Incitement is a historical thriller by Israeli director Yaron Zilberman. It was shown at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the World Cinema competition where its screening had to be interrupted briefly due to a security threat. That fact was somehow in line with the subject of the film which tells the story of the man who, in 1995, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in the wake of the Israeli prime minister’s signing of the Oslo peace accords with Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. The assassination effectively scuttled prospects of lasting peace and opened the way to the further radicalization of the Mideast conflict which endures to this day.
Written by Zilberman with Ron Leshem and Yair Hizmi, Incitement follows the eventual killer, Yigal Amir, in the weeks and months that lead up to his murderous act. Amir, an Israeli Jew of Yemeni descent, is a young law student from a devout family. His father is a Torah scribe and his mother, a doting and protective woman, runs a home preschool. At university, Yigal becomes more and more radicalized as he is exposed to rallies by conservative rabbis and friends that rail against Rabin’s concessions to the Palestinians, which they perceive as “selling the country out to the Arabs.” When Baruch Goldstein, an American-born settler and extremist, commits a massacre, killing 29 Muslim worshippers, many, including Amir, hail him as a hero and a martyr.
Thus, what begins as conservative political activism infused with religious fundamentalism escalates into organizing violent actions under the guise of promoting Israel as an ethnic theocracy and eventually morphs into an individual obsession with punishing the country’s “traitor”: Rabin. Amir’s fixation is also fueled by a failed relationship with a beautiful fellow student, a rejection his mother ascribes to the prejudice of older, established and “uppity” Ashkenazi Jews towards more recent Sephardic immigrants.
Zilberman imbues the story with a claustrophobic quality as Amir hurtles towards the inevitable conclusion, against the backdrop of a country that is deeply divided and destined to a future of heightened confrontations, both external and internal. A looming sense of doom pervades the picture and mounting pressure, which is intercut with archival footage of actual Rabin speeches from the period, as he tries to steer his nation toward peace. The tragedy of the film – and of history – is that he would not have that chance. The consequences of his loss are all around us today as the world, governed by a growing number of strongmen, seems to move ever further from the prospect of Peace and fall prey to the incitement of nationalists.