Kahane and the Kahanists

In the early 1970s, Rabbi Meir Kahane visited Britain to establish a Jewish Defence League to advance the cause of Soviet Jewry.

I worked to stop him because I had seen what had happened in the US.

In 1968 Kahane formed the JDL in New York to campaign for Soviet Jewry, target perceived antisemites and protest against homegrown criticism of Israel.

A few decades after the Shoah, the JDL’s slogan “Never Again” had real meaning. For the impressionable, Kahane exuded authenticity in his militancy.

In the UK, many local Jewish taxi drivers were attracted by him. At one mass meeting he organised, I stood on a chair and made a speech against him.

Kahane told his irate followers to allow me to speak and even invited me up on to the stage. I asked whether he would be prepared to offer himself in exchange for the prisoners of Zion, then in strict-regime labour camps in the USSR.

“We would get the Jews. The KGB would have Meir Kahane,” I said.

It was at this point that everyone in the hall wanted to lynch me…

Kahane taught that “vengeance, hate and violence” had its place in Jewish tradition and should be used accordingly when necessary — and especially against non-Jews, Arabs and leftists.

Long after that UK visit, Kahane wrote in his book Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews: “The liberal west speaks of tolerance and the obligation to respect all views regardless of their rightness or wrongness, while Judaism demands that the Jew choose truth and the path of right and not tolerate evil in his midst.

“And so the homosexual, the prostitute, the abortionist, the addict are not permitted the tolerance of living their own lives as they see fit, for Judaism is not a certificate of license, but of obligation.”

Three years after he published that book in 1987, he was shot dead at the end of a talk in a New York hotel.

Following Kahane’s killing, Robert I. Friedman published his book, The False Prophet. It revealed another side to the militant rabbi.

In 1963, Kahane removed his kippah and acted as an informer for the FBI, his activities often directed at Jewish liberals.

Using the pseudonym Michael King, he co-authored a book entitled The Jewish Stake in Vietnam attacking many Jews who opposed the war there. As Rabbi Meir Kahane, he defined the war as a milchemet mitzvah — an obligatory war — and advised his students to enlist to fight in Vietnam.

Unknown to his family and community, his activities in the intelligence underworld led him into a career of womanising and conducting an affair with a woman called Estelle Donna Evans.

Two days before their marriage, he informed her that he was already married. A few hours later, Evans threw herself off the Queensboro Bridge and subsequently died on the operating table. She was also found to be pregnant.

Kahane later explained it away by suggesting that Evans had killed herself because she had terminal cancer.

Following his emigration to Israel, Menahem Begin tried to cultivate Kahane as a source of dynamism to invigorate the newly-formed Likud. Yet even the Right began to fear Kahane’s penchant for paranoia and self-promotion.

In 1980 he was imprisoned without trial for nine months in Ramle prison because of a plan to blow up the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.

Four years later, his party Kach was elected to the Knesset. Yehuda Richter, number two on the Kach list, was serving a five-year prison term for shooting at Arab bus passengers. Kahane regarded him as “a true Maccabee”. By 1988, even the Likud was willing to ban Kach from taking part in that year’s election.

Kahane’s followers have belonged to a number of different far-right groups.  In the 1980s, his disciples formed the group TNT (“Terror Against Terror”) to attack Palestinian militants. Later, the Kahane Chai (“Kahane Lives”) faction was led by his son Binyamin — until he and his wife were killed in an ambush by Palestinian nationalists.

The latest faction, Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit), this week merged with the Jewish Home party, seemingly egged on by Benjamin Netanyahu to fortify his ability to form a future coalition.

It is, of course, wrong to speak ill of the dead — but there are exceptions. Today we face the dire prospect of Kahanists in a future Knesset.

A case indeed of Kahane Chai — Kahane Lives.

Jewish Chronicle 21 February 2019

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