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Grim Anniversary

Today would have been Yitzhak Rabin’s 90th birthday—as good a time as any to remember, and repent for, the time I considered assassinating him.

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Portrait of late prime minster Yitzhak Rabin. (AFP/Getty Images )

Two months later, I was living in Jerusalem and working for Chabad in the Old City. I often walked after work down Jaffa Road to the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall where I’d eat dinner before taking the bus home. On these walks, I would find myself thinking about what Blau had asked me to do. It gnawed at me, and as much as I wanted to push it away and forget it, I couldn’t drive it out of my mind.

After awhile, I changed the route I took. After leaving the Old City, I veered southwest and walked past the U.S. Consulate to the Kings Hotel. From there I wandered through the side streets of Rehavia until I saw it: the prime minister’s residence. I was 100 feet from Yitzhak Rabin. Over the next few weeks I made that trip several times, each time making sure to pass by it quickly, as if I didn’t know or didn’t care what was there, as if I was late for an appointment somewhere nearby. No one stopped me or searched me. No security agents seemed to be watching me. I was just another Jew walking in Jerusalem, and Rabin’s security was focused on Arabs and hired terrorists from abroad. I could get close enough. With time I devised a way to do it that I thought had a decent chance of letting me getting away with it.

But I didn’t do it. Why? Because at the very moment I was first sure my plan could work, I thought of a relative who had been murdered. I saw his face clearly in my mind. And I thought of the pain his death had caused his immediate family and so many others. And the horror of death was clearer to me than it ever had been before, the finality of it, its awful permanence. I knew then that I could never take a life unless there was no other choice, unless it was absolutely and completely clear that it was kill or be killed.

I stopped walking by Rabin’s residence. I confined my opposition to political protest. And I went on with my life. But I still carried with me the burden of being instructed to kill the prime minister of the Jewish State. And as the demonization of Rabin continued around me, I wondered if I was wrong.

***

Long after Rabin was murdered, after years of soul-searching and leaving Chabad and then Orthodoxy, I came to understand what happened to me—and what probably happened to Rabin’s killer. Most of the people who hear incitement and hate speech will never go beyond parroting the hateful speech of their leaders, but a small minority will. However, most of the latter will lack something—opportunity, skill, courage, faith, or the conviction that there is absolutely no other way to achieve the necessary goal—and even though they plot, in the end they will not act.

But sometimes one or two of them will come to believe they have no other choice. They will overcome their own fears and doubts because they have seen that the others were unable to overcome their own. Or they will have no doubts or fears at all because they have become such true believers that they no longer have identities separate from their leaders. They will do what no one else can do, but what they know must be done. At that moment they become fully formed creations of those leaders, products of their indoctrination set loose by men who would never send their sons or grandsons to do that evil, and who would never do it themselves.

If he had lived, Rabin would have turned 90 today. When he died, he had in his pocket lyrics to the song “Shir Lashalom” (A Song For Peace). “He whose candle was snuffed out and was buried in the dust, a bitter cry won’t wake him, won’t bring him back.” The words were soaked with blood as if to prove the point. Oslo didn’t stop with Rabin’s murder. God didn’t send a redeemer to guide us. Nothing really changed, except that the earth got a little more of the blood that it always seems to crave, fed by yet another true believer who was absolutely certain that he was doing the will of God.

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Carl says:

Good article, but you should also point out the other motivation behind the assassination was to impress a girl (Margalit Har-Sheffi)which is also a common inspiration for acts of this sort. It’s also ironic to think that Rabin (who is called the great peacemaker) envisioned a final agreement that is actually far to the right of the recent offer that Bibi (who is called a right wing hawk) made recently to Abu Mazen.

bucky says:

Oh Scott, will you just please shut up already. We get it, you don’t like Chabad, you are not Orthodox, etc. etc. Now, please go back to your Mother’s basement and continue your polemics on yuor web site and spare us having to read you in otehr palces. It is so tiring to keep seeing your childish musings other than on your website.

Brad Schwartz says:

I wonder whether the acts described in this article may constitute evidence of a crime. In some countries, there is conspiracy or attempt liability merely for discussing a murder plot with one other person and taking a single step towards advancing that plot. This article apparently describes a few steps, such as regularly scouting out the residence to plan the attack, and “devising a way” to accomplish the murder.

Lisa says:

I found out about the assassination when my grandmother, aleha hashalom, who wasn’t shomeret shabbat, called me and left a message on my answering machine. I jumped up and down and literally danced.

No one who didn’t live under the tyrant’s boot as a frum Jew at a time when he was calling us crybabies and calling those of us who were murdered due to his ill-considered resurrection of the PLO “sacrifices for peace” have no business talking about hate speech.

Phil N says:

Since Israel keeps releasing terrorists who have murdered hundreds of Jew, maybe it is time to release his assasin.

Jeff says:

Excellent article, Shmarya. I had no idea.

Schmul says:

A very courageous and insightful editorial. Life is much easier when we have others thinking for us and telling us what is right and wrong. Much more difficult to think and act on one’s own thoughts and beliefs. Tribalism/Nationalism is the cause of so many wars and death. If we are right, then you must be wrong. It is therefore acceptable to our God that we kill you. How much thought goes into that act? That it is okay with your god to kill someone that the very same god created?

Reuvain says:

Its well known that Shamaya Rosenberg loves to hate Chabad. Now it’s gone to a new level, an accusation of collective guilt for a terrible crime. The machinations of a young teenager are used to blame a whole community. Close readers of Shamaya’s blog knows his is prone to much fantasy based on his deep hatred for Chabad. Now after years of his hostile blogging emerges this new crazy story.

The real question is why does Tablet not even follow the most basic rules of journalism ? Was there any other sources for this story? Did the editors call the rabbis mentioned to verify this story ? How does it publish articles that claim the most outrageous things with little or no verification ? How does it allow for a claim that the acts and thoughts –if they are too be believed of a dysfunctional teen-are reflective of the teachings of whole community that has no history of violence. Accusing a community of Jews who teach Torah, preach decency of considering such a hideous crime is not journalism.

Time and again we see the secular segment of the Jewish media write articles that with only changing a few words would be considered the most vile anti Semitism. Yesterday on YNET Yaron London calling on curbing Haridiem having children, imagine for a moment if a white leader in America had suggested that of blacks. Today this fantasy published with little or no editorial review or verification from a writer who is well known for distorting facts about Chabad. The editors of Tablet need to look in the mirror, their publication known for insightful writing has lowered it itself to the gutter. Now it’s nothing more than bigotry and prejudice posing as journalism.

tk_in_TO says:

Methinks Reuvain protests a bit too much. Orthodoxy and fundamentalism of all religions are inherently dictatorial and intolerant of differing opinions. They justify this bigotry with claims of “god given” citations. Its all a load of nonsense. Both Rabin and John Lennon were men of peace, liberalism and tolerance and the world is definitely richer for their lives and poorer for their deaths. Shame to anyone who would celebrate the murder of an innocent person and especially those who claim to be “religious”.

Jules says:

Well we all (those who are ardent Zionists) who killed Yitzhak Rabin but I wonder how many of us can get his name out of our mealy mouths…Yigal Amir. There the name has been uttered. Let the blame game commence.

Mark Weintraub says:

This is a shocking article on many levels.
It tends to indict the entire Lubavitch movement because of the references to the Rebbe and other respected figures. If the recitiation is accurate, then it means that each one of us must now look at every Lubavitch Rabbi as a likely secret suppporter of Rabin’s murder. Is this the first time that Mr. Rosenberg has written this? Why is it not the pre-eminent story on his important blog. His biography continually references his disillusionment with the Lubavitch’s attitude to Ethiopan Jews- but not his disillusionment with himself that he almost turned murderer aided and abetted by Lubavitch? None of this makes sense.

Moshiach Now says:

I find it ironic, but not surprising, that Rosenberg, who is so busy rightfully taking down Deborah Feldman for her lies and exaggerations, can churn out a fantasy like this.

I myself am a Lubavitcher, and while I do admit that none of us were very sad that Rabin left this world, none of us who were normal wanted to see it happen the way it did or wanted to kill him. We did want to see his work reversed and the man and his ideas trounced at the polls, but no one of any import (or of any level of sanity) in Chabad ever thought to kill Rabin.

In fact I flew to Israel for a long-planned vacation a few days after it happened and no one in Chabad, not even some of the extremist messianists I met in Tzfat, was celebrating; everyone was just going about their lives. I was also there for Rabin’s first yahrtzeit and no one in Chabad cared less one way or another about any celebrations.

When I asked a secular clerk at Magen David Adom in Tel Aviv how to get to Kikar Rabin (there is a mall I enjoy visiting in the area, and I had no intention of visiting the square itself to make any political statement), she looked at me strangely and reminded me of the old name – Kikar Malchei Israel – before she gave me directions. That was Rabin’s legacy – while no Jew in his right mind advocates assassination, most everyone saw that his policies led to the bus bombings that killed so many innocent Jews.

I guess Shmarya Rosenberg just shifted from the extremist fringes of Chabad, and these fringes do exist as they do in any large group, to the extremist fringes of Jewish self-hate. He managed to find a way to get his 15 minutes of fame and to use his blog and his ramblings in order to further delude himself that he is living up to his delusions of grandeur.

Refuah shelema bekarov mamash.

Jack says:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe never said that Rabin was a “rodef.” That is an outright lie. I’m shocked that a respected publication like Tablet would publish such slander. Virtually every word the Rebbe ever spoke in public has been published, so it’s a simple matter to verify this fact.
Rosenberg is a known chabad hater and his blog is full of similar fabrications and fantasies. But what’s surprising is Tablet’s lack of professionalism.

Jeff S. says:

An utterly horrifying piece. I’m utterly stunned that people who call themselves religious would ever advocate murder. And I’m disgusted by Lisa’s comments, in which she says, “I found out about the assassination when my grandmother, aleha hashalom, who wasn’t shomeret shabbat, called me and left a message on my answering machine. I jumped up and down and literally danced.” Revolting and indefensible.

P. Junke says:

What a schmuck !

If I had” preperation H” with a correct Hecksher..I would send it to the author to enjoy for his breakfast.

I can’t believe that a Jew, in this day and age, would follow the “ayatollas”…in Brooklyn and/or B’nai Brak.

I am ashamed and horrified.

Jeff says:

“Refuah shelema bekarov mamash.”

This is the part of Moshiach Now’s screed that I find most offensive, as it essentializes the attitude of most inhabitants of the frum world, certainly the Haredi portion of it: “If you disagree with me, you must be mentally or spiritually ill.” You people can’t inbreed yourselves into oblivion quickly enough to suit me. Unfortunately, it will take longer with Chabad, as you insist upon robbing other people’s cradles.

And as far as you Haredi supporters/wannabes who are clutching your pearls are concerned – grow up.

Marc says:

As soon as I saw SR’s name as the author, I skipped right to the comments section- typical Tablet crap and more Ortho bashing (from Tablet and SR) and relishing in every morsel of it. Am i right? I know I am- even without reading this tripe.

Morris Katz says:

So now Shmarya has “reformed.” The fact that by his own admission, he seriously considered assassinating Yitzchak Rabin is absolute proof that this man is a danger to society and is mentally unbalanced. Only his targets have changed. Now he goes after his former friends with the same ferocity that he had when he was a Lubavicher.

About two years ago, Rosenberg threatened me with physical violence because when he called me a liar, I told him to put up or shut up. I’m sorry he didn’t seek me out and throw a punch, I would really have enjoyed kicking his fat butt back to the Central Time Zone.

Actually, Morris, you kept calling haredim “vermin,” insisted on extolling many things German, refused to respond to or answer any points or evidence posted by anyone that proved your various odd posts wrong, and you threatened to beat people up all the time.

So I challenged you to a boxing match. Gloves, rules, a referee.

You insisted on wrestling because that’s what you used to as student.

I believe I responded with a MMA proposal.

At any rate, Morris, you continue to have difficulty telling the truth. You might want to work on that a little.

Gutsiest piece you guys ever published. Well done.

Shmarya, exquisite turn of the phrase. You are a writer’s writer. I’d like to say to your critics here…. it’s the words, stupid!

Anyone who hasn’t been the subject of rabbinic Chabad manipulation, berating and/or threats will never understand, largely because they are restrained from, patently and latently, access to the media that publishes those very items. But that which is ingrained in Chabad now comes slamming up against technology. Time is nipping at their heels.

Morris Katz says:

Shmarya, you love to call people “liars,” but you’re one yourself. I’ve saved that entire thread in which you threatened to kick my butt, and I believe I mailed it to Tablet, too.

You called me a liar because I claimed to own a BMW. Actually, I own two, a 2004 3-series and a 2011 5-series. I told you that the burden of proof was on you, and your response was to threaten me. It had nothing to do with Haredim. Nor did I call Haredim “vermin.” I called those Haredim who acted like nazis, specifically, the ones who were throwing rocks at people because they had the effrontry to drive on Saturday vermin, and you know what, that’s exactly what they are. I’ve saved those threads, too, you lying sack of Scheisse.

And if you still hate Germans for what their grandparents did 70 years ago, that’s your problem, Fatso, not mine. The difference between me and you is that when Rabin was murdered, I sobbed out of sorrow. You cried for joy.

I’m still waiting for you to kick my butt, Champ. All 300+ pounds of you. I saw that picture of your butt overflowing that beanbag chair.

If you want to call me a liar to my face, or a nazi, bring it, buddy. Any time.

Moshiach Now says:

LOL The Rebbe could not possibly have called Rabin a rodef. First of all, he never spoke that way. Moreover, the Rebbe was not even able to speak by the time the Oslo Accords became public.

And yes, Shmarya is an unwell man who suffers from fantasies and delusions of grandeur. No one in his right mind could have written this ridiculous story. If an old man had told me to assassinate Rabin, I, like any other sane person, would have written off his statement as a senile fantasy. I highly doubt that Rav Moishe Blau ever said such a thing, but I can check with his relatives to find out whether it would have been something he was capable of saying in his last years.

Jeff, sadly for you, we are the ones “breeding,” as opposed to inbreeding, so don’t hold your breath waiting for us to disappear. It is Jewish self-hatred that is finally burning out.

Oh yeah, Moshiach Now, I’m sure you can get the straight scoop from his family.

George says:

Rabin’s murder does not lessen the disaster his tenure was for Israel.

Moshiach Now says:

His family members would be far less biased than Shmarya (they would be only too happy to tell me if he was unwell in his latter years, whether he was feisty in general etc), and I have plenty of other people to ask.

With this piece, Shmarya Rosenberg has crossed the line between tilting at windmills and out and out fantasy.

Feldman and he should both share the Janet Cook Award for Accuracy and Truth.

Shmarya, you love to call people “liars,” but you’re one yourself. I’ve saved that entire thread in which you threatened to kick my butt, and I believe I mailed it to Tablet, too.

You called me a liar because I claimed to own a BMW. Actually, I own two, a 2004 3-series and a 2011 5-series. I told you that the burden of proof was on you, and your response was to threaten me. It had nothing to do with Haredim. Nor did I call Haredim “vermin.” I called those Haredim who acted like nazis, specifically, the ones who were throwing rocks at people because they had the effrontry to drive on Saturday vermin, and you know what, that’s exactly what they are. I’ve saved those threads, too, you lying sack of Scheisse.

And if you still hate Germans for what their grandparents did 70 years ago, that’s your problem, Fatso, not mine. The difference between me and you is that when Rabin was murdered, I sobbed out of sorrow. You cried for joy.

I’m still waiting for you to kick my butt, Champ. All 300+ pounds of you. I saw that picture of your butt overflowing that beanbag chair.

If you want to call me a liar to my face, or a nazi, bring it, buddy. Any time.

Good, Morris. And Tablet can easily search my site and read your other comments preceding that, including the ones in your various guises.

You threatened and bullied easily a dozen people directly, your insisted on calling haredim vermin and using other Nazi terminology to smear people, and you did the other things I mentioned above.

I’m glad you find comfort in your BMWs and in your bluster.

But what you’ve done is clear and saved on my site for anyone to read.

Morris Katz says:

Here’s a “man” who spends his life writing a blog trashing Haredim (not that some of them don’t deserve it), in the same way Der Stuermer trashed Jews in general, and he has the chutzpah to call me a Nazi. You’ve even called many people “Haredim” who aren’t. One wasn’t even Jewish.

Yes, Arschloch, I called Yoelish Krauss “vermin.” Which is a perfect way to describe this thug, and his followers. And Krauss is far from the worst.

You know who your remind me of? Little Dickie Kapostein (aka Richard Silverstein), who hates Israel as much as you hate ALL haredim, and for that matter, those who disagree with you and have the guts to stand up to you.

Quite frankly, it’s not a credit to Tablet that they publish your drivel.

You know who your remind me of? Little Dickie Kapostein (aka Richard Silverstein), who hates Israel as much as you hate ALL haredim, and for that matter, those who disagree with you and have the guts to stand up to you.

You need therapy, Morris.

akvetch says:

A troubling article. It’s not too late for Israel to prosecute this man and have him tell his story as a lesson in civics to all religious schools and Bar Ilan University
Maybe he can even meet his hero Amir, disgusting and to only think of what peace could have brought if it wasn’t for the likes of Hecht, Amir & Rosenberg

Mendy Hecht says:

Rabbi Abraham Hecht is my grandfather.

The source for the claim here that my grandfather basically said, “Kill Rabin” is a link to a review of a book, which does mention my grandfather and such a statement, but does not mention the venue at which the article claims was the platform for the statement.

Therefore, there is no source in this article for the claim that my grandfather got up and some forum and said, basically, “Kill Rabin.”

So much for thorough research.

I will tell you what did happen.

Shortly before Rabin was assassinated, my grandfather was interviewed by New York magazine, I believe. It may have been a different magazine; I don’t recall. I have an original copy in my house here.

In the article, he basically told the interviewer the same thing.

Now, hold on here. I know what you’re thinking.

Obviously I’m not going to defend the assassination of a Jew by a fellow Jew, never mind the assassination of a Prime Minister of Israel.

But I will point out that anybody in the Jewish world to the right of center was emotionally distraught in the months up to the killing, like the house was on fire and kids were trapped.

This is because the peace process was taking Israel, and the world Jewish community, across lines that many thought would never, ever be crossed–like shaking hands with Yasser Arafat. (Case in point: part of me still can’t believe that happened. Yasser Arafat?! The terrorist murderer?!)

Everyone was fiercely emotional at the time.

And so it should not be a surprise that my grandfather, and a lot of other people like Rabbi Blau here, were saying wild and very emotional things. And not just on the right. The left, too.

Did they really, really mean it? I really don’t think so. Again, just wild emotion. I’ll bet you that had Rabbi Blau been there on the street with Mr. Rosenberg and the latter actually pulled a gun and pointed it at Rabin–the moment of truth–the rabbi would have come to his senses and cried out, “Stop!”

Stacy Frank says:

There is a very glaring difference between a religious minded and practicing individual, and someone who allows his entire sense of individuality fall prey to a leader who espouses values that aren’t their own. The latter is called a cult. There is strength through building a life around the understanding that their exists a higher, more knowledgeable power in this world. This is how religion is. What you describe is the terrorism of a cult, just the same as any other. I truly hope people do not jump to conclusions about anyone religious having the same weaknesses as you describe to their leader. It is simply not true.

Moshe says:

I am a Lubavitcher and I am actually very happy about this article. Lubavitchers never thought of killing Rabin, its beyond laughable. As in every movement we also have some lunatics that attach themselves to us. Scott Rosenberg has officially let the world know he was and therefore probably still is a lunatic. Thank you Shmarya for this piece, that gives people insight into the person you are.

Moshe says:

clarifying my previous statement:
Meaning he’s a lunatic for ever even thinking to kill Rabin. Rosenberg seeks to discredit Chabad for convincing him to kill Rabin. Ladies and Gentleman the cat is out of the bag, to sane people you have discredited yourself.

Jeff says:

@Marc: Am i right? I know I am- even without reading this tripe.

And there it is, in the proverbial nutshell – the frum mindset.

@dh: Time is nipping at their heels.

I sincerely hope you’re right. The Haredi world is falling apart (this, of course, will elicit protestations about their increasing numbers), but Chabad has its own infrastructure and stands somewhat apart from the rest of it.

In any case, the negative comments left here, particularly those posted by Lubavitchers, display the depth of their denial and the utter impossibility of reasoning with them.

Reuvain says:

Imagine a headline “President Obama Orchestrated Koran Burning in Kabul”.

Such an assertion would have made the publication the joke of journalism. However when it comes to orthodox Jews, and the ominous “ultras” anything goes. The editors of Tablet have allowed their own prejudice and bigotry cloud their judgement in publishing this piece. Maybe Shmaya Rosenberg had evil intentions on Yitzchak Rabin. Allowing him to claim that the Rebbe shared those nefarious thoughts is a lie. It may be personal Opionion but it is not journalism. There are no facts to support this claim, normal editorial review should of stopped it. Not every crazy viewpoint is worthy of publication.

But the rules are different for liberal Jews writing about religious ones, that are based on their own bigotry.

Shame on you Tablet.

Morris Katz says:

Nowhere in Lee Harvey Rosenberg’s “apologia” is there a real apology. Nowhere does he take responsibility for his actions; instead, he blames Rabbi Moshe Blau, who cannot defend himself as he’s been deceased since 2003. It was more a case of “the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.”

The big irony, of course, is that Rabin was trailing in the polls leading up to the 1996 election, and had he not been murdered, he would have lost. To Netanyahu.

As I’ve previously stated, Rosenberg is the same fanatic he had been when he was a Lubavicher Hasid; the difference being he’s turned on his former fellow cultists with a vengeance. I can now see why the Hasidim kicked him out of the movement; it had little to do with Ethopian Jewry and a lot to do with the perception of his being a loose cannon.

We should all thank Tablet for giving Rosenberg the petard upon which to hoist himself.

Gripping piece. Terrific writing.

Mendy, thanks for sharing your view, too.

I am amused by the kind of comment that begins “I didn’t read this disgusting article but it is proof that…”

Morris Katz says:

I used to love your column. That and Sara Berman’s, who preceded you at The Forward.

Unfortunately I can’t agree with someone who says anything nice about a shmuck who brags that he “almost killed” Yitzchak Rabin and changed his mind at the last second. I don’t care if he was “brainwashed” or not. Nor do I care if Rosenberg’s story is true, or as I suspect, greatly embellished.

Charles “Tex” Watson was brainwashed by Charlie Manson, too. He’s now serving life for murder. If it were up to be he’d be doing triple life.

You have disappointed me.

Morris Katz says:

“Long after Rabin was murdered, after years of soul-searching and leaving Chabad and then Orthodoxy, I came to understand what happened to me—and what probably happened to Rabin’s killer. Most of the people who hear incitement and hate speech will never go beyond parroting the hateful speech of their leaders, but a small minority will. However, most of the latter will lack something—opportunity, skill, courage, faith, or the conviction that there is absolutely no other way to achieve the necessary goal—and even though they plot, in the end they will not act.”

There are lots of people who hear so-called “hate speech.” Just listen to right-wing talk radio. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority don’t go around plotting political assassinations.

Two years after you supposedly cased Rabin’s house and devised a plan to murder him, Rabin was in fact assassinated. Your reaction? Too bad they didn’t get Peres as well.

In addition, any wingnut who plots to assassinate a left-of-center Israeli politician, and whose politics later switches from extreme right to extreme left, should be closely observed because he might now be a danger to Netanyahu. And others.

It’s the zealotry, not the politics. I actually agree with many of your positions but your tactics and name-calling leave me totally disgusted.

Well my friend Mendy Hecht it turns out both our grandfathers got caught up in this mess. I am trying to imaging my grandfather ordering this hit and well he is my grandfather so I can’t. Granted, he was an intense scholar, holocaust survivor, and rumored (though he denies it) to have rescued Jewish manuscripts from the Vatican library.

@ Shmarya, Rabbi Blau was far from a typical Lubavitcher. He was actually rescued from the Nazis through the Mirer Yeshiva of which he was a part. Granted, he did associate with Lubavitch in later years and his children are Lubavich I don’t know that he self-identified as Lubavitch.

Beyond that, this is a powerful story and assuming it is accurate a pretty scary one.

2close2detroit says:

shumckya-rabin was never repentant for killing jews on the alta lena-apparently he agreed with blau and schneerson.

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Grim Anniversary

Today would have been Yitzhak Rabin’s 90th birthday—as good a time as any to remember, and repent for, the time I considered assassinating him.

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