After the Elections: Fear and Apprehension over Kahane’s Election to the Knesset

Rabbi Meir Kahane’s election to the Knesset has been greeted with widespread apprehension in Israel and a growing fear that his strident anti-Arab rhetoric and threats will, in the words of Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem, cast “a stain on Israeli democracy.”

As a member of the Knesset, Kahane will enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution. Kollek warned that by entering the Knesset, Kahane would be invested with legitimacy and a certain amount of prestige.

“Kahane may turn into a symbol of Judaism and Israel in the eyes of the world and destroy the understanding the world has shown for our moral right as a State and our moral strength as a nation, ” Kollek said. The mayor is particularly concerned about Kahane’s racist rhetoric because Kollek, probably more than any other Jewish politician in Israel, has to deal with a large number of Arabs under his jurisdiction.

At a press conference immediately after his election, Kahane called for the expulsion of every Arab from Israel and the occupied territories, by forcible means if necessary. He said he would open an “emigration office” in the Arab village of Umm Al Fahem near Hadera to encourage Arabs to leave the country. The town council of Um Al Fahem has urged the Attorney General to bring charges aginst Kahane for his threat to expel Israel Arabs from Israel. Hanna Zemer, the editor of Davar, also urged the Attorney General to indict and prosecute Kahane before he is sworn in as a Knesset member, for his racist remarks since his election. While there is no clear-cut law in Israel against racism, Zemer said Kahane could be prosecuted under an article in the penal code which makes it an offense to create friction between “various parts of the population.”

MK Amnon Rubinstein of Shinui vowed that as soon as the next Knesset convenes he will introduce a bill that makes racial incitement a criminal offense and would automatically strip the immunity of any Knesset member who indulges in it.

Kahane’s Kach Party is miniscule. It polled about 20,000 votes out of some two million cast in last Monday’s elections, just enough to admit Kahane to the Knesset. Normally, one-member factions, especially those with idiosyncratic programs, have little influence.

WIDESPREAD MEDIA COVERAGE

But Kahane’s election and his activities, especially since then, have received disproportionate coverage in the Israeli media and abroad. His followers, who held a prayer session at the Western Wall last Tuesday night, boasted that he will rise to power in succeeding Knessets and would eventually become Defense Minister.

During the day, last Tuesday, Kahane staged a “victory” march through the Arab sector of the Old City of Jerusalem, accompanied by soem 200 bellicose supporters, many of them Sephardic Jews and American-born followers of his Kach Party.

Changing “Arabs out,” they stormed through the narrow streets and alleys harassing shopkeepers and passers-by and wrecking merchandise. Many of the marchers wore yellow shirts bearing a black fist and the slogan “Kahane to the Kensset,” To some observers, the quasi uniform and shouted slogans were horrifyingly reminiscent of scenes and events on another continent a half century ago when the chant was “Jews out.”

REMINISCENT OF GERMANY 50 YEARS AGO

Uri Avneri, of the Progressive List for Peace, a coalition of Israeli Arab nationalists and Jewish leftists, which won one Knesset seat in last week’s elections, told a rally last night in Umm Al Fahem attended by some 1,000 Arabs and Jews, that the rise of Kahane reminded him of his childhood in Germany and the rise of the Nazis to power.

At the end of last week, several dozen members of the religious peace movements, Netivot Shalom and Oz Veshalom, marched through the Old City of Jerusalem distributing leaflets containing “a message of brotherhood and peace to the Arabs of Jerusalem.” This was in reaction to Kahane’s “victory” march earlier in the week.

DUBBED ‘ISRAEL’S FARRAKHAN’

Leaders of the American Jewish Congress, who are in Jerusalem to participate in the annual American-Israel Dialogue which is sponsored by the AJCongress, called Kahane “Israel’s Farrakhan,” a reference to the American Black Muslim extremist leader Louis Farrakhan. Theodore Mann, president of the AJCongress, told a news conference yesterday that Kahane was an extremist whose views were endorsed by a negligible minority of American Jews, and who was as much as a fanatic as Farrakhan.

Kahane enjoys the support of the extreme right in Israel. But not all rightwingers and ultra-nationalists support him. His demand that the government free the 27 indicted members of a Jewish terrorist underground currently on trial for acts of violence against Arabs, was repudiated by the defendants. A spokesman for the group said last week that they never asked Kahane to act on their behalf and wanted nothing to do with him.

Former Premier Menachem Begin also said that he and his friends want nothing to do with “that man.” Likud Knesset member Ehud Olmert declared in a radio interview last Friday that his party has ruled out any cooperation with Kahane in the new Knesset, and that Kahane would remain totally isolated in the parliament. Olmert said that although the Likud also wants a greater Israel, including the West Bank, this should not be accomplished by expelling Arabs from Israel but only through peaceful coexistence.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir has repeatedly stated since last week’s elections that he would not call on Kahane to help form a coalition, even if it meant that Likud would lose out to the Labor Alignment in forming the next government.

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