Right-wing Israeli TV channel boots pundit for calling to free Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin


TEL AVIV (JTA) — A right-wing TV channel in Israel has banned a guest from its programs after he called for the release of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, drawing applause from the audience.

Ari Shamai, a lawyer, made the remark on Sunday amid discussion of an Israeli Supreme Court decision that barred a right-wing candidate from running this year for mayor of Tiberias, a northern Israeli city. Shamai has voiced support for the Israeli government’s ongoing effort to weaken the Supreme Court. The first element of that effort passed last week and has sparked ongoing mass protests across Israel.

On Sunday, conflict between the governing coalition and the judiciary continued, as the Supreme Court postponed the implementation of a law that would have allowed the mayoral candidate to run. Shamai said the ruling amounted to a condemnation of “personal laws” meant to benefit one individual, and suggested that legislation denying the possibility of parole to Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin, was also an example of a “personal law.”

“The time has come to free the assassin Yigal Amir,” Shamai said on Sunday on “The Patriots,” a panel show on Israeli Channel 14. “Because personal laws were also legislated against him.”

Shamai, who has represented Amir in legal proceedings, was interrupted by his fellow panelists as members of the audience applauded. Following the incident, Channel 14 barred Shamai from its programs and, according to the Israeli publication Walla, cut his statement from replays of the discussion.

“The severe words that Ari Shamai said reflect his opinion only,” the channel said in a statement. “In light of the severity of the statements, Mr. Shamai will no longer be invited to appear on the channel’s programs.”

On Monday, Strauss Group, one of Israel’s leading food manufacturers, sent a letter to Channel 14 informing the network that it would pause its advertising due to “various hurtful expressions.” It did not mention Shamai’s statement specifically, but added, “We choose to advertise according to a code of ethics and demand the same from all of the channels and media platforms.”

Channel 14 responded to the letter by calling it an “embarrassing statement of condescension and an attempt at reeducation,” according to Raz Shechnik, a reporter for the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

Shamai is one among several voices on the right who have called for Amir’s freedom. In 2008, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right politician who now serves as Israel’s national security minister, promoted a film calling for Amir’s release. More recently, a senior aide to Ben-Gvir has taken an active role in a nonprofit that donates money to the assassin and other Jewish extremists serving prison terms.

This is not the first time Shamai has stirred controversy on Channel 14. In February, amid protests of the judicial overhaul, he was suspended from the channel for saying that the legislation’s opponents were descended from Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto who declined to fight the Nazis.

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