News Analysis: Kahane’s Ideas May Live On, but His Movement is Moribund
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News Analysis: Kahane’s Ideas May Live On, but His Movement is Moribund

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In death, Rabbi Meir Kahane has achieved a certain measure of legitimacy that he did not enjoy during his colorful and controversial political career.

But his life work in Israel, the anti-Arab Kach movement, has suffered a serious blow with the death of its charismatic leader, and has little chance of recovering.

Publicly, Kach activists have announced they will continue Kahane’s work, but privately they have admitted that the future remains uncertain.

“Kahane’s ideas will continue, and there is no bullet which can kill those ideas.” said Yossi Dayan, who served in the early 1980s as director general of the Kach movement.

But he acknowledged that any replacement would be “a caricature of Rabbi Kahane, just like Shamir is a caricature of (Menachem) Begin, and Begin is a caricature of (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky.”

Most of Kach’s second-rank activists are relatively young and seem to lack the necessary charisma to lead the movement.

One of the potential inheritors is Michael Ben-Horin, an engineer from the Golan Heights settlement of Nov who is considered one of the ideologists of the movement.

Ben-Horin was once proclaimed “president of the State of Judea,” which Kach wanted to establish if Israel ever withdrew from the West Bank.

Finances are another obstacle for Kahane’s successors. The Kach movement is reportedly burdened with a heavy deficit, one of the reasons why Kahane frequently went to the United States to raise money. No one is expected to be as powerful a fund-raiser as the dynamic Kahane was.


And Kach still faces a legal ban on running for the Knesset. This hurdle seems to serve the interests of Moledet, the party of reserve Gen. Rehavam Ze’evi, who, as Kahane did, believes in “transferring” Arabs out of Israel.

While Kahane wanted immediate removal of Arabs from Israel and minced no words about his beliefs or intentions, Ze’evi favors a more genteel, negotiated “transfer,” which would be worked out in a peace agreement that might even include exchanges of Jews living in Arabs lands.

Ze’evi, for his part, denies that Kahane “left behind him a spiritual heritage or an electoral inheritance” and insists that Moledet is in no way the slain Kach leader’s “heir.”

In an interview Wednesday with the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, Ze’evi noted that he never knew Kahane personally. He met him only once, briefly, in a New York television studio, he said.

During the time Kahane was a member of Knesset, from 1984 to 1988, Ze’evi “had neither the means nor the interest to follow his activities and assess them,” he said.

It seemed plain from the interview that the Moledet leader was seeking to distance himself and his party from Kahane and the Kach movement.

Ze’evi apparently intends to build his party into a broader and more respectable political force than Kahane’s Kach, which always remained marginal and outcast, even before it was legally barred by the courts from running for Knesset.

Moledet won a respectable two Knesset seats in the 1988 elections, and the polls predict a stronger showing were elections to be held today.

But key politicians in the Likud bloc are now considering taking the same action against Moledet as they took against Kach two years ago.


For it was Likud, not the parties of the left, that pushed through the anti-racism bill used to prevent Kahane from running again. It was Likud, after all, that lost one precious seat to Kahane in 1984 and feared a greater hemorrhage the next time around.

Most Likud members of Knesset were as repulsed by Kahane as the rest of the legislature. But they had an even more pressing consideration, not to give up any of their Knesset seats to Kahane.

Defections from the Likud bloc to Kach were considered lost votes, because they would not return in the form of post-election coalition agreements, since Kach would never be invited to join a Likud government.

But when the Labor Party brought down the national unity government in March, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir deemed Ze’evi acceptable, albeit reluctantly. Moledet’s votes are an important component of the brittle coalition.

The problem for Shamir is that Ze’evi has now threatened to shatter this fragile arrangement. Last week, he voted against the Likud government in a no-confidence motion, confronting the premier with a blow from the far right just as he was defending his government from attacks on the left.

It was then that such top Shamir advisers as Justice Minister Dan Meridor and Trade Minister Moshe Nissim began to consider the need to bar Moledet from running again.

According to informed sources, they are considering asking the Central Election Commission to disqualify Moledet on the grounds of racism, using the same law that barred Kahane from running.

Pundits predict that a surge of support for Moledet could well endanger its future existence, by prompting pre-emptive action from the parties that stand to lose.


But ironically, the word “transfer,” made ugly by Kahane to most Israelis, is now being bandied much more liberally by respected politicians of the far right wing.

In opinion polls, the term “transfer” scores consistently well as a serious political option in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

The left, for its part, has contributed in a backhanded way to this legitimation of the term by sometimes too easily attributing “transferist” tendencies to right-wing political foes, when no such tendencies in fact exist.

Nevertheless, the accusation of “transferism” has become commonplace in the daily heckling and cat-calling in Knesset.

Kahane the man, therefore, could die satisfied that his message has impacted deeply and widely throughout Israeli society.

His personal ouster from political life in 1988 did not still that message; it merely transferred “transfer” to more wily and experienced politicians, who have managed, so far, to stay within the law.

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