The Brooklyn Avengers

On November 16, 1992, almost two years to the day after Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated in midtown Manhattan, four Jewish teenagers threw a hand grenade into the shop of an Arab shoemaker in East Jerusalem’s Old City, killing him and wounding ten others. The boys, who called themselves the Revenge Commandos, told Israeli police investigators they had thrown the grenade for no other reason than to kill Arabs. Police later learned that the young terrorists were members of a small Jewish extremist group called Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives), which is based in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Tapuach, a collection of shabby prefabricated dwellings situated about fifteen miles south of Nablus on the West Bank. “It’s unfortunate that more people aren’t attacking Arabs,” David Cohen, a leader of Kahane Chai, told me during a recent visit to Tapuach. “As long as the Arabs are fighting us, there has to be a response. The Arabs have no right to be here. Revenge is ours.”

Not long after that grenade attack, Kahane Chai set up a front group in the US called the Committee for the Freedom of the Youths. It solicited contributions for the suspected terrorists’ legal defense in ads placed in the Brooklyn-based, Orthodox weekly newspaper, the Jewish Press. At the time, there was little, if any, controversy about these ads. Kahane, whose US support went far beyond the radical right-wing fringe of New York’s Jewish community, had raised millions of dollars in America. Though the Kach movement broke up into small competing factions after his death in 1990, Kahane Chai, the largest Kahane-linked group, continued to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, largely from its offices in Brooklyn. The money, according to government officials I talked to in Israel, as well as Kahane Chai members, was used to run the Tapuach settlement, to set up a paramilitary training camp in the Catskill Mountains, and to buy weapons on Israel’s black market. Although the Kahane groups vehemently opposed the Oslo accords, and their members were involved in numerous attacks against Palestinians, including shootings from cars driving near Arab villages, the Rabin government viewed them as little more than a nuisance.

This indifference changed to alarm after the massacre on February 25 of at least twenty-nine worshipers in Hebron’s Ibrahim Mosque by Dr. Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born disciple of Kahane. Goldstein lived in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, a center of extreme right-wing Jewish fundamentalism, where settlers’ vigilante groups had been attacking Arabs with virtual impunity during the intifada. Goldstein was elected to Kiryat Arba’s town council in 1985 as a representative of the Kach Party, which Kahane set up in Israel in 1974, and in 1988 he ran Kahane’s campaign for the Knesset. That year Goldstein told an Australian journalist why it was necessary to expel the Arabs: “I’m not looking to punish the Arabs,” he said. “I’m looking to rid ourselves of this danger in any …

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