Robert L. Kern

Meir Kahane slept on my couch

His ideology is alive and well and his adherents will be seated as members of Israel’s new government
Illustrative: Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1984 (center photo by Bernard Gotfryd, US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, PD)
Illustrative: Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1984 (center photo by Bernard Gotfryd, US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, PD)

I wasn’t particularly happy about it. But it was also someone else’s couch that happened to be in the apartment. My roommates were asked to host Meir Kahane because our apartment was Shomer Shabbat (I was not, although I tried to respect the apartment rules) and relatively close to the old Rutgers Hillel building on Ryders Lane in New Brunswick, NJ where he was invited to speak. When I voiced my misgivings, they shamed me into it by saying it is wrong to turn away another Jew for Shabbat.

He was somewhat civil and diplomatic in public, however back in the apartment with us and other guests from the building, he relaxed and stopped being so polite. For nearly two hours he spewed racist, hateful, bigoted comments about all non-Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, Arabs and especially Muslims, Christian Arabs and Palestinians. Kahane was adamant that every Arab in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank needed to be deported to ensure that the country retain its Jewish majority. He also told us that democracy was inconsistent with Jewish values, advocated that halakha should be the one and only law of Israel and wanted to outlaw all intermarriage, both in Israel and worldwide.

I expected to hear his vitriol concerning Arab/Palestinian Israelis and his advocacy for population transfer. However, the extent of his hatred of non-Orthodox Judaism surprised me. I had experienced disrespect for Conservative and Reform Judaism before – not being counted in a minyan and being told that saying kaddish in a Reform synagogue was the same as saying it in a bathroom – however Kahane stated that non-Orthodox Jews shouldn’t be considered Jewish at all and should be denied the right to Israel’s “Law of Return.” (חוק השבות)

Kahane served just one term in Israel’s Knesset before being banned; was found guilty in an Israeli court for plotting to blow up the Libyan Embassy in Brussels in retaliation for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany; was convicted in Israel for acts of terrorism and was also found guilty in New York for conspiracy to manufacture explosives. His “Kach” political party (Israel) was even banned in the US as a terrorist organization. Yet he has continued to inspire followers to commit heinous acts, even though he has been dead for more than 32 years. Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers and wounded 125 at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a 1994 terror attack and Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 in Tel Aviv were both Kahanists.

Why bring him up now?

Kahane was assassinated in a NY hotel on November 5, 1990, by an Egyptian American and many had hoped that his message of hate would die with him. Sadly, his ideology is alive and well and his adherents will be seated as members of Israel’s new government.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of Meir Kahane and in Israel’s recent election he campaigned to expel “disloyal” Israeli (Arab) citizens and institute the death penalty for “terrorists.” He, along with Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism Party and the Noam Party’s Avi Maoz, are brazenly spewing Kahane’s worldview.

All three will hold prominent places in Netanyahu’s government. Ben Gvir has been promised the newly created portfolio of Minister of National Security, giving him authority over police and border police in the territories and Smotrich will have control over the Defense Ministry agencies dealing with the construction of Jewish settlements and Palestinian and Israeli civilian life in the West Bank. Both want to annex Judea and Samaria and would like to see the Palestinian Arab population reduced or removed. Avi Maoz, a homophobe, misogynist and racist, is poised to take charge of extracurricular activities in Israel’s pluralistic state schools. He is also expected to institute more religious content. Maoz is particularly outspoken in his hatred of Reform Judaism (40 congregations/communities in Israel, more than 40 in the Former Soviet Union, 850+ in the US and Canada and 1,200+ worldwide) and will direct Nativ, Israel’s governmental body that determines who is eligible to make aliyah from Russia.

In 1995 Itamar Ben Gvir broke off the hood ornament of Yitzhak Rabin’s car. In a chilling foreshadowing of what was to take place only weeks later, he boasted “We got to his car and we’ll get to him too.” To return to power, Netanyahu is shepherding the government to take a sharp and dangerous shift to the far right. And while Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, is probably dancing in his jail cell, feeling vindicated, non-Orthodox and world Jewry and pluralistic Israelis are being disenfranchised.

About the Author
Robert L. Kern has served as Director of Marketing & Communications for several "American Friends," Zionist and Jewish organizations. He is a former President of the American Jewish Public Relations Society and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Press Association. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.
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