I first talked with Rabbi Meir Kahane in December 1979, at his Jerusalem headquarters, which he calls the Museum of the Potential Holocaust. The “museum” was filled with anti-Semitic literature which he had clipped from American hate-group publications and pasted on display boards. At the time, Kahane was a political pariah. His followers in Israel consisted of no more than a few dozen American teen-agers who had belonged to the Jewish Defense League in the United States. “Numbers aren’t important,” Kahane told me. “How many Maccabees fought the Greeks?”
Today Kahane’s followers are far more numerous. In August 1984, he won a Knesset seat with 25,907 votes, 1.2 percent of the electorate. A poll conducted last summer by the prestigious Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem found that 40 percent of Israelis between the ages of fifteen and eighteen (excluding kibbutz youth) agreed with Kahane’s fiercely anti-Arab views, and that 11 percent of the young Israelis surveyed would vote for him. The results so shocked the institute that it did not release them; but Ha’aretz uncovered the findings and published them in a front-page story (June 6, 1985). On August 27, Ma’ariv published the results of another poll that predicted Kahane’s Kach (“Thus”) party would, with about 9 percent of the electorate, win eleven seats (out of 120) in the Knesset if early elections were held, making it the third largest party in Israel.
More recently, on December 6, 1985, Ma’ariv published a poll indicating that Kahane’s support had dropped to about 4 percent of the electorate—still enough for five seats. According to Hanoch Smith, a public opinion expert whose polls are published in Davar and the Jerusalem Post, Kahane’s support fluctuates in relation to the level of Arab terrorism directed against Jews in Israel. Smith believes Kahane has a steady “band of support” of around 4 to 5 percent of the electorate, making him a “weighty political force” in future elections.
Though much has been written about Kahane, the man and his views have been obscured by the controversy surrounding his remarkable political success. What follows is a selection of Meir Kahane’s own statements—remarks that he has made to me and to others, about people, events and the ideas that have influenced him.
The Rabbi from Brooklyn
Kahane was born in Brooklyn in 1932. He has one brother, Nachman, a rabbi who now heads a yeshiva in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Kahane’s father was a highly respected rabbi, a fervent Zionist, and a member of the rightwing Revisionist movement headed by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who Meir remembers once came to dinner with the Kahanes in Brooklyn.
Kahane, who was trained at the Orthodox Yeshiva Mirrer in Brooklyn, became an ordained rabbi in the late 1950s. At about that time he graduated with a law degree from New York University, from which he later received a master of arts degree in …