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Behind the Headlines Kahane’s Fate in the Balance

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Rabbi Meir Kahane’s future hands in the balance. Strangely though, it does not lie in his hands to mould that future, to tip the scales. His future depends on the actions of the Arab terrorists on the one hand, and on the government of Israel on the other. Rabbi Kahane is at present in jail on remand, and the police have announced that he and his senior lieutenants are to be prosecuted–along with the former Irgun chief of operations, Amitai Paglin–on charges of attempting to smuggle arms out of the country. Rabbi Kahane and his Jewish Defense League have already publicly acknowledged responsibility for the arms smuggling attempt.

During the investigation, the JDL leader announced that he intended to set up his own political party, based on the JDL, for which he apparently hoped all those Israelis sympathetic towards his activities would vote. The new party would fight for the Knesset elections and Rabbi Kahane anticipated it would win “several” seats. Each Knesset seat needs some 12,000 votes.

It is the future actions of the Arab terrorists and the Israel government which will determine in the final analysis how many seats, if any, the JDL party will get. Their actions will also determine what sort of trial Rabbi Kahane’s will be: a regular criminal proceeding, or a full-dress political trial, with the government in effect indicted and defending its policies and the defendants in the trial in effect the prosecutors.

At the moment, some Israelis are by no means unsympathetic to what Rabbi Kahane attempted to do. And if there are more terrorist attacks abroad, more Israeli diplomats or visitors killed, or more installations sabotaged, then this sympathy will inevitably grow, and the defense lawyers will be able to claim–as Paglin’s lawyer, Knesseter Shmuel Tamir, has already claimed–that the accused acted out of frustration and the need to avenge Jewish blood.

The truth is that renewed terrorist attacks abroad are almost expected by Israeli officials. Ministers repeatedly warn that it will be a “long, drawn out and difficult struggle,” and that every battle involves casualties. The question is whether Israel will find the means to fight back effectively, and to defeat the terrorists abroad as they have been almost either destroyed or paralyzed within Israel and the occupied territories and along Israel’s borders.

ISRAEL DOES NOT NEED PRIVATE ARMIES

The question has of course a much broader significance than its effect on Rabbi Kahane’s future; but for Rabbi Kahane it is crucial. If the current wave of Arab terrorism continues unchecked, and Israel does not effectively protect its citizens and installations abroad, then Rabbi Kahane and his ilk will become not criminals but heros in the eyes of a great many Israelis. Already, now, there is vociferous criticism of alleged failures of the security services which heretofore had been the unimpeachable pride and glory of the whole country.

To still public disquiet, while the government thinks of ways to hit back at the terrorists. Premier Golda Meir speaks of Israel’s long arm and of hitting at the terrorists wherever they are found. The appointment of Gen. Aharon Yariv as “special advisor” was intends to fulfill both purposes: to soothe public nerves and to help find effective means of combat against terrorism. Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Culture, has repeatedly ruled out the use of force on foreign soil. Others, like the military commentator Haim Herzog, rule out nothing, but say sensibly enough that whatever is to be done must be done quietly.

Reprisal raids on terrorist bases across the northern borders make people feel better, but obviously do not solve the problem of terrorism in Europe. There had been a vigorous diplomatic offensive aimed at persuading foreign governments to tighten their own security, but only the US and West Germany have so far responded with similar vigor. And there is a limit to how strongly Israel can press: no European country wishes to turn its cities into armed camps and subject its citizens to a regime normally reserved for wartime in order to protect foreign nationals.

By the same token, no European government will contemplate with equanimity the prospect of Israel taking its own measures to protect its people, with Israeli and Arab agents shooting it out on Oxford Street or the Via Veneto.

This is the measure of the Israel government’s dilemma. The public here is aware of it, but is nevertheless impatient for effective action. For the present, the vast majority are ready to accept the government’s position that security of Israeli citizens is the government’s business, not that of private armies. But if nothing is done and the violence continues such private armies will increasingly gain sympathy or even admiration.

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