Martin David (Meir David) Kahane - biography
Martin David Kahane also known as Meir Kahane (Hebrew: מאיר דוד כהנא), and by the pen-names Benyac and David Sinai and the pseudonyms Michael King, David Borac, and Martin Keene (1 August 1932 – 5 November 1990) was an American-Israeli rabbi and ultra-nationalist writer and political figure. He was an ordained Orthodox rabbi and later served as a member of the Israeli parliament or Knesset.
Kahane gained recognition as an activist for Jewish causes, such organizing Jewish self-defense groups in deteriorating neighborhoods and struggling for the right of Soviet Jews to immigrate. Later he was known in the United States and Israel for political and religious views that included proposing emergency Jewish mass-immigration to Israel due to the imminent threat of a "second Holocaust" in the United States, advocating that Israel's democracy be replaced by a state modeled on Jewish religious law, and promoting the idea of a Greater Israel in which Israel would annex the West Bank and Gaza strip. In order to keep Arabs, whom he stated would never accept Israel as a Jewish state, from becoming a numerical majority in Israel, he proposed a plan allowing Arabs to voluntarily leave Israel and receive compensation for their property, and forcibly removing Arabs who refused.
Kahane founded both the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in the USA and Kach ("This is the Way!"), an Israeli political party. In 1984 he became a member of the Knesset when Kach gained one seat in parliamentary elections. In 1988, the Israeli government banned Kach as "racist" and "undemocratic" under the terms of an ad hoc law. In 1994, following the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre perpetrated by a Kahane follower, Kach was outlawed completely. The U.S. State Department listed it as a terrorist organization in 1994.
Kahane was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel by an Arab gunman in November 1990, after concluding a speech warning American Jews to emigrate to Israel before it was "too late."
Early life and education
Kahane was born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York in 1932 to an Orthodox Jewish family. His father, Rabbi Yechezkel Sharaga Kahane, was born in Safed, Ottoman Palestine (in present-day Israel), in 1905, and went to study in Polish and Czech yeshiva religious schools.
As a teenager, he became an ardent admirer of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Peter Bergson, who were frequent guests in his parents' home, and joined the Betar (Brit Trumpeldor) youth wing of Revisionist Zionism. He was active in protests against Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary who blocked the immigration of Nazi death camp survivors to Palestine and opposed Israel's independence in favor of creating a Hashemite Arab monarchy dependent on British power. In 1954, he became the mazkir (director) of Greater New York’s sixteen Bnei Akiva chapters.
Kahane’s formal education included elementary school at the Yeshivah of Flatbush and high school at the Brooklyn Talmudical Academy. Kahane received his rabbinical ordination from the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, and earned a B.A. in political science from Brooklyn College. He was fully conversant with the Talmud and Tanakh (Jewish Bible), and worked as a pulpit rabbi and teacher in the 1960s. Subsequently, he earned a J.D. from New York Law School and an L.L.M. from New York University Law School.
]Serving as Pulpit Rabbi
In 1956, Kahane married Libby, with whom he had four children. In 1958, he became the rabbi of the Howard Beach Jewish Center. Located in Queens, New York, the synagogue was traditional rather than strictly Orthodox. At the Jewish Center, Kahane influenced many of the synagogue’s youngsters to adopt a more observant lifestyle. But when he attempted to install a mechitzah, a partition that is used to separate men and women, many of the key synagogue members turned against him. His contract was not renewed and he soon published an article entitled “End of the Miracle of Howard Beach.” This was Kahane’s first article in the Jewish Press, American-Jewish weekly, where he continued to write until his murder in 1990.
Infiltrating John Birch Society
In the late 1950s to early 1960s Kahane led a life of secrecy. His strong anti-Communist views landed him a position as a consultant with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). His assignment was to infiltrate the right-wing John Birch Society and report his findings back to the FBI.
As reported by Michael T. Kaufman in The New York Times (and subsequently followed up by The Village Voice in the early 1980s), Kahane (under his pseudonym Michael King) had an affair with a gentile woman, Gloria Jean D'Argenio. In 1966, Kahane/King sent a letter to D'Argenio in which he unilaterally ended their relationship. In response, D'Argenio jumped off the Queensboro ("59th Street") Bridge; she died of her injuries the next day. According to Kaufman, Kahane admitted to him that "he loved Ms D'Argenio and had sent roses to her grave for months after her death."
Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in New York City in 1968. JDL's self-described purpose was to protect Jews from local manifestations of anti-Semitism. These issues were very relevant at the time of mass exodus of urban Jewish population into suburbs and those unable or unwilling to move often becoming victims of violent crimes in the racially and ethnically changing neighborhoods. JDL members led protests against anti-Semitic teachers in the public school system, provided escorts for elderly Jews and educated Jewish youth in the art of self-defense. However, it was the criticism of the Soviet Union that garnered support for the group, transforming it from a "vigilante club" to an activist organization with membership numbering over 15,000. JDL organized mass rallies in New York against the Soviet Union's policy of persecuting Zionist activists and curbing Jewish immigration to Israel. JDL played lead role in the "Free Soviet Jewry" movement ("Let My People Go!") and pushed for the release of Russian refuseniks and their resettlement in Israel. JDL also protested against the oppression of Jewish population in Muslim countries, fought Neo-Nazis in the United States and resisted Christian missionaries' activity to convert Jews.
Emigration to Israel, Knesset service
In 1971, Rabbi Kahane fulfilled his lifelong dream and emigrated to Israel. In Israel he established the Kach party. In 1980, Kahane stood unsuccessfully for election to the Knesset. That same year, Kahane was arrested for the 62nd time since his emigration and jailed for six months following a detention order based on allegations of planning retaliatory terror attacks against Palestinians.
The Central Elections Committee had banned him from being a candidate on the grounds that Kach was a racist party, but the Israeli High Court determined that the Committee was not authorized to ban Kahane's candidacy. The High Court suggested that the Knesset should pass a law that would authorize the exclusion of racist parties from future elections, and the Anti-Racist Law of 1988 was later passed.In 1984, Kahane was elected as a Member of the Knesset (MK). Kahane refused to take the standard oath of office and insisted on adding a Biblical verse from Psalms, to indicate that when the national laws and Torah conflict, Torah (Biblical) law should have supremacy over the laws of the Knesset.
Kahane's legislative proposals focused on transferring hostile Arab population out of Israel, revoking the Israeli citizenship for non-Jews and banning Jewish-Gentile marriages and sexual relations, based on the Code of Jewish Law compiled by Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah.
As his political career progressed, Kahane became increasingly isolated in the Knesset. His speeches, boycotted by Knesset members, were made to an empty parliament, except for the duty chairman and the transcriptionist. Kahane's legislative proposals and motions of no-confidence against the government were ignored or rejected by fellow Knesset members. Kahane often pejoratively called other Knesset members "Hellenists" in Hebrew (a reference to Jews who assimilated into Greek culture after Judea's occupation by Alexander the Great). In 1987, Rabbi Kahane opened a yeshiva (HaRaayon HaYehudi) with funding from US supporters, for the teaching of "the Authentic Jewish Idea".
Despite the boycott, Kahane's popularity grew. Polls showed that Kach would have likely received three to four seats in the coming November 1988 elections, with some earlier polls forecasting as many as twelve seats (10% of popular vote), possibly making Kach Israel's third largest party.
In 1985, the Knesset passed an amendment to Israel's Basic Law, barring "racist" candidates from election. The committee banned Kahane a second time, and he appealed to the Israeli High Court. This time the court found in favor of the committee, disqualifying Kach from running in the 1988 elections. Rabbi Kahane was thus the first candidate in Israel to be barred from election for political reasons.
In November 1990, following a speech to an audience of mostly Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn, as a crowd of well-wishers gathered around Kahane in the second-floor lecture hall in midtown Manhattan's Marriott East Side Hotel, Kahane was assassinated. The prime suspect, El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian-born American citizen, was subsequently acquitted of murder but convicted on gun possession charges. Kahane was buried in Jerusalem. The killer was recharged, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment some years later, after the discovery of his membership in one of Sheikh Omar Abd El-Rahman's terror cells connected to Al-Qaeda in the United States and responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. During the filming of a documentary on Kahane, Nosair sent a letter in which he admitted he was the killer.
Kahane argued that there was a glory in Jewish destiny, which came through the observance of the Torah. He stated that, "democracy and Judaism are not the same thing."
Kahane also believed that a Jewish democracy with non-Jewish citizens was self-contradictory because the non-Jewish citizens might someday become a numerical majority and vote to make the state non-Jewish: "The question is as follows: if the Arabs settle among us and make enough children to become a majority, will Israel continue to be a Jewish state? Do we have to accept that the Arab majority will decide?" "Western democracy has to be ruled out. For me that's cut and dried: there's no question of setting up democracy in Israel, because democracy means equal rights for all, irrespective of racial or religious origins."
Kahane proposed the forcible deportation of nearly all Arabs from all lands controlled by the Israeli government. He framed this deportation as an "exchange of populations" that would continue the Jewish exodus from Arab lands: "A total of some 750,000 Jews fled Arab lands since 1948. Surely it is time for Jews, worried over the huge growth of Arabs in Israel, to consider finishing the exchange of populations that began 35 (50) years ago." Kahane proposed a $40,000 compensation plan for Arabs who would leave voluntarily, force "for those who don’t want to leave," and encouraged retaliatory violence against Arabs who attacked Jews: "I approve of anybody who commits such acts of violence. Really, I don’t think that we can sit back and watch Arabs throwing rocks at buses whenever they feel like it. They must understand that a bomb thrown at a Jewish bus is going to mean a bomb thrown at an Arab bus."
Kahane proposed a Jewish state "according to the description given in the Bible." He said, "the southern boundary goes up to El Arish, which takes in all of northern Sinai, including Yamit. To the east, the frontier runs along the western part of the East Bank of the Jordan river, hence part of what is now Jordan. Eretz Yisrael also includes part of Lebanon and certain parts of Syria, and part of Iraq, all the way to the Tigris River. When critics suggested this would mean perpetual war between Jews and Arabs, Kahane answered, "There will be a perpetual war. With or without Kahane."
Following Kahane's death, no charismatic leader emerged to replace him in the movement, although the idea of transferring populations gained traction in Israel. Two small Kahanist factions later emerged; one under the name of Kach and the other Kahane chai (Hebrew: כהנא חי, literally "Kahane lives [on]"), lead by his younger son, Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane.
In 1994, following the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre of Palestinian Muslim worshippers in Hebron by Kach supporter Dr. Baruch Goldstein, in which 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers were killed, the Israeli government declared both parties to be terrorist organizations. The U.S. State Department also added Kach and Kahane Chai to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Providing funds or material support to these organizations is a crime in both Israel and the USA.
In late 2000, as bombing attacks on Israel during the Al-Aqsa Intifada began, Kahane supporters spray-painted graffiti on hundreds of bus shelters and bridges all across Israel. The message on each target was identical, simply reading: "Kahane was Right". On December 31, 2000, Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane and his wife Talya were shot to death as they returned from Jerusalem to their home in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Tapuach, and their children wounded. Palestinian gunmen fired more than 60 machine-gun rounds into their van.
In the 2003 Knesset elections Herut, which split off from the National Union list, ran with Michael Kleiner and former Kach activist Baruch Marzel taking the top two spots on the list. The joint effort narrowly missed the 1.5% barrier. In the following 2006 elections Jewish National Front led by Baruch Marzel, fared better but also failed to pass the minimum threshold. Michael Ben-Ari, elected to the Knesset in the 2009 elections on renewed National Union list, is a self-declared follower of Rabbi Kahane who was involved with Kach for many years.
In an article written in January 2001 on a forum of the Jewish Defense League, activist Joe Kaufman praised the Kahane movement and its founder Meir Kahane. In that article Kaufman said of Kahane: "It was perfectly understandable, if he were to have hated Arabs. Just like, during the Holocaust, it was perfectly understandable for a Jew to hate Germans…If the Kahanes' memory serves us any purpose, it's to show that trust (and peace) is ultimately between only ourselves."
In a 1971 interview, Bob Dylan made positive comments about Kahane. In Time Magazine, Dylan stated, "He's a really sincere guy. He's really put it all together." According to Kahane, Dylan did attend several meetings of the Jewish Defense League in order to find out "what we're all about" and started to have talks with the rabbi.
- (Partially under pseudonym Michael King; with Joseph Churba) The Jewish Stake in Vietnam, Crossroads, 1967
- Never Again! A Program for Survival, Pyramid Books, 1972
- Time to Go Home, Nash, 1972.
- Letters from Prison, Jewish Identity Center, 1974
- Our Challenge: The Chosen Land, Chilton, 1974
- The Story of the Jewish Defense League, Chilton, 1975, 2nd edition, Institute for *Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, (Brooklyn, NY), 2000
- Why Be Jewish? Intermarriage, Assimilation, and Alienation, Stein & Day, 1977
- Listen, Vanessa, I Am a Zionist, Institute of the Authentic Jewish Idea, 1978
- They Must Go, Grosset & Dunlop, 1981
- Forty Years, Institute of the Jewish Idea, 2nd edition, 1983
- Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews, Lyle Stuart, 1987
- Israel: Revolution or Referendum, Barricade Books (Secaucus, NJ), 1990
- Or ha-ra'yon, English title: The Jewish Idea, n.p. (Jerusalem), 1992, translated from the Hebrew by Raphael Blumberg, Institute for Publication of the Writings of *Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1996
- On Jews and Judaism: Selected Articles 1961–1990, Institute for Publication of the *Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1993
- Perush ha-Makabi: al Sefer Devarim, Institute for Publication of the Writings of *Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1993, 1995
- Pirush HaMaccabee: al Sefer Shemu'el u-Nevi'im rishonim, Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1994
- Listen World, Listen Jew, 3rd edition, Institute for the Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1995
- Beyond Words, 1st edition, Institute for the Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 2010.
- Kohen ve-navi: osef ma'amarim, ha-Makhon le-hotsa'at kitve ha-Rav Kahana (Jerusalem), 2000
- Cuckooland, illustrated by Shulamith bar Itzhak (yet unpublished).
- DVD-quality downloadable videos of Meir Kahane's lectures, SamsonBlinded.org