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Remembering Meir Kahane

The founder of the violent Jewish Defense League was born Aug. 1, 1932 (29th of Tamuz) and murdered Nov. 5, 1990 (18th of Heshvan 5750).

He is the subject of book Robert Friedman's book "The False Prophet." Stephen Green reviews:

True, the cast of characters immediately around Kahane who people his primary creations, the Kach party in Israel and the earlier Jewish Defense League (JDL) in America, are the incompetent, demented rejects and misfits you would expect in groups which shoot and firebomb those with whom they disagree, frequently killing and maiming innocent bystanders in the process. Blind hate is not terribly complex and ultimately not very interesting.

As with any terrorist group, however, it is not the principals themselves but the environment in which they develop and thrive, the direct and indirect source of support, which get--or should get--our attention. And in this respect, The False Prophet is a well written, worthy effort. It is also repeatedly, purely shocking.

In December 1969, Israeli Knesset member and Gahal Party official Geula Cohen travels to New York to convince Kahane that the focus of JDL’s violence in America should not be blacks and their organizations, but the officials and facilities of the Soviet Union, which represses Jewish activists at home. Over the next two years, a small covert group of Israelis plans, directs and funds a campaign of bombings and shootings in the U.S. and Europe, culminating in the firebombing of concert impresario Sol Hurok’s office in Manhattan, in which a 27-year-old female secretary is killed. The members of the directorate of this operation, who move frequently between Israel and Kahane’s headquarters in New York, include Cohen, Tehiya Party Official Pessach Mor, future Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and several top officers of Mossad.

In May 1973, Kahane, from Israel, writes an associate in New York that... “if we can’t get someone to shoot a Russian diplomat (anyone), we are Jewish pigs and deserve what we get.” In another letter he instructs a high school-aged female and JDL member to arrange for her teacher to invite a Soviet diplomat to her school to speak so that a JDL hit team could assassinate him. She is to phone the press afterward to take credit, “if no innocent person is killed.” The Israeli military intercept these and other similar letters, and Kahane is subsequently arrested and convicted in Israel for conspiring to commit acts of violence in a foreign country. He is released with a suspended sentence. U.S. authorities take the matter more seriously, and revoke Kahane’s probation stemming from an earlier felony conviction for manufacturing fire bombs. Kahane’s attorney produces as character witnesses the chief of the cancer division of a New York hospital, a prominent local rabbi and several persons flown from Israel at the expense of (then) Herut Party chief Menachem Begin.

Friedman names the names in this book, of people who have assisted and continue to assist Kahane’s acts of mindless violence. And they are names you will recognize. They are entertainers who assisted with rallies, the intelligence communities in two countries (in the early days) and American industrialists who have provided Kahane’s various little groups with their operating funds.

Even more surprising are those who violate the canons of their own professions to help Kahane on his way—judges in both Israel and America who continue to issue suspended sentences for conviction after conviction, fellow orthodox rabbis who take no internal action against a self-admitted adulterer, IRS officials who do not revoke the tax-exempt status of front organizations used openly to raise funds for the political campaigns of the Kach Party, and most galling of all to me, newspaper editors (notably the New York Times) who alter the texts of articles to protect the man.

Friedman traces Kahane’s gradual descent into paranoia and his fascination with ever more extreme forms of violence and instruments of political action. By the mid-1980s, Kahane was openly calling for the “liquidation” of liberal Jews in columns written for a New York Jewish publication, and was giving speeches in Israel in which he referred ominously to the need to take care of the Arabs “once and for all.” The JDL had by this time become too tame, too “liberal” for Kahane’s taste. What was needed, he told his inner circle, was a network of small covert cells which were trained in assassination.

But it is not Friedman’s exposure of Kahane’s actions of dementia which have landed him in trouble with many reviewers in the “mainstream” press. It is those names, and that support from that same mainstream, particularly in Israel and in the American Jewish community, so carefully detailed in the book.

One does not complete a reading of The False Prophet without wondering why Kahane is shown such tolerance, and whether, if his cause were American nationalism, or Irish or Puerto Rican or any other than what it is, he would be allowed to walk the streets a free man.

Rabbi Kahane had a big platform in the New York Orthodox Jewish paper The Jewish Press. In its December 9, 2005 issue, it prints a couple of glowing tributes to Kahane. Yeshiva University graduate Elliot Resnick writes:

Unfortunately, fifteen years and more than 1,300 Jewish deaths later, Israelis still seem to lack Kahane`s sense of urgency. Rather than take action, they utter the inane phrase "It will be good" like an incantation that will magically transform their reality. Is such complacency in order? Or has the time perhaps come for Israelis to reexamine Kahane`s ideas in light of all that’s occurred since his death — and, at long last, do something?

Shelle Benveniste, South Florida Editor, writes in The Jewish Press 12/9/05: "Rabbi Meir Kahane...was a talmid chacham [scholar], erudite and one heck of a tough Jew."

Meir Kahane was a false prophet. Like Jacob Frank and Sabbatai Zevi, he led Jews astray. That much of what he proposed (such as imprisonment for Jews who swam in Israeli beaches with non-Jews) was sanctioned by Torah law shows how deep the moral problems are in Jewish law.

Kahane was a sexual predator (not with children). He preyed on vulnerable women. One (model Gloria Jean D'Argenio) with whom he was having an adulterous affair (and promised to marry, only to back out a few days before the wedding) threw herself off a bridge and died in 1966. The New York Times covered up the story.

Kahane prowled the streets for prostitutes. His knowledge of Talmud was shallow. He had no patience for sitting and studying texts. He was a rabblerouser. His spiritual descendents include mass murderer Baruch Goldstein and agitator Irv Rubin.

In my experience of Orthodox Judaism, from talking to people to reading pamphlets and books, those who comment favorably on Kahane outnumber those who speak against Kahane by about five-to-one. This reflects a growing tribalism in Orthodox Judaism, the abandonment of universalistic ethics, and a hatred of the Gentile world.

Joe Schick writes 12/16/05:

A more serious issue raised by Ford is the pro-Kahane articles and columns that appear in the Orthodox Jewish media. While those who like Kahane write to support him, people like me, who have a negative view toward his extreme ideology, tend to express our opposition by generally calling for pragmatism and moderation and attacking those with extreme views, rather than attacking Kahane himself. That may lead to a sense that almost all of us have positive sentiments toward Kahane, when in reality there is a reluctance - justified or not - by moderates to personally go after a man who was murdered by the same terrorists who implemented the first World Trade Center attack.

I do disagree with Ford that support for Kahane relates to "hatred of the outside world." Again, most of Kahane's supporters are modern Orthodox, who, overall, are more likely to be engaged in the "outside world" than charedim. I believe support for Kahane has much more to do with hatred for Arabs than with hatred of all outsiders.

In his book The False Prophet, Robert I. Friedman writes:

It struck me on that first encounter [December 1979] that Kahane was a man obsessed with sex and violence. He chattered incessantly about Arab men sleeping with Jewish women. (Pg 1)

According to a 1986 survey conducted for the American Jewish Committee by Professor Steven M. Cohen, 14 percent of American Jews professed strong sympathy for Kahane, a proportion that rose to 30 percent among the 500,000-strong Orthodox community. (Pg 6)

Some of the myths surrounding Kahane were born during his interlude at Abraham Lincoln [High School]. He would later claim to worshipful members of the JDL that he had been a 10,000-meter track star there, that he had perfected a deadly, right-handed hook shot for its basketball team, and had palled around with the baseball team's star pitcher, Sandy Koufax, who went on to become a celebrated major league player for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In truth, though he was quicky and wiry, none of Kahane's school friends remember him going out for anything more physically demanding than the school choir. (Pg 31)

Although Kahane had a succession of girl friends in high school and college, "he talked about women with such contempt, it was incredible!" said [Irwin] Fleminger [a member of Betar, a "right-wing, pro-Israel, activist youth group"], who later married one of Kahane's college flames. "The contempt was a dominant part of his personality. Women who had relationships with him were increasingly frustrated, unless they were totally masochistic. He treated women like they didn't exist as people, like they were just a collection of body parts -- not all of which he liked." (Pg 41)

His Talmud skills were no better developed than when he was at BTA [Brooklyn Talmudic Academy]. "He knew nothing of the Talmud when he came to Mirrer," said Rabbi Marcel Blitz, who went to Mirrer with Kahane, and who today lives in Baltimore where he is a fervent Kach [a right-wing Israeli party outlawed for racism] supporter. "The teachers used to scream at him, curse him, and insult him in Yiddish. They called him a dummy!"

...Kahane was no better at studying law than the Talmud. After he graduated from [New York Law School] in 1957, he flunked his only attempt to pass the New York State bar exam... (Pg 46)

Kahane married Libby Blum in 1956. Within a few years, Kahane's marital infidelities would create a deep and lasting rift between the Kahane family and Libby's father, Jacob Blum, a former investigator for the New York State Department of Welfare. (Pg 47)

...Kahane develop[ed] a father-son relationship with Rabbi Sholom Klass, [The Brooklyn Daily's] publisher. In the coming years, Kahane would help transform the paper, which had consisted largely of legal advertisements, into a powerful Orthodox Jewish weekly, renamed The Jewish Press. With a circulation of nearly 200,000, the paper became...a platform for Kahane to build the JDL and later the Kach movement. (Pg 51)

[In 1963]...Kahane, the self-proclaimed descendent of twenty-eight generations of rabbis, was cruising for shiksas in East Side singles bars, ordering martinis, and infiltrating domestic extremist groups for the FBI. (Pg 57)

Although the July Fourth Movement never had enough money to pay its modest bills, Kahane and Churba always seemed to have plenty of cash for restaurants, booze, and women. In fact, much of the money that the two men raised during their partnership apparently went to support their lavish lifestyles. "They were uninhibited in bars," said [Robert] Brown [an NYU activist in the right-wing organization], who accompanied them on many of their cruising expeditions through the singles bars that then proliferated on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "They liked to drink. They loved beautiful women. Kahane lusted after them. We'd get drunk in bars and pick up girls. We were all interested in getting laid. [Joseph] Churba acted a little stiff around women, but Kahane was on fire. He had no problem going to bed with any woman as long as she was good-looking."

Brown recalls that Kahane was on good terms with the landlady of an East Side high-rise, who tipped him off when new women moved into the building. On one of his frequent visits, the landlady told Kahane that two stewardesses had just moved into a fourth floor apartment. Kahane and Brown dashed upstairs and rang the buzzer. "The door opened," said Brown, "and [Kahane] just came crashing through. He was very funny. He began to joke about being a city health inspector. Before I knew it, he had dates with both girls. He had great movies on girls he didn't know."

On night that Kahane spent in Manhattan, he told [his wife] Libby that he was in Washington on secret government business. (Pg 70-71)

In June 1966, while living as Michael King, Rabbi Kahane met a twenty-one-year-old woman named Gloria Jean D'Argenio in a Second Avenue bar... Kahane fell in love with her.

...Kahane proposed marriage. He set the date for August 1, 1966 -- his birthday. He never told her his real name, nor that he was a rabbi with a wife and four children in Queens.

Two days before their wedding, Kahane ended the affair with a "Dear Jane" letter. He confessed that he was married, though he never admitted his true identity.

D'Argenio jumped from the Queensboro Bridge 135-feet into the East River.

She was pregnant (possibly with Kahane's child). (Pg 71-72)

Even before Kahane became the dominant editorial voice of the paper, The Jewish Press treated its readers to outlandish stories about gentile men's insatiable lust for Jewish women and Syrian poison gas attacks on Israel that never took place.

The support that the Klass clan provided Kahane was more than just a street-corner soapbox. The Jewish Press gave him entree into tens of thousands of Jewish living rooms every week, where he played on the fears that Jews have carried with them for two thousand years. Klass stuck with Kahane no matter how outrageous his conduct, no matter how many world-renowned Orthodox Jewish leaders told him to dump the militant rabbi. That is, until the day Klass had to choose between the principal cause that he advocated and his pocketbook. (Pg 86-87)

In 1969 Klass announced that he was willing to fire Kahane if the city gave him a new building to house his newspaper. (Pg 103)

After [Kahane's secretary Renee] Brown complained to friends in the JDL that Kahane had jilted her for another woman, the rabbi dismissed her and hired Geri Alperin -- an attractive, busty, outgiong twenty-nine-year-old Manhattanite who was a JDL hanger-on.

The JDL's inner cicle tried to ignore reports about Kahane's philandering. (Pg 188)

...Kahane spent the July 4th weekend in New York with Gerri Alperin -- trying to summon up the courage to leave his wife. (Pg 192)

...[JDL] realized that they could not account for as much as a dime of the millions that they had raised on his behalf. Gerri had confided in Trony [Rosenblatt] that Kahane had bought her expensive jewelry, paid rent on her Manhattan apartment, shuttled her back and forth to Israel, and had run up thousands of dollars in phone calls to her home. He even had her install a private phone line exclusively for their conversations. "We realized that all this money was coming from funds Kahane had diverted from the JDL," said [Bonnie] Pechter. "How could JDL have no money, while Alperin is getting expensive pear necklaces, designer nightgowns, and who knows what else?"

Some Jewish religious scholars [Rabbi Moshe Segal, Rabbi Israel Hess] have quietly argued that there is nothing wrong with using genocide to eradicate the "Arab problem."

Jan. 6, 2009:

From haaretz.com:

Nearly two decades after his murder, Meir Kahane's wife has written a biography of the controversial rabbi and rabble-rouser - or rather its first volume. Her love and admiration still burning strong, Libby Kahane is convinced her husband got a bum rap.

Rabbi Meir Kahane
His Life and Thought − Volume One: 1932-1975, by Libby Kahane, Lambda Publishers, 762 pages, $45

In Friedman's thoroughly sourced telling, Kahane comes off as something of a rake: a serial adulterer who used his frequent absences from home to carry on affairs with a series of women. Friedman describes how, when he was still a young man, Kahane went so far as to set a wedding date with one mistress, who jumped off the Queensboro Bridge when she finally learned that he was already married.

It is perhaps a wonder, then, that Libby Kahane has spent the past decade researching and writing a back-breaking panegyric to the first 43 years of her husband's life, a 762-page doorstop entitled "Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought, Volume One: 1932-1975." Based on Meir Kahane's own writings and speeches, along with recently conducted interviews and other sources, the book focuses on his political activities, from his early years as a leader in right-wing youth movements through his first unsuccessful bid for a Knesset seat.

Let's get the formalities out of the way. You should not read this book. It's altogether too long, lacks serious analysis, is excessively footnoted, and ignores important unflattering details. Most unforgivably, it somehow succeeds in making the story of one of the most fascinating Jewish figures of the past century a terribly boring one.

It's worth asking what Libby Kahane thought she was doing. In the book's introduction, she says the study is intended as a resource for future historians. "While no author can be completely objective about his subject," she writes, "I believe that my twenty-seven years as a reference librarian ... gave me expertise and experience in the methods of careful research and proper documentation that make this book an accurate, authoritative study." The attempt to claim the status of the dispassionate investigator, is, of course, ridiculous, given that she was married to her subject for 44 years. It's rather unlikely that future historians will take the work as "authoritative." As a research librarian, the author must surely know this. So why did she really write the book?

I called Libby Kahane at her home in Jerusalem (she includes the number, oddly, on the biography's last page) to press her on the point. She told me the project came out of a desire to correct what she saw as a flawed perception of her husband as a "crazy fanatic."