Photo Credit: Jewish Press
Rabbi Meir Kahane

Rabbi Meir Kahane was murdered on November 5, 1990. His death left a void that remains unfilled 25 years later.

His assassination was the first act of Islamist terrorism on U.S. soil. Members of the terrorist cell involved in his killing were later responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing, in February 1993.


It is truly regrettable that much of what has been written or spoken about the rabbi in the years since his death – often by individuals who never actually heard any of his lectures or read any of his books – has been unfair and untrue,

Rabbi Kahane has been maligned as a lover of violence and confrontation. He has been accused of having extreme beliefs that did not comply with Jewish thought.

Nothing could be more removed from the truth.

Rabbi Kahane said that though violence is never good, it is sometimes necessary in order for Jews to protect themselves against danger or attack.

I have heard it said the rabbi was an anti-Arab racist. He did not hate Arabs. He understood their culture and its clash with the Western mindset. He said it was wrong to think their national aspirations could be exchanged for what the Israeli government proudly touted as “the highest standard of living of any Arabs throughout the Middle East.” He called it patronizing. He said he understood the Arabs but was baffled by the Jews.

The rabbi grew up as a Brooklyn boy who often fought his way to and from school because he would not take off his kippah. He sometimes arrived bruised and battered, but the kippah remained on his head. He had been on the streets. He was stalwart in his convictions.

When Jewish neighborhoods changed in the 1960s, the elderly and poor were left behind to fend for themselves. Gangs and thugs delighted in attacking them. Rabbi Kahane formed the Jewish Defense League based on an ideology of love for one’s fellow Jew.

The rabbi encouraged his followers to heed the Torah’s words “Do not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood.” Tough Jews manned citizen patrols and erased the perception that Jewish people were easy targets.

For many decades the Jews of the Soviet Union had suffered in a hellhole of anti-Semitism. Engaging in Jewish rituals was punishable by imprisonment. It was illegal to own a Hebrew book or teach about the Jewish religion. Jewish “refuseniks” were sent to forced labor camps, often in Siberia.

The rabbi and his followers held loud rallies demanding “Let my people go.” They engaged in sit-down demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience that got them arrested. They harassed Soviet representatives.

The techniques were effective. The Soviet Jewry issue became the subject of front-page headlines. Mainstream Jewish organizations ratcheted up the intensity of their own protests. After great effort and personal sacrifice, Soviet Jews were finally allowed to leave.

Some Jews were uncomfortable with Kahane-style activism. They were embarrassed by the brash methods of this group. They did not want Jews to be seen as “making trouble.”

Rabbi Kahane held that the stereotypical idea of a Jew as weak and inept was the result of long centuries of exile. He reminded us that the Jewish nation sprang from such formidable warriors as King David, the Maccabees, and Bar Kochba.

He often spoke with sorrow and anger about the lack of an adequate Jewish response during the Holocaust. The silence was, in fact, deafening. He decried the American Jewish establishment’s unwillingness to shake the world with mass protests.

He begged Jews to learn from their terrible mistake and vowed “Never Again.”

Rabbi Kahane and his family made aliyah in 1971. He formed the Kach Party and in 1984 was voted into the Knesset.

Perhaps the most controversial of Rabbi Kahane’s positions was his stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict – for which, he posited, there was no amicable solution. He advocated a zero tolerance policy toward all of Israel’s enemies.

He knew the Arabs had no desire to live side by side with Jews in a country called Israel. He said it was absurd to think that Arab-Israelis had any interest in singing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem that speaks of the Jewish soul yearning to return to the land, or honoring the Israeli flag, which is designed to look like a tallit with a Star of David in the middle.

He said time and again that the Mideast is not the American Midwest and that the Jewish dream is the Arab nightmare. He wanted the Israeli government to implement Torah laws that permit only those non-Jews who acknowledge Jewish sovereignty to live in Israel, with personal and property rights but no political or voting rights.

The Israeli man in the street was drawn to Rabbi Kahane; working-class Sephardim who knew what it was like to live under Arab rule loved him. Polls after his election to the Knesset indicated his popularity was on the rise, especially with younger voters. The establishment hated and feared him. They called his policies “racist” and ultimately banned his party.

For some time now, Jews have felt leaderless. We read the unbelievable headlines. We groan at the increasing brazenness of our enemies, the unapologetic displays of anti-Semitism, the relentless rise of anti-Israel sentiment. And we can’t help but wonder: What would Rabbi Kahane do?


Previous articleGer Toshav
Next articlePeace Now Chief Urges IDF to Put Hero Soldier ‘on Leave’
Shelley Benveniste is South Florida editor of The Jewish Press.