In November of 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — a relative dove who began the modern Israeli-Palestinian peace process under the Oslo Accords — was murdered by a far-right assassin.
Rabin’s death sent shockwaves throughout the world, as many in Israel, the Palestinian territories and throughout the world interpreted his killing as a blow to the very concept that an Israeli and Palestinian leader could sit down and talk to eachother to make peace.
Yet the very next year, the Israeli Supreme Court denied an attempt to bar Amir from voting, ruling that he cannot be denied this right, despite being an incarcerated person. The court was taking a bold stand here — Amir was one of the country’s most hated individuals, and anyone who murders a head of state is considered to be among the most dangerous terrorists.
Rabin’s widow Leah was furious. “It’s appalling,” she said. “He shouldn’t be treated like anyone else.”
Israel’s Supreme Court stood by Israeli law that ensured voting rights for every Israeli citizen, declaring that “we must separate contempt for his act from respect for his right,” and that denying voting rights even to political assassins would mean that perhaps “the base of all fundamental rights is shaken.”
“We punish the person, but we don’t take away their basic rights because this affects the state of the nation,” said Uriel Lynn, a once-Likud lawmaker who worked on electoral reform.
All of this is relevant because Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has come out for letting prisoners vote. This is an extremely unpopular position — it polls out in the 20s. But it’s also the status quo in Maine and Vermont which allow their prisoners to vote.
Sanders is standing by his conscience on this one, and his stand is unlikely to be politically helpful to him (you can tell this is the case simply by the other candidates refusing to support his position). However, he may very well help spark a debate on this issue, one that is sure to be especially painful for victims of crime and their loved ones, as it was for Leah Rabin.