Theater of Cruelty

"The New Jew"

More Kahane. The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical
Forfatter: Shaul Magid
Forlag: Princeton University Press, (USA)
MESSIANIAN THOUGHT OF VIOLENCE / From Jewish identity in New York to messianic racism in the West Bank: The controversial rabbi Meir Kahane, whose thoughts live on with certain radical settlers in the West Bank, is the subject of a new and thorough biography.


In the West Bank, particular forms of settlement extremism have become increasingly visible in recent years, and it is becoming increasingly violent. However, it would be a simplification to simply regard it as an expression of a general right turn in Israeli society. In a larger perspective, for example, one can see that the settler movement has become more center-right, which is a clear strategy for gaining political influence. But next to the established settlements, there are about 100 so-called settler outposts, which often simply consist of a collection of shacks on a hilltop, and here a completely different development is taking place.

It is typically what one might term as maladapted settler gum that establishes the outposts. They protest against the "bourgeois" lifestyle of the parent generation in the established settlements, and many of them also become dramatically radicalized.

Kahanism in 1994 was banned under the Israeli terror clause.

It is here, among other things, that we find a phenomenon that can come under a common hatred called Kahanism. The name comes from a long-deceased rabbi from New York, Meir Kahane, who formulated a radical ideology there, and although his movement was banned as far back as 1994 under the Israeli terror clause, the rabbi and his racist thoughts live on in a slightly reformulated version. And up until Israel's latest parliamentary election, on 23 March 2021, the Religious Zionism party managed to be elected with 7 mandates. The leading figure is the controversial lawyer Itamar Ben Gvir, a declared Kahanist, who is said to have a picture of Baruch Goldstein on the wall in his living room in the settlement of Kiryat Arba outside Hebron. This was a doctor in the settlement and in February 1994 he entered the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and killed 29 praying Muslims.

The American Civil Rights Movement and Malcolm X

Shaul Magid, who is a professor of Jewish studies at the American university Dartmouth College, has just written a long-awaited book about Meir Kahane and his political thinking. It is not a classic biography, but a political and sociological explanation, which also provides insight into current radicalism in the West Bank. Magid does not in any way seek to beautify the settler problem or hold his hand over the young radicals on the West Bank's hilltops, but he puts the issue into perspective by pointing out that this radicalism in many ways has its roots in the United States, but also that it has undergone some unpleasant changes in the transplant to Israel.

Right wing activist attend a ceremony honoring late Jewish extremist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane in Jerusalem on November 17, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Meir Kahane was young in the early 1960s, a time of great change. He transplanted his thoughts about his own Jewish identity into the concept of 'the new Jew'. In this lay a radical confrontation with the modern Jew, who had just distanced himself from the ghetto Jew by secularizing himself and seeking full integration into the modern, liberal world order. In his eyes, this longing to become part of the American dream was a dangerous blindness.

Anti-Semitism would not disappear for that reason.

Because anti-Semitism would not disappear for that reason. His favorite example was the German Jews, who in the 1920s had lived with the liberal currents of the Weimar Republic in the belief that they were now on their way to being accepted as citizens on an equal footing with everyone else. But this naivety led them directly into the gap of the atrocities of Nazism and the Holocaust.

Against this background, he set out to build Jewish pride (Schtolz). Paradoxically, he saw a role model in the American civil rights movement, and especially after it became more militant after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and took the form of Black Power, he adopted the same strategy. This became his Jewish Defense League (JDL). The basic idea is that you build a sense of identity through the display of power, and despite major ideological differences, it is the same function as with white ultranationalists.

A hatred for both Arabs and Jews

Kahane combined his strategy of violence with a deep anti-communism, and when the FBI was on the hunt for him as a result of a series of failed assassinations against Soviet diplomats in New York, he chose to emigrate to Israel in 1971. Mentally, however, he never left the United States, and that is the reason why his thinking now took a new dangerous direction, as we see it play out with the most radical elements in the settler movement on the West Bank.

Kahane combined his strategy of violence with a deep anti-communism.

For Kahane, Israel was not so much a place to live as it was a piece of Jewishness Stoltz. In the USA he had been a member of an ethnic minority, and in Israel he had become part of the majority population. Thus his activism also shifted gears from being a matter of Jewish pride and identity in a larger American context to becoming a substantial part of the conflict in the Middle East.

Shaul Magid

It is this part of Kahane's life that has always received a lot of attention, even though in Shaul Magid's analysis it stands as a glaring failure on a personal level. In the United States he had succeeded in getting a considerable part of the Jewish population to speak, but it had never been his ambition to overthrow the state. It happened in Israel, where he attacked the secular social order, which was the prevailing one at the time. He formed his own party, Kach, which intended to transform Israel into a theocracy. In the 1984 elections, it had actually succeeded in scraping together votes for a single mandate in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. But he remained a pariah, and a couple of years later his parliamentary career was over, when Kach was banned as a racist.

Intended to transform Israel into a theocracy.

“I don't hate Arabs! I love Jews!” Kahane used to say, to which Shaul Magid notes, that he really lived on a hatred of both Arabs and Jews, and it is this basic idea that is constantly found in the small, radicalized groups. Now it has simply changed from being a matter of Jewish pride to a messianic idea of ​​violence, which is in many ways even more dangerous.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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