Fact Sheet: Meir Kahane & The Extremist Kahanist Movement

February 24, 2021
Fact Sheet: Meir Kahane & The Extremist Kahanist Movement

Kahane followers Michael Ben-Ari (left), a co-founder of the Jewish Power party, and Baruch Marzel (right), at a ceremony honoring Kahane in Jerusalem in 2010. (Photo: Yossi Zamir / Flash 90)

Who was Meir Kahane?

  • Meir Kahane, born Martin Kahane in Brooklyn in 1932, was an Orthodox rabbi who founded a violent Jewish extremist movement and fascist Israeli political party espousing a virulently racist ideology.
  • Kahane’s followers have murdered dozens of people and injured hundreds of others in numerous violent attacks against Palestinians, Americans, and others in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and the United States. As a result, his Kach party, Jewish Defense League, and offshoots are labeled terrorist organizations by the US government. Kahane himself was arrested approximately 70 times in the US and Israel for planning and carrying out violent attacks but never received any serious punishment for his crimes.
  • During Kahane’s lifetime, his movement was marginal in Israeli society and shunned in Israeli politics. However, three decades after his assassination in New York he remains an inspiration for Jewish extremists and his racist ideas are more mainstream and popular in Israel than ever before. During the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Likud party even entered into political agreements with Kahane’s followers to help elect them to the Knesset (parliament), prompting condemnation even from some of Israel’s staunchest supporters.
 

Kahane’s Ideology

  • Kahane was a Jewish supremacist who espoused violence and wanted to establish a theocratic Jewish state encompassing not just all of current Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza), but large parts of neighboring Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
  • Kahane called for a strict separation of Jews and non-Jews and for the enslavement or expulsion of indigenous Palestinians and other non-Jews from Palestine/Israel. While in the Knesset in the 1980s, he introduced a set of proposed laws which read in part:

“Non-Jews will be obliged to assume duties, taxes and slavery. If he does not agree to slavery and taxes, he will be forcibly deported.”

“A non-Jew will not live within the jurisdiction of the city of Jerusalem.”

“A non-Jew who has a marital relationship with a Jew is liable to 50 years in prison. A Jewish prostitute or a Jewish male who has an affair with a non-Jewish male is sentenced to five years in prison.”

(See section on Kach below for more of the proposed laws)


Kahanist Organizations


The Jewish Defense League

  • In 1968, Kahane founded the JDL in New York City with the stated purpose of defending Jews from persecution in the US and abroad, in particular the Soviet Union and Arab countries, using any means necessary. However he built its membership by exploiting and inciting racial tensions between Jews and blacks and Puerto Ricans in New York, and launched a decades-long campaign of attacks and deadly violence against Arab-Americans, Arab and Soviet Union diplomatic targets, and liberal Jews.
  • Between the late 1960s and as recently as 2017, JDL members carried out dozens of brutal beatings, deadly shootings and bombings, and other attacks in the US and Palestine/Israel, killing dozens of people and wounding hundreds of others. Between 1980 and 1985 alone, the FBI documented 17 bombings by the JDL in the US. In 2001, two JDL members were charged with plotting to bomb the office of Republican Congressman Darrel Issa, who is of Lebanese descent, and the King Fahd mosque in Culver City, California. 
  • Among those murdered by JDL members, Palestinian-American activist and west coast regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Alex Odeh, who was killed by a bomb in California in 1985, and 29 Palestinians who were gunned down as they prayed in Hebron in the occupied West Bank in 1994. Following the massacre in Hebron, the JDL announced its support for the killer, declaring: “we are not ashamed to say that [Baruch] Goldstein was a charter member of the Jewish Defense League."
  • During the 1970s, Kahane was arrested and charged with a number of violent offenses related to his JDL activities in the US, including bombing, kidnapping, and assassination plots, but never received more than a slap on the wrist. In 1975, he was sentenced to one year in prison for violating parole on a 1971 conviction for conspiring to manufacture explosives, after he was caught encouraging JDL members to kidnap or kill Soviet diplomats,  bomb the Iraqi embassy in Washington, and plotting to smuggle weapons to Israel. However, a judge allowed Kahane to spend most of his sentence living with few restrictions at a Manhattan hotel because he couldn’t get kosher meals in prison. As The New York Times reported, Kahane spent much of his time lecturing to followers in synagogues around the city, socializing at the homes of friends, and violating his curfew.
  • Although it was banned as a terrorist organization by the US in the 1990s, JDL members remain active in the US and other countries, including Canada, where it is not outlawed and operates openly, threatening Palestinian-Canadians and their supporters. In 2017, two JDL members, including one from Canada, were indicted for brutally assaulting a 55-year-old Palestinian-American community college teacher during a protest outside of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, DC. In 2010, two former JDL members murdered a Muslim man in France. In 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper invited the JDL Canada’s “events coordinator” to accompany him on a visit to Israel, prompting condemnation from many in the Canadian Jewish community.
 

Kach / Kahane Chai

  • Following his 1971 conviction in the US for trying to make a bomb, an unrepentant Kahane told reporters of his plans to move to Israel the following month and start a political party. Disavowing the judge’s admonition against using violence, he declared: “Sometimes, there is no other way. I am not against the use of violence if necessary,” adding “Our campaign motto will be 'Every Jew a .22.’”
  • The political party Kahane founded in Israel was named Kach and it espoused violent, overtly racist, and fascist policies. He declared it would not be part of any government that did not expel Arabs from Palestine/Israel. He had little success with Kach in elections in the 1970s and 1980, but in 1984 he managed to win a Knesset seat.
  • While in the Knesset, Kahane introduced a set of proposed laws calling for “slavery” or forcible deportment of indigenous Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel, and the strict physical separation of Jews and Arabs. The proposed laws read in part:
    • “Non-Jews will be obliged to assume duties, taxes and slavery. If he does not agree to slavery and taxes, he will be forcibly deported.”
    • “Non-Jews in the State of Israel will be without any national rights and without any part in political proceedings in the State of Israel. A non-Jew will not be able to be appointed to any position of authority and will not be able to vote in elections to the Knesset or to any other state and public body.”
    • “Restriction of residence – A non-Jew will not live within the jurisdiction of the city of Jerusalem.”
    • “Prohibition on intermarriage – Jewish citizens of the country are not allowed to marry non-Jews, both in Israel and abroad. Such intermarriage will not be recognized as marriage at all.”
    • “Jews of the State of Israel are not allowed to have full or partial marital relations of any kind with non-Jews, even outside of marriage. Anyone breaching this section is liable to imprisonment for two years.”
    • “A non-Jew who has a marital relationship with a Jew is liable to 50 years in prison. A Jewish prostitute or a Jewish male who has an affair with a non-Jewish male is sentenced to five years in prison.”
    • “Separation at beaches – Separate beaches will be established for Jews and non-Jews. A person of one people found on the beach destined for a member of the second people will be subject to six months’ imprisonment.”
  • In 1985, the Knesset passed a law banning parties that incite racism and as a result Kach was barred from running in the 1988 election or subsequently. Six years later, Kahane would be assassinated in New York City. Following his death, some of his followers split off to form Kahane Chai (“Kahane Lives”) led by his son Binyamin. In 1994, after Kahane follower and Kach member Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians as they prayed in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, the Israeli government banned Kach and Kahane Chai as terrorist organizations. Both organizations are also labeled terrorist organizations by the US government.
  • While leading Kach, Kahane was arrested more than 60 times by Israeli police and soldiers during the 1970s and early 1980s, mostly for offenses involving violence and plots against Palestinians and/or weapons smuggling. In 1980, he was jailed without charge or trial - something normally used only against Palestinians - for six months in connection to a plot to bomb the venerated Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive holy sites in the world. Before his arrest, Kahane told a news conference that the Israeli government should form a “Jewish terror group” to kill Arabs and if it didn’t then vigilantes would.
  • While in prison in 1980, Kahane wrote a book calling for the expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine/Israel, called “They Must Go.” It was subtitled: “How Long Can Israel Survive Its Malignant and Growing Arab Population.”
 

Jewish Power

  • Jewish Power (“Otzma Yehudit” in Hebrew) is a far-right Israeli political party founded in 2012 comprised of followers of Kahane, which has been described as a “legal rendition” of his Kach party. Like Kach, it is virulently racist, espousing Jewish supremacy and ethnically cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine/Israel.
  • Jewish Power’s platform (Hebrew) calls for establishing “a national authority for encouraging emigration” of Palestinians. In 2019, Jewish Power leaders Michael Ben-Ari (a former Knesset member for National Union), Baruch Marzel, and Bentzi Gopstein were banned by the Supreme Court from running for the Knesset because of their long history of extreme racism and inciting hatred and violence against Palestinians and left-wing Israelis.
  • During the April 2019 and 2021 Israeli election campaigns, Prime Minister Netanyahu brokered political deals with Jewish Power, including a vote-sharing agreement with his Likud party, trying to help them win seats in the Knesset in exchange for their support, prompting outrage and condemnation from around the world.


Lehava / Hemla (see here for more on Lehava & Hemla)

  • Lehava (a Hebrew acronym for "Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land”) is a right-wing extremist group formed by followers of Kahane in 2009 to prevent the mixing of Arabs and Jews in Palestine/Israel. Hemla is an associated group of Kahanists funded by the Israeli government whose stated mission is to protect the “the honor of daughters of Israel” by preventing them from dating or marrying Palestinians and other non-Jews. Both groups are closely connected to the Jewish Power party.
  • Lehava members are notorious for roaming the streets of Jerusalem wearing black shirts searching for mixed couples to harass and beating up Palestinians.


Notable Kahane Followers

 

Baruch Goldstein

  • An Israeli-American settler, Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded 150 others as they prayed in the historic Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in the occupied Palestinian West Bank in 1994. Following the massacre, Kach was listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. After immigrating to Israel, Brooklyn-born Goldstein moved to the radical Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron. In the 1984 Israeli election, he ran for the Knesset on the Kach party list. He was also a JDL member in the US when he was younger. Despite the horrific nature of his crime, Goldstein is considered a hero to some right-wing Jewish extremists. 
Yigal Amir
 
  • The right-wing extremist who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 was associated with an offshoot of Kach called “Eyal.”

Eden Natan Zada

  • In 2005, the settler and Kach follower deserted his army unit and murdered four Palestinian citizens of Israel on a bus.

Itamar Ben-Gvir 

  • Ben-Gvir, a settler who lives on occupied Palestinian land in Hebron in the West Bank and lawyer best known for representing Jews accused of violent attacks against Palestinians and left-wing Israelis, is head of the Jewish Power party, a devoted follower of Kahane, and former Kach member.
  • In February 2021, Ben-Gvir said Kahane was “a hero” and once again called for the expulsion of indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel deemed disloyal.
  • In 2007, an Israeli court convicted Ben-Gvir of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism for promoting Kahane’s racist ideology, carrying signs reading "Expel the Arab enemy" and "Rabbi Kahane was right: The Arab MKs [parliamentarians] are a fifth column."
  • Ben-Gvir has a framed photo of fellow Kahane disciple Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in 1994, hanging in his office.
  • In 1995, Ben-Gvir appeared on Israeli television holding a hood ornament stolen from the car of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, threatening: “We got to his car, and we’ll get to him, too.” At the time, right-wing Israelis were furious with Rabin for entering into negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization. A few weeks later, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist associated with a different Kahanist group.
Benny Gopstein (or Benzi/ Bentzi Gofshtein)
 
  • Gopstein is a leader of the radical Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and former student of Kahane. He heads the extremist Lehava group and also works with the associated Hemla, both of which oppose the mixing of Jews and Arabs. (See above and here for more on Lehava and Hemla.)
  • During the September 2019 election campaign, Gopstein was banned by the Supreme Court from running on the Jewish Power list because of his extreme racism.
  • In November 2019, Gopstein was charged with incitement to racism, violence, and terror, following a series of racist statements about Arabs.
  • In 2015, Gopstein called publicly for the burning of Christian churches, and for the banning of Christmas, and expulsion of Christians from Palestine/Israel.
  • In 2014, Gopstein was arrested by Israel police and held on suspicion of incitement to violence and terror after several Lehava members set fire to a bilingual mixed Jewish and Arab school in Jerusalem and defaced it with racist graffiti, including the slogans “Kahane was right” and “Death to the Arabs.”
  • Following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in Hebron by Kach follower Baruch Goldstein, whom Gopstein has called a "hero," Gopstein was jailed without charge or trial, a practice Israeli authorities usually reserve for Palestinians, because of his ties to the Kach movement.
  • In 1990, Gopstein was arrested on suspicion of murdering an Arab couple who were shot to death not long after Kahane was assassinated in New York. He was later released, and no one was convicted of the crime.

Michael Ben-Ari

  • Ben-Ari is another settler, former member of the Knesset a former member of the Knesset from the extreme right-wing National Union party, a longtime well-known follower of Kahane, and one of the founders of the Jewish Power party.
  • In 2019, Israel’s Supreme Court barred him from running for the Knesset in the April election because of his long history of espousing and inciting virulently racist views.
  • In November 2009 Ben-Ari was denied entry to the US because of his ties to Kach.
Baruch Marzel
 
  • A far-right extremist from Boston who also lives in a settlement on occupied Palestinian land in Hebron, Marzel was Kahane’s “right-hand man” and a longtime Kach spokesman. He also led Kach after Kahane’s death.
  • During the September 2019 Israeli election campaign, Marzel was banned by the Supreme Court from running with Jewish Power because of his long history of extreme racism and inciting hatred and violence against Palestinians and left-wing Israelis.
  • Marzel has a lengthy police record, including assaults on Palestinians for which he received suspended prison sentences, vandalizing Palestinian cars, and provoking disturbances in Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank.
  • Marzel is also notorious for his homophobic views, stating before a gay pride parade in 2010 that homosexuality "is a disease of choice, and a man can change his taste and his ways...when someone has AIDS they tell them not to infect others, so why are these people allowed to march here in Jerusalem and infect us with their disease?"
Meir Ettinger
 
  • Kahane's grandson, Ettinger is a leader of a gang of violent settlers in the occupied West Bank called the “Hilltop Youth” and led a Kahanist group called “The Revolt” advocating expulsion of Palestinians and a Jewish theocracy. In 2015, Israel’s internal secret police, the Shin Bet, imprisoned Ettinger for 10 months without trial for "involvement in an extremist Jewish organization” following the murder of a Palestinian couple and their 18-month-old son in an arson attack by settlers in Duma in the West Bank.