Netanyahu, Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel in War of Words

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk speaks at the State Department  on July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk speaks at the State Department on July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

January 6, 2016

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is disputing a former U.S. ambassador’s account of a 1995 conversation about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

In an interview for the FRONTLINE documentary, Netanyahu at War, which aired Tuesday, former ambassador Martin Indyk says he spoke with Netanyahu, then the head of the political opposition in Israel, as Rabin’s body was brought to parliament to lie in state. As Indyk described the conversation:

Netanyahu sat next to me when I was ambassador in Israel at the time of Rabin’s funeral. The first step was to bring his body from the hospital through a cortege up to the Knesset where he would lie in state. There was a big assembly of dignitaries and the diplomatic core and politicians and so on at the Knesset waiting for Rabin’s body to arrive, the coffin. And I remember Netanyahu saying to me: “Look, look at this. He’s a hero now, but if he had not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the elections, and then he would have gone into history as a failed politician.”

On Wednesday, the prime minister’s office denied the exchange, and was quoted in the Israeli media saying it “never happened.” Netanyahu’s Likud Party issued a separate response, calling the comments “another lie by Martin Indyk, who doesn’t stop slandering and reviling the prime minister of Israel.” The nation’s Zionist Union responded with a defense of the former ambassador, saying the denial by the prime minister’s office “prove how low” he can go.

Indyk, who served as ambassador from 1995 to 1997, and again from 2000 to 2001, stood by his comments and wrote on Twitter today, “The conversation w Bibi took place on Nov 5/95 when we sat together at the Knesset ceremony to receive Rabin’s coffin to lie in state.”

Rabin was killed on Nov. 4. His funeral was held on Nov. 6.

Indyk recounted the conversation in a July 2015 interview with FRONTLINE, echoing what he wrote in a diplomatic cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv the day after the assassination in 1995.

According to the cable, published by WikiLeaks in 2011, Indyk wrote, “Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu told us last night that Likud and the right will be directly blamed for the violence leading to the assassination of Rabin. He called the death of Rabin ‘a disaster for the Jewish people, a disaster for Israel and a disaster for the right which will be decimated if elections are called soon.’”

In his interview with FRONTLINE, Indyk said that “even at that moment of tremendous support, a tragic moment of support for Rabin, Netanyahu was thinking, well, politically he was on the ropes before he was assassinated.”

The dispute is not the first time Indyk has faced criticism from officials in the Israeli government. In 2014, for example, he delivered an address critical of Israeli settlement activity. In response, a member of the prime minister’s negotiating team for Middle East peace called the assessment “simplistic and wrong.”

Jason M. Breslow

Jason M. Breslow, Digital Editor



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

A Timeline of Domestic Extremism in the U.S., from Charlottesville to January 6
According to data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there were 405 terror attacks or plots in the U.S. from 2015 through 2020 — more than double the total number in the previous decade. A timeline of significant incidents tracks how domestic extremism has evolved in recent years.
April 21, 2021
Derek Chauvin is convicted of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis, cuffed and sent to prison
The conviction, almost a year after a bystander video captured Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, was the first time in Minnesota history that a white police officer was convicted of killing a Black civilian on the job.
April 20, 2021
Chauvin Trial Lawyers Bring Everything Together in Closing Arguments on Floyd's Death
After 45 witnesses and 14 days of testimony in the Hennepin County District Court trial, two lawyers will make their closing arguments, the final words the jurors hear from them before retreating behind closed doors to deliberate.
April 17, 2021
Of the 5 States with the Most Farmworkers, Only 3 Are Prioritizing Vaccines — and Not All Means of Prioritizing Are Equal, per the CDC
Months after the July 2020 film "COVID's Hidden Toll," FRONTLINE checked in with farmworkers in California and four other big agricultural states and found vaccine rollouts have been uneven.
April 16, 2021