Meir David Kahane was a Jewish religious & Israeli nationalist activist who founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL). His controversial nature is a testament to the fact that he has been referred to as both a "visionary hero of the Jewish people" and as a "criminal racist" or "Kahanazi"
Kahane (born August 1, 1932; died November 5, 1990) was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Rabbi Charles Kahane, was involved in the Revisionist Zionist movement, and was a close friend of Vladimir Jabotinsky. As a teenager, Meir became active in Betar, the militant revisionist youth movement.
Kahane received a degree in International Law from New York University, and ordination from the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He edited the Jewish Press, and served as a pulpit rabbi and teacher in New York until the mid-1960's. He also partnered with the government in rallying Jewish support for the Vietnam War.
His life's work, however, really started in 1968, when he founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL), whose activities were aimed at self-defense of the Jewish community in Brooklyn and harassment of Soviet activities in New York as a protest against the treatment of Jews in Russia. Kahane saw many of the poor and elderly Jews living in the inner-city being targeted by criminals; as a result, he set out to change the image of the Jew from "weak and vulnerable" to one of a "mighty fighter, who strikes back fiercely against tyrants." The JDL's controversial methods, which frequently included the threat of, or actual violence, greatly exacerbated the Black-Jewish tension already present in New York City. The JDL also focused on the plight of Soviet Jewry, and coined the phrases "Never again," and "every Jew a .22" to emphasize that Jews would no longer passively ignore the plight of their foreign brethren.
While some saw Kahane's goals as laudable, his actions were often criminal. He spent time in jail after being convicted of conspiring to make bombs.
Kahane and his family moved to Israel in 1971, where he founded the militantly anti-Arab Kach political party. The party's platform called for the anexation of all conquered territories and the forcible removal of all Palestinians. Under the auspices of Kach, Kahane continued to lobby for his beliefs in violent ways, and was jailed on several occasions. He was the first Jew in Israel to ever be accused of sedition.
Kahane ran for Knesset and lost in 1976 and 1980, but was finally elected in 1984. His movement continued to grow until, prior to the 1988 Knesset elections, the Kach party was banned from running by a Labor-Likud coalition. The ban was based on an amendment added to Israel's Basic Law that disqualified any candidate whose platform included "incitment to racism."
Two years later, in 1990, Kahane was assassinated in New York City. An Egyptian-born Arab was acquitted of the murder on technicalities but in 1995 was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment for his involvement in Muslim fundamentalist terror in New York in relation to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
During his life, Kahane attempted to spread his message through a variety of forums. He wrote numerous books espousing his opinions; his most famous work, They Must Go, is alternately called a "magnum opus" by Kahane's followers, and compared to Mein Kampf by his detractors. He also founded a seminary in Jerusalem, called the "Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea." The school, which still exists today, attempts to combine a traditional Jewish education with right-wing political activism.
Even after his death, Kahane has had a tremendous influence on the Israeli political scene. In March 1994, the Kach party and its offshoot, Kahane Chai ("Kahane Lives"), founded by Kahane's son Binyamin Zev, were officially designated as terrorist organizations by both the Israeli government and the U.S. State Department. The immediate cause of this designation was the February 1994 attack on the al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, in which Kach member Baruch Goldstein shot 34 Muslims. Kach supported Goldstein's actions, and referred to him as a "hero." More recently, Binyamin Zev Kahane made waves by condoning Yigal Amir's 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Binyamin Zev Kahane was murdered by Arab extremists in 2001, as he traveled with his family in the West Bank. Several attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank during the "al-Aksa intifada" have been attributed to settlers affiliated with Kach or Kahane Chai.
Sources: The Authentic Jewish Idea; The Jewish Defense League; Friedman, Robert I., The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane: From FBI Informant to Knesset Member, London, 1990; Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
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