Israeli elections: Was Kahane racist?

Racism is not a charge to be bandied about lightly, but in the case of Kahane, it is used without qualifications.

David Rubin, | updated: 08:56

David Rubin
David Rubin
David Rubin

Almost thirty years after his brutal assassination by a Muslim terrorist, former Knesset Member Rabbi Meir Kahane is back in the news and the name-calling has returned, as well. This time, however, it’s not directed only at him.

The tactical "Union of Right-Wing Parties" was formed last week, combining the three right-wing lists of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), National Union, and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) parties, a bold move intended to combine the various right-wing streams of religious Zionism under one roof for the April 9th elections.


They have openly attacked the “racist” ideology of Rabbi Kahane, an epithet apparently due to his public campaign  against intermarriage between Arab men and Jewish women and his open call to encourage the emigration of Arabs from Israel.
The problem for many is that Otzma Yehudit is based on the teachings of Rabbi Kahane, which has aroused the harsh criticism of some liberal rabbis, mostly Reform, in America, plus one noted rabbi in Israel  (See Haaretz, where he is defined as left, and says doesn't vote Bayit Yehudi) as well as supposedly impartial American organizations with liberal leadership, such as ADL and AIPAC. They have openly attacked the “racist” ideology of Rabbi Kahane, an epithet apparently due to his public campaign decades ago against intermarriage between Arab men and Jewish women and his open call to encourage the emigration of Arabs from Israel.

In our current election season, their message is that a vote for the Union is a vote for racism, since the Otzma component is supposedly racist and the other parties in the Union are cooperating with Otzma, which derives its policy positions from the teachings of Rabbi Kahane.

The central question must be asked:

Was Kahane a racist? For those who didn’t know him personally or are perhaps too young to have heard beyond the word “racist”, let’s first understand the background of this admittedly very controversial figure.

Hailing from New York, Rabbi Kahane was steeped in Torah knowledge, acquired from respected haredi Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn and esteemed Israeli Zionist rabbis, as well as from the great sages of the generations, but he also possessed extensive secular knowledge and held two higher degrees from American universities. A strong defender of Jews in America, in the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere, Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League and coined the slogan, “Never Again”, which meant that never again should Jews remain passive when Jewish lives are at stake.

Eventually moving to Israel, Kahane was an extremely passionate Zionist, inspired by early Zionist heroes, such as Ze’ev Jabotinsky and David Raziel, but he was first and foremost a believing Jew, who proudly recited the Hallel prayer on Israel’s yearly Independence Day (with a full blessing).

Kahane had his many detractors and he had an aggressive, sometimes abrasive, political style designed to gain publicity for his message, and that delighted many of his followers. However, that same characteristic also turned away many would-be supporters.

Nonetheless, despite the image, the issues remained the same and were always based on his understanding of Torah. When he complained about the demographic threat from a growing and hostile Muslim population in Israel, and proposed plans to encourage their emigration, he was called a racist, although his calls for the non-granting of automatic citizenship to that same hostile population were based on the teachings of the great rabbinical sage, the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben-Maimon).

When he helped Jewish women to escape Arab villages to break the chains of marriage to Muslim men, he was called a racist, although he had based those efforts on the example of the great Jewish leader Ezra, who had led the return from Babylonian exile and had spoken out vehemently about the rampant intermarriage in his time.

Racism is not a charge to be bandied about lightly, but in the case of Kahane, that is what happened. His positions, however, had nothing to do with race. They did have to do with furthering Jewish continuity, which I presume AIPAC and ADL and the liberal rabbis all care about. It also had to do with the survival of Israel as a Jewish state.

Perhaps due to his warnings and those of others, the demographic tide has turned in recent years. Jewish Israelis are now returning to traditional family life in increasing numbers, and the birthrate gap between Jews and Muslims is almost non-existent, an impressive trend that is evident across the religious spectrum. Nonetheless, the challenge of a hostile Arab fifth-column within, especially the so-called Palestinian Arabs, remains, and now they are armed with weapons that successive Israeli governments have allowed them to possess.

Kahane was not a racist. He loved his fellow Jews, whether they were black, brown, white, or yellow and he loved the responsibility of being a part of the Chosen People with all its races and backgrounds. He also was passionate about bringing Jews closer to Jewish tradition and helping the next generations rebuild the Land of Israel. Furthermore, while he was a committed Zionist who believed in rebuilding the land with Jewish sweat and sacrifice, he also knew how to work cooperatively with non-Jews, when needed, to further those goals.

The joining of the three religious Zionist parties, with Otzma included, does not mean that they all have to accept the Kahane philosophy, but it does mean that they all recognize the need to unite, so that a minimum of votes are wasted, as they further their joint commitment to the Torah of Israel, to the rebuilding of the complete Land of Israel, and the strengthening of the People of Israel.

Let’s put an end to the dishonest name-calling, which is, after all, the last refuge of non-thinkers, and let’s encourage a vigorous, respectful, and healthy debate of the issues, with good results for all of Israel!




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