In almost every U.S. city that Member of Knesset Meir Kahane visits, the opposition from the organized Jewish community is so consistent that he may as well include it in his itinerary.
With few exceptions, the founder of the Jewish Defense League in the United States and Kach Party in Israel provokes denunciation by the local Jewish Community Relations Council (CRC), usually joined by the Jewish Federation, chapters of national Jewish organizations and sometimes the rabbinate.
They declare him to be some combination of extremist, violent, racist, demagogic, hate-mongering and anathema to Torah teachings.
In addition, the CRC and Federation generally refuse to meet with him, sometimes even locking their doors. He is generally not allowed a Jewish platform, speaking instead at hotels.
This united response is an avowed policy, according to Kenneth Bandler, director of public information and former Middle East specialist for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), an association of 11 national Jewish agencies and 113 CRCs.
“Our interest is to repudiate him as an outcast in American and Israeli societies,” he explained to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We are following the precedent set by Israeli leaders.”
In August of 1985, 12 national Jewish agencies and organizations drafted with the help of NJCRAC a statement of “abhorrence of (Kahane’s) policies, goals and practices”–namely, his opposition to democracy in Israel in favor of Torah law as he interprets it, his desire to expel the Israeli Arab population or at least rescind their right to vote and his attacks on all Jews who oppose him as not truly Jewish.
The agencies also expressed support for Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s refusal to meet with Kahane following his election to Knesset in 1984, efforts in Israel to foster Arab-Jewish understanding and an anti-racism law aimed at muzzling Kahane.
This statement and the NJCRAC aims of isolating and dismissing Kahane have formed the basis for the CRC statements and activities.
Kahane does have his supporters, some who belong to his Kach International or Jewish Idea movements. They and Kahane generally attract from 60 to 300 people to his speeches by word of mouth and advance publicity.
MEDIA ATTRACTED TO HIM
The MK readily admits that media coverage is vital to his cause. Bandler observed that during Kahane’s first visit to a community or first one after several years, he attracts both the general and Jewish media, often taking the reporters on a tour of the Jewish offices closed to him. The coverage tends to decrease during subsequent visits.
Jewish newspapers generally covered Kahane’s recent speaking and fund-raising tour of the United States with a report of his speech and/or an interview, placed prominently. Some of the newspapers accepted advertisements of Kahane’s address and announced it in a small article.
Nevertheless, Kenneth Sidman, national director of Kach International, asserted that some of the Jewish press was playing hard to get. “I found that it’s easier to approach the general media than it is to get the Jewish media,” he said.
Bandler said he had no argument with the Jewish press covering Kahane as news, but he opposed acceptance of the ads as unnecessarily running counter to NJCRAC’s goals.
Robert Cohn, president of the American Jewish Press Association and editor-in-chief of the St. Louis Jewish Light, estimated that about half of the Jewish newspapers refused ads for Kahane, primarily because of control exerted by federations or CRCs.
But Cohn contended that running a Kahane ad was okay if it fit usual standards of taste and if those seeking to place it were known.
He also provided a journalistic rationale for covering Kahane. “My informal advice to colleagues has been, ‘Treat him as you would any newsworthy figure . . . He’s a significant person,'” he said.
AMBIVALENCE SEEN IN JEWISH PRESS
Bandler had another criticism of the Jewish press. He said he found “ambivalence on the parts of some of the newspapers regarding Kahane . . . Editorials advocate that Kahane should be debated by Jewish leadership, or that Kahane should be given a Jewish facility to speak from.” To do so, in Bandler’s eyes, would be “giving (Kahane) legitimacy.”
But to some communities, Kahane is legitimate. In Monsey, N.Y., for example, Bandler noted that Kahane recently spoke to 400 people in a synagogue. Sidman said the crowd exceeded 500.
Yet overall, Bandler sees a successfully united approach, and press reports support his view. “We effectively ostracized Kahane,” he said.
“What I mean by that is he finds it almost impossible to speak from a Jewish podium when he visits the United States. The point is it’s our view and the view of all of our member agencies that by allowing him to speak from a Jewish facility, it would in fact give him legitimacy.”
KAHANE ALWAYS RESPONDS
At each stop, Kahane responds to the strategy. The Atlanta Jewish Times reported that Kahane said on January 29 that Jewish leaders refuse to debate him because “they know what I say is painfully right and they attempt to stifle debate.”
Added Sidman, “He asks questions and points out contradictions that they have no answers for.”
And Kahane claimed in a recent interview with The Jewish News of Detroit that wealthy Jews are supporting him.
Sidman likened the ostracism to censorship, but noted that hundreds of people attend the speeches. He claimed that Kach International has 7,000 dues-paying members in the United States. “We went in the span of two years from a half dozen chapters to 30 chapters around the country,” he said.
Kahane has managed one meeting in the past 14 months with a member of the Jewish establishment. Arriving unannounced at the offices of the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia in January 1986, Kahane, with reporters in tow, was met in the lobby by Federation executive vice president Robert Forman.
They spoke in private for less than 15 minutes in a first-floor annex. “There really wasn’t much of a meeting,” Forman told the JTA.
The executive said he was aware of the NJCRAC policy, but met with him anyway. “Since he was a Member of Knesset, he was owed that respect,” he explained, and he didn’t want to cause a scene by refusing.
Forman faced no public repercussions for the meeting, but didn’t know if he would do it again. “I think we’d have to look at the needs of the situation,” he said.
Who attends Kahane’s speeches? Sidman pointed out that the nine rabbis of the Syrian Jewish community in New York attended a recent address.
The American Jewish News of the Twin Cities reported that no prominent local Jews attended on January 27. In some communities he attracts leaders of the community of Holocaust survivors.
In general, said Bandler, “We’re talking about a very, very small part of the American Jewish community. I wouldn’t say that everybody who’s a supporter is on the fringe of the community, but they’re not usually part of the organized community.” Indeed, Kahane attempts in his speeches to unite the audience to follow him against the establishment.
The effort hasn’t panned out, according to Bandler, who believes that opposition to Kahanism is one of the few issues “that have unanimity” among affiliated Jews.
The NJCRAC spokesman acknowledged that Kahane elicits a singular response from American Jewish leadership. “He’s really an exception. He’s beyond the Pale,” said Bandler. “And again it’s the same reaction that’s in Israel. You have to look at both of them together.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.