Movie Review: “Incitement” condemns those who inspire an assassin

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The intense but clean-cut young man slows his Beetle down at an Israeli Army checkpoint on a rainy night.

He’s going to “the funeral” he says. When the soldier takes a breath to ask more questions, perhaps search the car, the driver puts him at ease.

“It’s OK, bro,” he says in Hebrew. “I’m a Jew.”

But that Jew was Yigal Amir, and that funeral was for Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli American physician, zealot and mass murderer who had shown up at the Cave of the Patriarchs, a Muslim holy place in Hebron, put in his earplugs and shot 154 Palestinian worshippers — 25 fatally.

And to Israeli Jews like Amir who showed up on that rainy February night in 1994 , he was a hero.

“Incitement” is a riveting Israeli docudrama about the chain of events that led Amir, an intense, fanatical ex-special forces soldier turned law student, to assassinate Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, a murder that directly led to decades of right wing rule in Israel, much of it by the indicted, corrupt darling of Israel’s religious right, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yehuda Nahari Halevi depicts Yigal Amir in all his many colors — intense, “focused like a laser” on the law, on “the most beautiful girl” on the campus of Bar-Ilhan University, Nava (Daniella Kertesz ) and on Rabin and the Oslo Peace Accord.

He hates the Accord, the 1993 Clinton-negotiated pact that aimed to set a path forward for ending decades of bloody conflict between Israel (Rabin signed it) and the Palestinians (represented by Yasser Arafat).

At home, Yigal and his mouthy mama (Anat Ravnitzki) echo the rhetoric on posters, graffiti and by the screaming protesters they see on TV — that Rabin is a “traitor,” a “murderer” and that Jewish Law has a response for that. The hate runs deep between mother and son. The Palestinians are “ragheads,” and any time Yigal runs into an old army buddy, the phrase “The Executioner” pops out to describe his ruthless treatment of Palestinians.

His Torah scholar father (Amitay Yaish Ben Ousilio) doesn’t join in their rants.  He and Yigal share a beautifully-written debate that has all the fury and self-righteousness of youth hurled against the wisdom of age, experience and far deeper-learning.  Dad won’t hear of “this demonic government” in his house. Mom, on the other hand, is sure her boy “will be the greatest,” whatever he decides to do with his life. Wink wink.

“Incitement” is about rhetoric, racism, courtship rituals and religion, and director and co-writer Yaron Zilberman (“A Late Quartet”) sees to it that each has its moments in the complex portrait of Israeli culture and one-man’s radicalization that he creates.

Amir’s family are Yemeni Jews, defensive — looked down on outside of their community. Yigal is “Gali” at home, but meeting Nava’s family, he gets the third degree. She seems quite tentative about this full-court press toward “engagement” that the “laser-focused” Yigal is giving her.

Yigal’s Mama expects no less. Those are “settlement” Jews, “hypocrites.” He’ll never be good enough for them, she hisses.

The word “incel” crept into my mind as I watched Yigal try to recruit a “militia” to take over defending territories that Israel was going to withdraw troops from thanks to Oslo. He arranges religious history tours that he fills with classmates — potential militiamen. But only his militant brother and a fellow interested in Yigal’s sister sign up.

These guys fume and scheme and buy guns and even procure explosives (from a soldier, no less) for a planned mosque attack, hoping to “mow down” Palestinians, “Chicago-mob style.” Would a little attention from the opposite sex divert them?

When so many eligible women from their corner of the Judaism spectrum are like Margalit Har-shefit (Sivan Mast), maybe not. She’s the daughter of a conservative rabbi, so maybe she isn’t as independent as she first comes off.

Yigal seeks affirmation from any number of rabbis, looking for clarification of Jewish Law and its tenets — “Law of the Pursuer” and “Law of the Informer.” Those are the justifications these raving rabbis are shouting in public for “revenge” or “punishment” of Rabin for pursuing this peace deal with the people who blow up buses on a regular basis. Questioned in person, most equivocate, one even admits “I was joking around.”

With posters of Rabin in Palestinian garb, or a Nazi uniform, flooding the streets, what harm could calling for his death in a sermon cause? Kidding!

Yigal’s mother Geula is here to unravel the “tribal” schisms among Israeli Jews, the “secular” vs “ultra-orthodox,” Ashkenazi/Sephardic” splits that fuel resentment and hatred for “The Other.”

Every tit-for-tat killing, bombing or incident after Goldstein’s massacre just makes their case, in the minds of the committed. The generous use of TV news coverage, interviews and speeches in the film show Rabin struggling to keep the majority of Israelis on board this “new way,” and the sinister opportunism of Netanyahu, showing up at every fresh incident, fanning the flames.

Movies about assassins (“Nine Hours to Rama,” “The Gandhi Murder”) rarely get this deeply into the life and conditions that inspire a political murder. “Incitement,” which swept last year’s Israeli Academy Awards and was Israel’s entry as “Best International Feature” for Hollywood’s Oscars, manages to be both thorough, damning and fraught throughout.

We know what’s coming. So do a LOT of people around this guy, some of whom took him seriously, one or two who figured “You’re all talk.” Zilberman makes no bones about it. “Lone gunman” isn’t an apt description here, if it ever is. Violent words can lead to violent acts.

And violent acts, even by a supposed “lone gunman,” change history — especially when there are people who openly celebrate his violence, or brazenly pretend that it never happened.

3half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, scenes of graphic violence

Cast: Yehuda Nahari Halevi, Daniella Kertesz, Amitay Yaish, Ben Ousilio, Anat Ravnitzki and Sivan Mast

Credits: Directed by Yaron Zilberman, script by Ron Leshem, Yaron Zilberman and Yair Hizmi. A Greenwich Entertainment release.

Running time: 2:02

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