Kahane at 80: In Retrospect

Rabbi Meir Kahane, had he not been murdered, would be turning 80 this week. Beloved by his followers and reviled by his detractors, he was of a different mold than today's American Jewish leadership. In memoriam.

Att'y Steven M. Goldberg


[Note: The writer has requested that we add that the opinions stated in this article are his own and not necessarily reflective of the positions of those organizations in which he is active. The ZOA in particular, has dissociated itself from the contents of this article ].

It is painful, without anesthetic, to ponder the current leadership of American Jewry. Masters of fundraising and virtuosos in the art of holding dinners and bestowing awards on their wealthiest donors, these so-called leaders are AWOL when it comes to staking out bold policies and engaging in effective activism.

The same could not have been said about Rabbi Meir Kahane, who would be turning 80 on August 1 had he not been murdered by a Muslim terrorist in a Manhattan hotel room in 1990. No American Jewish leader has been more controversial. Beloved by his followers and reviled by his detractors, Kahane was anything but milquetoast. His Zionism was a powerful brew, undiluted by political correctness.

Kahane was a precocious activist. When he was only 15 he was arrested for throwing eggs and tomatoes at British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevins, who was responsible for restricting Jewish immigration into Palestine after World War II.

Subsequently, after becoming both a rabbi and a lawyer, Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in 1968. The JDL escorted elderly Jews attending Shabbat services in marginal neighborhoods and physically confronted anti-Semites.

Under Kahane's leadership, the JDL also began actively protesting against the Soviet Union's institutionalized oppression of Jews and refusal to allow Jews to emigrate and make aliyah.

Kahane himself made aliyah in 1971. He founded Kach, which advocated Israeli annexation of all of the territories liberated in the Six Day War and transfer of Israel's Arab population to the neighboring Arab states, a policy which Kahane described as "completing the exchange of populations" that had begun in 1948 when the Arab states forcibly expelled approximately 750,000 Jews.

Kahane won a seat in the Knesset in 1984, and he and Kach were gaining in popularity and likely to win additional Knesset mandates in 1988 when the Israeli government adopted a law for the specific purpose of banning him from running for the Knesset. So much for democracy and free speech.

Israel sorely misses Kahane. When Arabs gleefully attack Jews on the Mount of Olives, throw stones at cars and buses driven by Jews and set forest fires, all with impunity, it is apparent that there is a gaping void in Israeli leadership. Kahane was not shy about expressing his views. He said, '"Nothing is more justified than revenge in the right time and place."

There is little doubt he would have organized civilian groups to defend Jewish lives and property, including with physical force, where the police have failed. Arabs attempting to murder Jews by throwing rocks with them or assaulting them on the roads would be met with a devastating response from Jewish self-defense groups.

This is not to endorse vigilantism in the normal course. A healthy state should have a monopoly on the use of violence. Israel, however, has become dysfunctional. The police look the other way as Israel's Jews are violently attacked by Arabs.

When the state no longer protects its citizens, the citizens have the right and the need to defend themselves. This inextinguishable human desire explained the popularity of Charles Bronson in "Death Wish" and Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry." The American-born Kahane understood that Jews have the need for human dignity that only self-defense and retribution can provide.

Kahane had the rare virtue of being a realist but not a defeatist. He held a sober, clear-eyed view of the Muslim world. He did not hesitate to say that the reason for the ongoing Arab war on Israel is Islamic anti-Semitism, not Israel's policies.

It cannot be disputed... that he was fearless in his devotion to the Jewish people and his willingness to tell the truth as he saw it. Today's Jewish leaders are missing the honesty gene that was so dominant in Kahane's DNA.
Kahane understood that the Arabs will never accept an infidel Jewish state on what they believe is holy Muslim land, and that territorial concessions and economic inducements will not ameliorate the Arabs' hatred of Jews. He unapologetically argued that peace would only come to Israel when Israel's Arabs relocate to a neighboring Muslim state. It was impolitic to say then and remains so today, but history is proving Kahane to be correct.

Today's Jewish leaders are missing the honesty gene that was so dominant in Kahane's DNA.

Israel's Prime Minister gave a disastrous speech at Bar-Ilan University supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, and continues to offer unilateral concessions to the Palestinian Authority, to solve what he believes is a political problem, i.e., the perception that he is not as peace-loving as the media and academic elites who act as his moral critics.

In the United States, it is impossible to find the leader of a major American Jewish organization with the courage to state the blunt but unpopular truth that the Oslo Accords are a proven failure and the so-called "two state solution" is dead. They are either blinded by wishful thinking or intimidated by fear of being branded as extremists.

Kahane was a flawed human being and some of his policy prescriptions were profoundly misguided.
For example, his views on sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews were theocratic, priggish and hypocritical.

It cannot be disputed, however, that he was fearless in his devotion to the Jewish people and his willingness to tell the truth as he saw it.

On August 1, the 80th anniversary of his birth, the Jewish people should give a prayer of thanks in his blessed memory. May we be inspired by the courage of Rabbi Meir Kahane, a Jewish hero.