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Kahane’s Appearance Disrupts Conference; Other Disputes Also Mar Proceedings

February 25, 1971
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Less than 24 hours after it opened, the world conference on Soviet Jewry was disrupted today by the appearance of Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Jewish Defense League in the U.S. Rabbi Kahane was arrested by local police after the conference presidium refused his request to be admitted as a delegate but no specific charges were lodged against him. Some sources said he was taken into custody “to prevent public disturbances.” A report late this afternoon said Kahane had been expelled from Belgium. A dispute also developed on the conference floor today when Dr. Morris Brafman, of New York, president of the International League for the Repatriation of Russian Jews, charged that Rabbi Herschel Schacter had reneged on a promise that his group would be given the floor for the five minutes normally allowed delegates. Rabbi Schacter, chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he never made such a promise to Dr. Brafman. He said he had promised only that the group’s views would get a hearing which, he said, it did. Dr. Brafman told reporters that his League believes there is no future for Jews in Russia and therefore appeals to the Soviet government are useless. He said the conference should establish a world Jewish body to implement the principle that all people have a right to leave a country, including Soviet Jews.

But the appearance of the 38-year-old rabbi overshadowed all other developments at the conference. The proceedings were interrupted by heated arguments between excited supporters and opponents of Rabbi Kahane and there was some jostling and shoving on the floor. His supporters are mainly members of the Herut-Hatzohar delegation. They demanded that Rabbi Kahane be admitted to the conference as an observer. A motion to that effect, submitted to the conference presidium, was rejected. The presidium issued a statement on Rabbi Kahane’s arrest stressing that he had committed no breach of conference regulations and that the conference was not preferring any charges against him. The statement said the Belgian authorities had been so informed. Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, president of the American Jewish Congress who presided at this morning’s session, said “I hear that Rabbi Kahane has been arrested, allegedly without cause. If so, efforts are sure to be made that he is properly represented and we are certain he will have a fair hearing in this free country.” Reportedly arrested with Kahane were his press aide, Sam Shoshan, and Dov Sperling, a Russian Jewish emigre from Israel who supports the JDL. Sperling was reportedly freed after police ascertained that he is an Israeli citizen. Rabbi Kahane arrived at Brussels airport early this morning only hours after he was convicted in New York’s Manhattan Criminal Court on charges obstructing governmental operations and disorderly conduct. He will be sentenced April 13 but was permitted to leave the country on his own parole.


Rabbi Kahane was stopped in the lobby of the Palais Des Congress and prevented from entering the auditorium. A conference spokesman had said earlier that he would not be admitted because his “tactics are repugnant to the members of the Jewish organizations present at the conference.” But spokesmen emphatically denied charges that the conference was responsible for his arrest. The charges were made by Bertram Zweibon, the JDL’s legal counsel, who accompanied Rabbi Kahane to Belgium. At a press conference held by JDL supporters, Zweibon claimed that Rabbi Kahane was arrested because the conference had asked police to keep him away from the gathering. He also read a statement which he said Rabbi Kahane had planned to make to the conference delegates. It demanded active measures against Russia such as an economic boycott, harassment of Soviet officials and “other militant acts.” The JDL supporters charged that the conference leaders had panicked over the possibility that Rabbi Kahane might deliver his speech and in desperation asked the Belgian police to detain him. The official conference explanation for denying him admission was that he did not possess delegate’s credentials or a visitor’s card. A statement issued by the conference presidium this afternoon said, “The Jewish Defense League stands condemned as a handful of reckless men whose actions do serious harm to the courage and dignity of Soviet Jewry who are appealing for their human rights. The actions of the JDL can only repel the vast majority of men and women of all faiths.”

(Addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem today. Foreign Minister Abba Eban reiterated the Israel government’s firm opposition to the tactics employed by the JDL. He repeated verbatim a statement made in the Knesset by Premier Golda Meir last November accusing the JDL of sabotaging the legitimate fight for the rights of Soviet Jewry. He also read a condemnatory resolution adopted by the government and published Jan. 17. Asked about Kahane’s attempt to participate in the Brussels conference, Eban said the event was being held by Jewish organizations, not on a governmental level and that the Israel government as such was not represented. He said, however, that the Israeli delegates shared the government’s view with regard to the JDL’s “Illegal actions against Soviet representatives and institutions.”) At last night’s opening session of the conference, Arthur J. Goldberg, former Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations delivered the keynote address. He said. “We feel a common and united bond with the Jews of Israel and with the Jews of the Soviet Union, and we believe that these attachments and loyalties are completely compatible with our deep attachments and loyalties to our respective countries.” Goldberg continued: “We meet here today not to malign the Soviet Union but rather in sorrow and concern to speak the truth about the repression of Soviet Jews.”

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