The acquittal of El Sayyid Nosair in the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane was a surprise to almost everyone involved in the trial, including his own lawyer.
And it has angered the late Jewish Defense League founder’s supporters, some of whom have vowed to exact revenge.
Kahane’s son, Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev Kahane, pledged that Nosair would be haunted by Kahane followers until his death.
“We vow that El Sayyid Nosair will not see a day without fear until his very last day,” the younger Kahane, who is director of a militant group called Kahane Chai, said after the verdict was announced Saturday evening.
Nosair, an Egyptian-born Moslem, was acquitted by a jury of nine women and three men of murdering Kahane on the night of Nov. 5, 1990, while he was giving a speech at a hotel on the East Side of Manhattan.
He was also found not guilty of attempting to murder a postal officer who allegedly attempted to prevent Nosair from leaving the murder scene. But the jury did convict Nosair on lesser charges of assault and weapons possession.
The verdict stunned many, who had assumed it was an “open and shut” case.
Nosair’s own attorney, William Kunstler, had told The New York Times, in an interview before the verdict was returned, that he expected the jury to be deadlocked or to come back from four days of deliberation with a guilty verdict.
“It was just so open and shut that Kahane was murdered by Nosair,” said Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of a direct-action group called the Coalition for Jewish Concerns. “I can’t pinpoint it, but there is the sense that the District Attorney’s office was no match for Kunstler.
“I’m not at all arguing conspiracy, but this is the second time that New York authorities have failed in high-powered cases regarding Jews,” Weiss said. “It makes you wonder.”
The rabbi was referring to the fact that a single youth was arrested in the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Australian scholar attacked by a gang of black youths during the riots last August in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section.
‘BOGGLES THE MIND’
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he finds the verdict “bizarre, totally inconsistent.”
Foxman, no advocate of Kahane’s but one of the few non-Kahane supporters to attend his funeral in November 1990, said that “to find Nosair guilty of assault and possession, and not of murder, boggles the mind.”
Speculating that a deal may have been cut among the jurors, he called for a special investigation by the appropriate authorities into the apparent inconsistencies. But Foxman said he did not suspect a government conspiracy.
“This was one big surprise for everyone,” said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).
Hikind is coordinating a campaign of advertisements and rallies to push for maximum sentences for the four counts of assault and weapons possession of which Nosair was convicted.
Hikind said $25,000 has already been pledged toward the campaign.
Nosair’s sentencing by New York State Supreme Court Judge Alvin Schlesinger is scheduled for Jan. 29.
Hikind said he is also trying to have federal charges brought against Nosair for breaching the civil rights of Kahane and the two bystanders who were wounded in the incident.
The president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York said that the case should not be closed.
Kenneth Bialkin called on “state and federal officials to launch a meticulous review of the evidence and the way law officials handled the case, in order to ascertain whether federal charges against Mr. Nosair or some other individuals should be brought.”
SON ‘NEVER EXPECTED JUSTICE’
Kahane’s son, who found the assistant district attorneys heading the prosecution unsatisfactory throughout the trial, was probably least surprised of anyone involved.
“I never expected justice from an American court,” he said in a statement. “I never expected to see justice emanate from the same USA that displays its hostility to Jewish people and to the State of Israel in a flagrant fashion.”
In Israel, Kahane supporter Noam Federman said Nosair was acquitted because the American judicial system is anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli.
A handful of members of the Kach movement, which Kahane founded in Israel, demonstrated Saturday night in front of the U.S. Consulate in West Jerusalem.
Nosair’s acquittal is “a clear message to Jew-haters that you can kill a Jewish leader and get away with it,” said Moshe Phillips, a spokesman for Kach International, the movement’s American arm.
Phillips expressed resentment toward “establishment” Jewish organizations for not speaking out against Kahane’s murder before, during or after the trial.
“The so-called defense groups, which have been silent the last year and did not attempt to draw any attention to this case, are also to be blamed” for the verdict, Phillips said.
Shifra Hoffman, who described herself as a good friend and close associate of the late Kahane’s, said that “the Jewish community’s so-called leadership will have to bear the guilt of abandoning Rabbi Meir Kahane in death, as many of them did in life.
“To my knowledge, there was not one representative of any Jewish organization at the trial, while Nosair had help from all different areas, including the government of Egypt,” said Hoffman, who is founder of an organization called Victims of Arab Terror International.
Rabbi Weiss said he is “terribly disappointed that more people, even those who had nothing to do with Kahane, haven’t spoken out about this. He was isolated in his politics and isolated even in his murder.
(JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)
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.