Rabbi Meir Kahane was born in New York City in 1932. He studied at the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, receiving rabbinic ordination in 1956. That same year, he completed his law studies at New York Law School, and he subsequently received a master's degree in international law from New York University. After serving as a congregational rabbi, he founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in 1968 in order to combat the rise in antisemitism. Concerned about the alienation and assimilation of Jewish youth, Rabbi Kahane spent two decades touring American college campuses, exhorting Jewish students to learn about Judaism, make aliya to Israel and stand up proudly as Jews. In 1970, he spearheaded a campaign of Jewish activism that led to the emigration of tens of thousands of oppressed Jews from the Soviet Union.
Kahane was known in the United States and Israel for political and religious views that included proposing emergency Jewish mass immigration to Israel due to the imminent threat of a "second Holocaust" in the United States, advocating that Israel's democracy be replaced by a state modeled on Jewish religious law, and promoting the idea of a Greater Israel in which Israel would annex the West Bank and Gaza strip. In order to keep Arabs, whom he stated would never accept Israel as a Jewish state, from demographically destroying Israel, he proposed a plan allowing Arabs to voluntarily leave Israel and receive compensation for their property, and forcibly removing Arabs who refused.
Kahane entered the political arena in Israel when he made aliya in 1971 and founded the Kach ("This is the Way!") political party in Israel. In 1984 he became a member of the Knesset when Kach gained one seat in parliamentary elections. Kahane refused to take the standard oath of office and insisted on adding a Biblical verse from Psalms, to indicate that when the national laws and Torah conflict, Torah (Biblical) law should have supremacy over the laws of the Knesset. Kahane's legislative proposals focused on transferring hostile Arab population out of Israel, revoking the Israeli citizenship for non-Jews and banning Jewish-Gentile marriages and sexual relations, based on the Code of Jewish Law compiled by Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah.
As his political career progressed, Kahane became increasingly isolated in the Knesset. His speeches, boycotted by Knesset members, were made to an empty parliament, except for the duty chairman and the transcriptionist. Kahane's legislative proposals and motions of no-confidence against the government were ignored or rejected by fellow Knesset members. Kahane often pejoratively called other Knesset members "Hellenists" in Hebrew (a reference from Jewish religious texts describing ancient Jews who assimilated into Greek culture after Judea's occupation by Alexander the Great). In 1987, Rabbi Kahane opened a yeshiva (HaRaayon HaYehudi) with funding from US supporters, for the teaching of "the Authentic Jewish Idea".
Despite the boycott, Kahane's popularity grew. Polls showed that Kach would have likely received as many as twelve seats (10% of popular vote), possibly making Kach Israel's third largest party. In 1985, the Knesset passed an amendment to Israel's Basic Law, disqualifying Kach from running in the 1988 elections. Rabbi Kahane was thus the first candidate in Israel to be barred from election for political reasons. Kahane was assassinated by an Arab gunman in a Manhattan hotel in November 1990, after concluding a speech warning American Jews to emigrate to Israel before it was "too late."
Kahane argued that there was a glory in Jewish destiny, which came through the observance of the Torah. He stated that, "democracy and Judaism are not the same thing." Kahane also believed that a Jewish democracy with non-Jewish citizens was self-contradictory because the non-Jewish citizens might someday become a numerical majority and vote to make the state non-Jewish: "The question is as follows: if the Arabs settle among us and make enough children to become a majority, will Israel continue to be a Jewish state? Do we have to accept that the Arab majority will decide? Western democracy has to be ruled out. For me that's cut and dried: there's no question of setting up democracy in Israel, because democracy means equal rights for all, irrespective of racial or religious origins."
Kahane proposed the forcible deportation of nearly all Arabs from all lands controlled by the Israeli government. He framed this deportation as an "exchange of populations" that would continue the Jewish exodus from Arab lands: "A total of some 750,000 Jews fled Arab lands since 1948. Surely it is time for Jews, worried over the huge growth of Arabs in Israel, to consider finishing the exchange of populations that began 35 years ago (in 1948)." Kahane proposed a $40,000 compensation plan for Arabs who would leave voluntarily, force "for those who don't want to leave," and encouraged retaliatory violence against Arabs who attacked Jews: "I approve of anybody who commits such acts of violence. Really, I donít think that we can sit back and watch Arabs throwing rocks at buses whenever they feel like it. They must understand that a bomb thrown at a Jewish bus is going to mean a bomb thrown at an Arab bus."
Kahane proposed a Jewish state "according to the description given in the Bible." He said, "the southern boundary goes up to El Arish, which takes in all of northern Sinai, including Yamit. To the east, the frontier runs along the western part of the East Bank of the Jordan river, hence part of what is now Jordan. Eretz Yisrael also includes part of Lebanon and certain parts of Syria, and part of Iraq, all the way to the Tigris River. When critics suggested this would mean perpetual war between Jews and Arabs, Kahane answered, "There will be a perpetual war. With or without Kahane."
Following Rabbi Meir Kahane's death, no charismatic leader emerged to replace him in the movement, although the idea of transferring populations gained traction in Israel. Two small Kahanist factions later emerged, one under the name of Kach led by Baruch Marzel, and the other Kahane Chai ("Kahane Lives"), lead by his younger son, Binyamin Zeev Kahane. Both parties were banned in 1994. In late 2000, as bombing attacks on Israel during the Al-Aqsa Intifada began, Kahane supporters spray-painted graffiti on hundreds of bus shelters and bridges all across Israel. The message on each target was identical, simply reading: Kahane Tzadak ("Kahane was Right"). On December 31, 2000, Binyamin Zeev Kahane and his wife Talya were shot to death, and their children wounded, by Arab terrorists, as they returned from Jerusalem to their home in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Tapuach.
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