one who could have saved the country from this terrible trauma."

In September 2002, Miriam Rosental, outgoing District Attorney of the Tel Aviv district, said she regrets having indicted her. Rosental told the Yediot Acharonot newspaper that she differed at the time with Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein and State Prosecutor Edna Arbel: "I felt that we could not place on the shoulders of a 19-year-old girl the entire matter of knowing and internalizing all the serious things that were said before the murder. No one imagined that such an extreme thing would happen, and neither did Har-Shefi."