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Religion and Justice: A Review of Zilberman’s Incitement (2019)

The persuasion to convince someone to do harm or violence is how Merriam-Webster and the Cambridge Dictionary define the word incitement. In Criminal Law, it is the encouragement of another person to commit a crime. These definitions are explicitly shown in Yaron Zilberman’s 2019 film titled Incitement. More than a psychological thriller that delves into the perspective of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, it depicts Jewish life, history, tradition, and faith.


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Ronadine Amata

2 years ago | 7 min read

The persuasion to convince someone to do harm or violence is how Merriam-Webster and the Cambridge Dictionary define the word incitement. In Criminal Law, it is the encouragement of another person to commit a crime. These definitions are explicitly shown in Yaron Zilberman’s 2019 film titled Incitement. More than a psychological thriller that delves into the perspective of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, it depicts Jewish life, history, tradition, and faith.

The film viewed Prime Minister Rabin’s 1995 assassination from the point of view of 25-year-old Jewish Yemeni Law student assassin, Yigal Amir. It revealed a lot about Amir’s character and motive — exposed his upbringing, illustrated his way of thinking, and presented his attitude.

From Amir going to protests, gathering allies, planning the assassination, getting heartbroken, to killing the peace-promoting and Oslo Accords supporter Rabin, the movie led the way for the audience to discover Amir’s drive to commit the crime, the height of religious fanaticism in the ’90s, and how one’s religious convictions can lead to extreme acts.

Although it mainly aimed to show Amir and his mindset, the film also showed his family background and unveiled realities about Jewish daily life and traditions. The significance of family and love ties were very much evident throughout the movie, particularly in the first few minutes.

Amir was supposed to be arrested for joining a protest but he lied to the officer about him getting married soon and that if he got arrested, his wife-to-be would leave him, which seemed reasonable enough for the police officer to let him go. Another instance was when he borrowed a shirt from a friend because he reasoned that he had to be presentable for a date. Aside from these, there were more situations that highlighted the significance of a harmonious family and love life to the Jewish community.

It was evident in the movie that Jewish people had a family custom of eating together and including everyone in the gathering. There were several scenes in which both the families of Amir and Nava, his supposed love interest, would not only include the nuclear family when having each other visit the house — the extended family would be there too.

It seemed as though going to a Jewish house would not only mean visiting a friend or visiting their parents, it was also meeting almost the whole clan. Amir’s family, as seen in the movie, would always dine and prepare food together. They made sure no one was left out when it was meal time.

Another thing that can be observed in the movie is the interaction between men and women. When Nava met Amir’s family, she only shakes the hands of Amir’s mom but not his father’s. When it was Amir’s turn to meet Nava’s family, he does not shake the hand of Nava’s mom but just her father’s. This entails that unless they are family or of close ties, they cannot just freely touch the opposite sex. During Amir and Nava’s courtship too, the two do not show physical intimacy, mostly relying on promising words and lingering stares.

Speaking of Nava, her character helps reveal the Jewish courtship customs. It is not the typical courtship in which there is a talking and flirting phase, a trade of subtleties — instead, both parties outright discuss marriage and family plans.

The man, usually, will bravely ask if the woman wants to marry him and how many children she wants to have. With these, they make it clear that they are both surely into each other and ready for commitments. For non-Jewish people, such actions will be considered hasty and embarrassing, but that is not how their courtship culture is. Family and love are a big deal for them and it is always a serious matter to discuss.

Appealing family-centered traits of the Jewish community aside, they also unfortunately expressed traits of misogyny and homophobia. Such characteristics were mostly illustrated by Amir, but some characters had shown agreement with his sentiments as well.

An instance of misogyny was illustrated when he was in what seemed like a group meeting and said that a girl looked like a prostitute because she wore a sleeveless top and an above-the-knee skirt. It was seen in the movie that Jewish women were covered most of the time, wearing sleeved shirts and knee-length skirts or dresses. Another was when Amir was talking to Margalit who asked him if he was afraid of powerful or intelligent women, to which Amir responded yes and sounded disappointed beforehand at Margalit’s academic achievements.

Homophobia was expressed a few moments before Amir’s execution of Rabin. He was talking to someone else about the passers-by and saw a male who wore makeup. They laughed at the person’s appearance and criticized them for wearing makeup that, according to them, was for women only.

Fragile masculinity could also be identified as they accused the person that they probably did not serve in the army, it being their standard of being a real man. Such traits of misogyny and homophobia were not unique to the Jewish community, but it was worth mentioning as it seemed embedded in the culture and mindset of Jewish people.

The film, of course, tackled the Jewish faith. The Torah — the first revealed law given to Moses and recorded in the Hebrew sacred texts — and the Talmud — a written version of the Jewish oral law with commentaries — were mentioned more than once. Forms of worship and prayer were also shown. There was a scene in which Amir was reading the Talmud, writing passages to justify his thoughts about Rabin.

Orthodox Judaism and Liberal Judaism were also mentioned, although not explicitly explained the differences, but hints were made through the characters’ dialogues and actions.

Judaism actually was a significant part of the movie for it played an important role in Amir’s drive to assassinate Rabin. He believed that the Prime Minister was an Informant and a Pursuer, and that according to their sacred texts and the Jewish law, Rabin must be punished.

Amir believed that him killing Rabin was justified because the latter put the Jewish people in danger and that he was not protecting their land at all. He, more than once, said that the root cause of Jewish problems should be uprooted — that Rabin should be killed once and for all. Incitement revealed the rawness of religious fanaticism of Amir which fueled his violent actions.

Having said that, Yigal Amir’s character is deeply complex. He is a charming, intelligent, narcissistic, goal-driven, pathological liar.

Amir is an interesting character at first sight. He is a man of conviction and intelligence, one who takes part in politics and cares about his country. He intently listens and watches the news. He is fierce, bravely discussing political matters with his parents and going against his father’s peace-loving, Rabin-supporting nature. Amir is very supportive of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein; he is obsessed with Jewish laws and carefully listens to the rabbis preaching about such. Yigal Amir is clearly a Judaism fanatic who seeks to carry out his religious and ideological way of life.

Aside from fooling himself into thinking that his mindset about Rabin was correct and supported by Jewish laws, Amir’s upbringing was another reason for him being confident about his thoughts and plans.

Amir’s mother explained that they named him Yigal, meaning “to redeem”, so “he can redeem the Jewish people”. Because of his name and how he was viewed by his peers, Amir’s self-esteem was boosted. His parents have always told him that he was smart which, of course, made him feel empowered. His educational achievements proved it, too, which added to the security he felt about his judgments.

Yigal Amir trusted himself so much that he felt was able to fathom God’s will himself and carry out what must be done according to their Bible.

I’m like a laser pointer. I mark targets and conquer them one by one no matter what.

This sentence revealed important facts about Yigal Amir’s character. He was calculating and when he put his mind to something, he would do anything just to reach his goal especially when it concerned his religion. He spent two years planning the assassination before finally executing it.

Amir felt no remorse about killing Rabin for he thought it was what should be done according to Jewish laws and he was doing it for the sake of his fellow Jewish people.

The storytelling of the film was superb and its technicalities were great as well. The acting of the characters was so natural, especially Yehuda Halevi who played Yigal Amir’s character.

His eyes were very expressive, hitting the emotions on point without much need for explanation or dialogue. The cinematography and editing were well-done, too, for it required deftly combining filmed scenes and real footage of the Jewish community during Prime Minister Rabin’s time.

The Jewish holy symbols, the Menorah and Star of David, were shown, too. The movie was well-executed with its thought-provoking storytelling and detailed cinematography.

Overall, Incitement was such an interesting film about the perspective of an assassin which did not uplift his character or made people pity him. Instead, the film shone a light on the factors that incited the person to commit such acts: the environmental and religious influences.

I firmly believe that one’s upbringing and society greatly affect their character as a person. However, this did not mean that those were enough justifications for Yigal Amir’s action — the man was an adult capable of thinking for himself and he obviously wanted to do what he did. With his idealism and obsession, he somehow forcefully twisted the words of Jewish laws to tailor-fit his motive because Yitzhak Rabin’s decisions were not coinciding with his visions for the Jewish community.

Incitement is a must-watch for those who wanted to know more about Judaism and discover some of the customs, traditions, and ways of life of the Jewish people. Yaron Zilberman made a bravely interesting movie that carefully presents harsh realities that educate its audience.

This is a film review I wrote in 2021 for my Introduction to World Religions and Belief Systems class back in senior high school.

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Ronadine Amata

Keyboard peacemaker. Writing = Breathing. Loves talking about film, education, and culture.


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