When I read your article about the controversy over Rabbi Meir Kahane being honored in a Montclair High School email, I was annoyed but not surprised at the outcry from the Jewish “establishment.” I didn’t intend to write (partially because I know and respect one of the rabbis interviewed) but considering the recent attacks on Jews here and around the world, this seems like a good time for a more honest and accurate narrative.
Kahane started the Jewish Defense League in 1968 to protect elderly Jews and Jewish storekeepers in New York City who were being attacked and robbed. The mainstream Jewish organizations were, as usual, more concerned with avoiding attracting attention and “not making things worse” than they were about protecting the victims. It was less than 25 years since the end of WWII and the Holocaust, and when the JDL said “never again,” the meaning was clear.
Kahane was not a racist. He didn’t hate Black people. He hated Black people who hated Jews, just as he hated white people who hated Jews, and he didn’t differentiate between left-wing and right-wing anti-Semites. He admired and worked with Black people who believed in defending their people “by whatever means necessary” and proudly borrowed that slogan from Malcolm X.
It was a natural progression for Kahane to turn his attention to the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union. Most Jewish high school and College Students, myself included, joined the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. We marched on and rallied in front of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations, but the newspapers and media paid little attention until the JDL did more — and extracted a small semblance of retribution. Perhaps if the Jewish leaders who asked FDR to bomb the railroad tracks on which Jews were being transported to their deaths in Auschwitz had done more, Roosevelt wouldn’t have said “no.”
Moving to Israel and founding the Kach Party was another natural progression for Kahane. Some labelled him a racist for proposing stripping non-Jews of Israeli citizenship (but not of their individual rights) and incentivizing them to leave the country, but the reasoning behind the proposal was not racism. Kahane identified a problem that no one else wanted to address — that if at some point non-Jewish citizens were to outnumber Jewish citizens, Israel would cease to be a Jewish State. While his solution may offend the sensibilities of those living in an American democracy, it’s consistent with how every Islamic Middle Eastern State preserves its identity.
We live in an age when some label those who disagree with them “racists” so they can dismiss them, rather than deal with the possible inadequacy of their own positions. Dismissing Kahane as a racist and terrorist rather than examining his ideas and tactics within the context of a world that condemns Jews for fighting back instead of walking silently into gas chambers, and within the context of a Jewish community and leadership more concerned with appearances than Jewish lives, says more about those dismissing him than it does about Kahane.
Editor’s note: The Jewish Defense League has been classified as a far-right terrorist group by the FBI since 2001 and is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Kach party has been declared a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, and was barred from the Knesset in 1988. Over the course of decades, JDL members were charged or convicted several times in the United States of acts of violence including bombings, shootings and arson against Arab and Soviet individuals and properties, including the Soviet Mission. Meir Kahane in 1975 was sentenced to violating his probation stemming from 1971 guilty plea to conspiring to manufacture a bomb; he was accused of plots to smuggle arms from Israel to Europe and of urging JDL members to bomb the Iraqi embassy and kidnap Soviet diplomats.
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