With Friends Like These...

Hagai Amir, roughly 17 years after he helped kill Rabin, is free and on Facebook. Jack Guez / AFP-Getty Images

What happens when a man involved in the assassination of a prime minister gets a Facebook page? Hagai Amir, who served a nearly 17-year sentence for helping his brother kill former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to scuttle peacemaking with the Palestinians, left prison earlier this summer and promptly joined a friendlier institution—the one run by Mark Zuckerberg. The Internet had barely penetrated Israel when Amir committed his crime in 1995. In prison, he could watch television and read newspapers but couldn’t surf the Web. And yet Amir, who dealt with the technical side of the murder (he modified the bullets with a drill he kept in his toolshed to make them deadlier), had no trouble catching up. Now 10 weeks after coming online, he has 463 friends and his page has become a hub for the rantings of Israel’s angriest ultranationalists. “We’re all with you, Hagai Amir. We hope your brother will be freed soon,” a friend, Lior Meshorer, posted on his wall recently, prompting a round of amens and a promise from one Fanny Ben-Amos: “The drinks will be on me.” Another friend urged people to post nasty comments on a website commemorating Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza nine years ago. He referred to Corrie as “the terrorist girl whom a tractor turned into pizza.”

Amir, now 44, comes across as level-headed by comparison. He has posted one excerpt so far from a prison diary in which he documented “everything that happened in Israel and in prison, my opinions and thoughts.” He appears to oppose an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program, though the reasons are unclear. And he mostly rejects conspiracy theories about the Rabin assassination, though he does say some questions about the night of the murder remain unanswered. When Israeli blogger Ami Kaufman, who writes on the left-wing website 972mag.com, asked him what he would do if another prime minister tried to cede land to the Palestinians, Amir’s response was somewhat nuanced: “I myself can no longer act in this area because I am known and discretion is needed,” he wrote, before adding: “Today, the people are aware of the dangers and if a majority of the people choose this route [a peace deal with the Palestinians], then good for them and I won’t mourn when they pay the price for it.”

Close to two decades ago, Rabin’s assassination shocked Israelis and instantly turned the Amir brothers—mostly Yigal, the shooter, but also Hagai—into the country’s most reviled figures. Hagai spent his entire prison term in solitary confinement, and Yigal received permission only recently to have a cell mate. But support for their actions, or at least a soft sympathy for their motives, has spread from the margins of the Israeli right toward the mainstream. In recent opinion polls, roughly 30 percent of Israelis support pardoning Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence. Among orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, the figure rises to above 50 percent. The reasons are largely bound up with events of the past decade. The suicide bombings of the second Palestinian intifada caused many Israelis to lose faith in the prospects of peace with their neighbors. Some came to see the Rabin-led Oslo accords as a sham. For members of the Rabin family, the polls conjure up a frightening scenario—that one day Yigal Amir will leave prison a free man. “It isn’t only in my head, it isn’t a monster of my creation, it isn’t a figment of my imagination,” Rabin’s granddaughter Noa Rotman recently told Israel’s Channel Two News. “It will happen in our lifetimes.”