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Trial of Accused Kahane Assassin Opens in New York, Defense Cries Conspiracy

The theory that Rabbi Meir Kahane was murdered by extremist Jews who had broken with his movement, offered by defense lawyers for accused assassin E1 Sayyid Nosair, has been echoed by a long-time follower.

Helen Birnbaum of Kahane Chai, a group founded after the rabbi’s death, said that while she believes the Egyptian-born Nosair may have pulled the trigger, he must have been acting under orders of a Jewish group.

“We feel it unlikely any Arab would be able to kill our rabbi,” she said. “He is the prophet of our generation.”

Attorney William Kunstler painted a different picture of the former Knesset member. In his opening remarks to the jury Tuesday, he emphasized what he described as the rabbi’s racist, anti-Arab and anti-black beliefs.

For its part, the prosecution said it would call more than a dozen witnesses who saw Nosair fire the shots that killed Kahane and wounded an off-duty postal inspector on Nov. 5 of last year.

The defense claims that the Egyptian-born Nosair, who was wounded by the postal inspector, was an innocent bystander, seized by Kahane followers because he was the only Arab in the room.

But a recent issue of New York’s weekly Village Voice cited Israeli, Egyptian and American intelligence sources linking Nosair to Al Jihad, the group behind the assasination of Anwar Sadat, and to notorious Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal.

In contrast to previous court appearances, there was no violence outside New York Criminal Court on Tuesday.

Nosair was dressed in a traditional long white Arab robe. He wore a large white knitted skullcap with blue Arabic wording that translated into “Allah will be victorious.”

One of the dozen or so Kahane supporters at the trial had his own message knitted on his yarmulke: “Kahane Chai,” or “Kahane lives.”

Kahane Chai is only one of many organizations that have over the years tried to make Kahane — and his message — their own. Its most active current rival is Kach International, the political party founded by Kahane for his Knesset races, to which the rabbi devoted his energies after making aliyah.

‘A KIND, GENTLE SOUL’

“Make sure to tell everyone what a kind, gentle soul the rabbi was,” said one soft-spoken woman outside the courtroom who wore a vintage yellow Jewish Defense League T-shirt featuring the rabbi’s symbol of a clenched fist inside a six- pointed Jewish star.

The long history of violence on the part of the martyred rabbi and his followers was emphasized by lawyers Kunstler and Michael Warren. But while they promised “bombshell” evidence that would clear their client, they have yet to produce more than vague allegations of a feud among former followers. And, hedging their bets, they noted as well that “Kahane was hated by a number of people outside his organization.”

Suprisingly, Birnbaum of Kahane Chai made a similar reference to the history of internecine violence among Jewish right-wing extremists.

Like Kunstler, she criticized the district attorney’s office handling of the case.

“We believe Nosair will be acquitted because of the incompetence of the State of New York,” she said. “This does not obviate the fact Nosair may have pulled the trigger.”

From the defense remarks, it appears that a key defense tactic will be to portray the government witnesses as racists. Kahane was disqualified by the Israeli High Court from running for Knesset in 1988 because of racist beliefs.

Explaining why Nosair attended Kahane’s speech, Kunstler said that “any Arab or Islamic person should be interested in hearing Kahane talk, in listening to someone advocating genocide of Arabs and Moslems.”

The racial composition of the jury became an issue during jury selection earlier this month, when the prosecution charged defense lawyers with deliberately excluding whites from the panel. Such exclusions are illegal in New York.

Kunstler denied he had kept prospective jurors off the jury because of their race. But he did say, according to The New York Times, “We want a third-world jury of non-whites, or anyone who’s been pushed down by a white society.”

Following a ruling on the matter by the presiding judge, the five blacks and one Hispanic who had already been seated as jurors were supplemented by six whites.

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents the Jewish areas of Brooklyn that gave Kahane his earliest and strongest support, told reporters outside the courtroom: “The issue is not Rabbi Kahane, or any philosophy he held. It’s about the murder of someone for speaking what he believed.”

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