People of Deed – Kahane Right-wing Extremism confronted in 1984

This is an untold story of 35 years ago, when an anonymous political endeavor created the first and only Israeli Unity Govrnment and countered the threat of Kahane. It is written by Judah Botzer, who was a member of Joseph Safra’s Yosef HaIvri ViAnshei Maaseh.

… A special meeting had been called in the Beit Malacha, the Workshop, where an old industrial zone warehouse was being transformed into a showcase of fine crafted Jerusalem pine.

It was the summer of 1984 as the 40 or so of us were perched on our self-made Oriental embroidered mattresses as slender white-shirted, mustached, graying hair slicked back Joseph slowly slinked into the room.

His Cheshire cat grin stiffened as his translucent blue eyes pierced forth like a hawk on his prey. Joseph prompted us with the question with the whim of a foretold conclusion. What do you think about getting Kahane out of the Knesset, the Parliament, and simultaneously forming a Unity government? We will call this experiment HaProyect HaPoliti, the political project.

For more than four years we had been inundating ourselves with the insights of the likes of Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, Castaneda, and one another, embarking on many projects and gatherings of self-discovery while keeping meticulous journals that were read openly in many an all-night vigil. Again, Joseph swept us along under his charismatic wing. Adding another hour to the 24-hour day, we met around the clock, even on the Sabbath, until the work was done.

Meir Kahane was a fascist right-wing Orthodox rabbi. He founded the JDL (Jewish Defense League) which took root on the streets of New York City. Many of its followers trained in the martial arts. Wherever Jews were assaulted the JDL would provide retribution. Kahane went on to form Kach, standing for Koach, Strength! The party slogan was “Nitapel Bahem! We’ll take care of them!” A derogatory slur to all Arabs in Israel’s midst, including its Arab citizens. They called for a transfer, a deportation of all Arabs, not a far cry from the Nazi transfer of the Jews. On yellow banners and arm bands was a black silhouette of a raised tight fist. In national elections, Kahane and Kach had just earned two seats at the table and were sure to put Arabs on the menu. I had been witnessing this progression with horror watching the mongering mobs sometimes numbering a thousand hypnotized by Kahane’s frothing mouth spewing saliva and hatred. As Israel’s right and left mud wrestled in gridlock, Kahane began his rise to prominence with his fanatical racism, indeed a scary omen to a rising tide.

Joseph and his band took on the name Yosef HaIvri ViAnshei Maaseh, Joseph the Hebrew and People of Deed, and jumped into action. Posters sprouted up throughout Jerusalem neighborhoods. Paid advertisements were appearing regularly in main newspapers under titles such as, “Apathy Leads to the Abyss!” Waves of synchronized phone calls encouraged party leaders to take bold steps. Venturing into the streets with full body placards we roused debate. Like a conductor leading a symphony, when Joseph raised his arm, somebody started typing. When he looked to the door, somebody started running with the letter. If he sat down, cigarettes and coffee were fetched.

For 30 days from an impromptu headquarters, Joseph HaIvri and the People of Deed changed the course of history, drilling home a campaign of national reconciliation – a Keiruv HaLivavot, an ingathering of hearts. The spirit of an enlightened democracy that had no room for Kahane and his thugs. As Israel’s parliament convened its first Unity government and Kahane and Kach were ousted, Joseph the Hebrew and People of Deed were bestowing flowers throughout its chambers. After that moment, the experiment ended, Joseph the Hebrew and People of Deed vanished … but not completely. Somewhere in the desert sands they roam, turning it into an oasis.

Meanwhile from Kahane’s ashes have risen again a behemoth. Otzmah Yehudit! Jew Power! As this party links arms with Netanyahu will the ghosts of racism forever plunder? Will the plowshares turn to swords or the swords back to plowshares? What will it take for human consciousness to finally rise and bridge over our divides?

Even as new seeds of change are sown are there not clouds gathering on the horizon thundering like war drums? Is there another medicine man or woman like Joseph stirring up a special brew? If you are? Quick, get some help. It’s time to put a little love in the water supply!

Judah Botzer has lived in Taos County since 1991. He resides in Tres Piedras with his dog Tzilah and his cat Yedidah. He lived in Israel between 1975 and 1990.

About the Author
Lou Balcher served from 2004 - 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College's Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B'nai B'rith International. For three decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. Additionally, he consults as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens.