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March 3, 2019 6:41 am

Meir Kahane and Netanyahu’s Shameful Decision

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he meets with US Vice President Mike Pence in Warsaw, Poland, Feb. 14, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Kacper Pempel / File.

To me, the name Meir Kahane conjures up an aspect of the Jewish people that I deplore — a racist, violent strain of narrow-minded primitive Jewish jingoism. His coarse, brutish language ignited hatred. And to try to justify him as a proud, committed Jew only makes his poison even more dangerous.

To generalize and call any group of humans dogs and dirt is what we expect from other cultures, not ours. It is unacceptable by any moral standard. After all, that is precisely the kind of pathetic stereotyping and racist demeaning that we ourselves suffer from. It may be true that most Palestinians want to see the Jews out of Israel and the West Bank. It may be true that many of them would, given the chance, resort to violence and kill innocents. But to say that they are all that way is no different than saying that all Jews love money.

The most reprehensible hatred of Jews, by so many extremists like Louis Farrakhan in the US, should not be an excuse for some of us responding in a similar vein. Hatred breeds hatred, violence breeds violence, and prejudice breeds prejudice.

The moment we descend to the level of our enemies, we lose the moral high ground. And the moment we dehumanize our enemies, we end up dehumanizing ourselves. It leads to religious fanaticism, which I deplore wherever it comes from.

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Meir Kahane was an American-Israeli politician and rabble-rouser. Kahane started off as a passionate defender of Jews, calling on them to defend themselves against their enemies wherever they were. He advocated Jewish power and violence. In 1968, he was one of the co-founders of the Jewish Defense League. He was convicted in New York for conspiracy to manufacture explosives and received a suspended sentence of five years. He left for Israel, and in 1971 co-founded a right-wing political party, Kach. In 1984, he entered the Knesset.  In 1988, the Israeli government banned Kach for being racist and “anti-democratic.” Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990.

Kahane was typical of a certain gun-toting aggressive American mentality that reacted to tensions between the black and Jewish communities of Brooklyn. When he moved to Israel, he transferred this animus to Arab communities instead of seeking reconciliation. He wanted to restrict Israel’s democracy to its Jewish citizens only, expel Arab citizens, and annex Judea and Samaria and expel its Palestinian population. But what really marked him as a fascist was his use of derogatory and hateful language towards the Arab population in general.

Kahane proposed that non-Jews wishing to dwell in Israel would have three options: remain as “resident strangers” with limited rights, leave Israel with compensation, or be forcibly removed without compensation. While he was serving in the Knesset in the mid 1980s, Kahane proposed numerous laws, none of which passed, such as forbidding sexual relations between non-Jews and Jews, and ending cultural meetings between Jewish and Arab students.

It is a sad reflection on Israeli politics that, in recent years, the right has become increasingly aggressive and bellicose. Kahanism has become acceptable on the right both in Israel and the US. I will concede that the hatred of Jews among the Palestinians and their allies has played a part in stoking this hatred. It shows little sign of abating. But returning like with like will solve nothing. And Jewish fascist bullies are still bullies.

One should be very clear: There is a fundamental difference between fiercely defending Israel against its enemies and turning it into an overtly racist society.

The moment you regard a whole people as evil; the moment you do not differentiate between those who wish to destroy and those who wish to live in peace; the moment you do not differentiate between those who disagree with you peacefully and those who use violence; you have lost your own humanity and ethical justification.

In Israel, the Otzma Yehudit party has emerged as the heir to Kahane and his ideas. It is poisonous. It is the mouthpiece of his fanatical followers. If such a party enters the government, it will be a disgrace and a blot on Israel’s reputation. The recent news that Netanyahu has encouraged Otzma to join a more moderate right-wing coalition is a terrible mistake. He is doing this in the hopes of strengthening his own chances of reelection in April.

However much good Netanyahu may have done for Israel (and we will not mention the rest), if this comes to pass, it will be a very dark day for Israel and the Jewish people. I pray it never happens. As the old English saying goes, “He who sups with the Devil should have a very long spoon.”

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen has worked in the rabbinate, Jewish education, and academia for more than forty years, in Europe and the US. He currently lives in the US, where he writes, teaches, lectures, and serves as rabbi of a small community in New York.

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