Most positive things, if misused, can dually serve as a grave danger. Our Sages (Shabbat 88b) tell us that the Torah, the dynamic constitution of the Jewish people, is no exception to this phenomenon: if used responsibly and with sanctity, it has the capacity to be a “drug of life” – lifting up individuals, inspiring communities, and serving as the source of generational moral grace. If misused, however, it is at risk of being corrupted, degraded, and distorted; in the Sages’ words, it has the capacity to become a “drug of death.”
The toxic and dangerous ideology espoused by the late Meir Kahane is the epitome of this “drug of death.” Kahanism takes Judaism, a system of values that purveys acceptance, morality, and human rights, and distorts it to advance a vindictive, violent, and extremist agenda. Kahane’s political goals were vociferously racist both rhetorically and in practice: he advocated for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel, and the implementation of an order in which non-Jews lacked civil rights; he spoke in fundamentally bigoted terms, and encouraged others to adopt a similar bigoted outlook; and his politics led to numerous terror attacks by Jews against Arabs, including the attack in which Baruch Goldstein took up arms to murder 29 Arabs peacefully worshipping in a Hebron mosque. Despite their belief that they are doing God’s work, Kahanists are in fact corrupting the Divine message of tolerance and hope that defines the Abrahamic vision.
Judaism is the faith responsible for teaching the world that each individual – irrespective of faith, colour, or creed — was created in the image of God. Consequently, Judaism teaches about the importance of rights – that they are irrevocable, inalienable, and indisputable. It contends that those who are different from us deserve to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, for there is dignity that lies in our differences.
In contrast, Kahanism teaches about the transient nature of rights, about the superiority of one group over another, and about the legitimacy of political violence. It is antithetical to so many of the revolutionary ideas that Judaism espouses. It behooves each and every dedicated Jew to passionately condemn such a pernicious ideology.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facilitated a merger of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party into the larger “Religious Zionism” faction, which just signed a vote-sharing agreement with Likud. Thus, because of Netanyahu, the poison of Kahanism will likely be represented in the next Knesset, and its adherents may even sit in the next functional coalition. This legitimization of Kahanists in Israeli politics is nothing short of disgraceful. It is a foundational dereliction of the Jewish duty to be a light unto the nations, and to serve as an example of a dignified people that respects all those who reside among them.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, is a proud disciple of Meir Kahane, and was affiliated with Kach, the Kahanist party that was eventually outlawed in Israel due to its racism. Ben-Gvir was rejected by the Israeli army due to his fanatical political affiliations. Moreover, until removing it in an effort to be included in Naftali Bennett’s electoral list, he had a glorifying picture of the previously mentioned Jewish terrorist, Baruch Goldstein, hanging in his home. It is clear that all Jewish individuals and organizations – both in Israel and in the Diaspora – should unequivocally condemn not only Kahanism, but the effort by Netanyahu to legitimize it. It flies in the face of Jewish and Israeli values, and it should deeply sadden those who believe strongly in Jewish and Israeli ideals.
Although I am not Israeli, I feel a strong connection to Israel, and I am set to live there next year for yeshiva study. A political atmosphere that legitimizes racists and extremists is not the Israel I know and love, which provides rights regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation, and although not always perfect, works to provide equal opportunity for all. Kahanism is a manifestation of the Talmudic “drug of death,” and it is in direct opposition of authentic Torah values.
While it purports to be speaking in the name of Judaism, in reality, Kahanism is a grave threat to the fabric of Israel and the Jewish world, and its legitimization lends credence to slanderous accusations made by people who speak against the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The Jewish world should vocally oppose efforts to legitimize Kahanist voices, making it clear that our faith demands a respect for diversity, a commitment to human rights, and a passion for tolerance.