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Roots of Kahanism: Consciousness and Political Reality


Aviezer Ravitzky

Rabbi Meir Kahane at the Temple Mount

Rabbi Meir Kahane speaking on the Temple Mount
from Zionist Terrorism by Arafat Hijazi, Dar Al-Sabah Publishers, Jordan,
1987, p. 71


The Jerusalem Quarterly

Thirty Nine
pp. 90-108

About forty years ago, on the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, an article was published in Jerusalem on the question, "Minority Rights According to Halakhah" (Jewish law) in a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.1 Written by Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, the second Chief Rabbi of Eretz Israel, the article was part of a comprehensive, programmatic halakhic treatise designed to "chart the course for a Jewish state within the framework of the Torah." The future Jewish state, Rabbi Herzog indicated in his article, would have to undertake to prevent any sort of discrimination against its Arab inhabitants, both Muslim and Christian. His halakhic finding on this issue categorically negates the validity of any possible religious arguments aimed at depriving Arabs of their right to reside in Eretz Israel and to own land there, of their freedom of worship, and so on. Rabbi Herzog examined these questions both from the standpoint of the principle involved and from the practical, pragmatic point of view; certainly on the latter level he was convinced that "no rabbi with a brain in his head and with a modicum of common sense" would dispute these conclusions.

Yet today, in this time and place, the question has resurfaced in the sharpest terms—though in a new setting, a new style, reflecting a new set of problems and a new ideology. I refer to the phenomenon of Kahanism. This development has made its own distinctive mark on our public life—in content as well as style.


—The demand for the denial of the Israeli Arabs' civil rights; calls for their removal from the territory of Greater Israel; encouragement of violence and terrorist activity against them.

—The demand for separation between Jews and non-Jews in residential areas, educational institutions, bathing beaches, etc.; the demand that sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews be prohibited by law (on pain of imprisonment).

—The negation of a democratic regime in a Jewish state.

—The rejection, in a Jewish state, of secular, leftist or liberal Jews (all labelled "Hellenist") as partners in dialogue; at times there have been implicit or even explicit references to the effect that secular leftist leaders deserve to die.


—Abuse and revilement; provocation of Arabs in their settlements; the fomenting of nationalist, communal and religious hatreds; exploitation of the helpless families of terror victims.

Undoubtedly, this phenomenon transcends the traditional ideological, moral, social and political Israeli norms. The public support accorded to Meir Kahane and his movement, both in the last Knesset elections and afterwards, came as a surprise to many, and to this day the issue continues to be a focal point of public attention.

I propose to examine the ideological and mental roots of the phenomenon we call Kahanism—the roots that feed the outward social and political manifestations we are witnessing, beginning with the views of Meir Kahane the man—leader and propagandist—and, then, discussing the reactions of the public in response to his message.


Meir Kahane is a leader and politician as well as an ideologue and prolific writer. To date he has written about a dozen books and pamphlets in Hebrew and English. Fiercely admired by his followers, he is the prime mover—indeed, the sole mover—and molder of his movement, the leader at all levels: in the street and in the Knesset, the fund-raiser, and the one who sets the propaganda line, the religious authority and the ultimate ideological authority. It is important, therefore, to try to trace this leader's mind-set and to explore his ideas—and not only the motivations of his followers and the social and political expressions of support among the public. Considering the man's position as the sole and decisive molding force of his movement, whether in the street or behind the scenes, there is no assurance that notions that may seem to us today to be thoroughly alien to the Israeli experience will remain so tomorrow. What is currently a marginal phenomenon threatens to spread to the center.

In probing the mind-set and ideas of Meir Kahane, I shall start with the problem of the relationship between Jew and Jew—and between the Jew and his state; then I shall proceed to the question of the relationship between Jew and gentile.

We are familiar with two basic religious approaches to the first problem (divisible into a number of sub-approaches). Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, from Agudat Israel to Neturei Karta, regards the secular Jew as one who has entirely rejected his Jewish identity, violated the Covenant, and rebelled against his parents' and grandparents' teachings. The nearer we get to the ideological extreme in these circles, the more pronounced the rejection and the condemnation. At any rate, there is no attempt, there, to concede anything to these sinners or try in any way to expose positive elements in their consciousness and activity. Nor, in line with this attitude, is the political activity of these Jews—in other words, the modern Jewish state—granted religious significance of any kind. Some may recognize the state de facto and maintain a limited form of cooperation with it; others will have nothing whatever to do with it. Certainly, it is neither "The Redemption" nor yet "The First Stage of the Redemption." On the contrary, there is here a spiritual degeneration, for which there can be no redress except through Torah and teshuvah (religious repentance).

Religious Zionists, on the other hand, were ready to speak in defense of the secular Zionist and the national enterprise in which he was engaged. They did not interpret the secularists' actions as simply a rebellion against the ancestral heritage but also as an act involving a return to his roots—to the Holy Land, to the Sacred Tongue, a return from assimilation to Judaism. The First Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, Abraham Isaac Kook, whose writings have exercised a decisive influence in recent decades, developed a dialectical interpretation of the phenomenon of secular Zionism. According to this interpretation, secular Zionism is recognized not simply as a spiritual degeneration but, rather, as a necessary dialectical crisis—"descent for the purpose of ascent," a national revolution en route to a religious renascence. Darkness and light are here inextricably intertwined, with transgressors being the ones to lay the foundations for the religious redemption. This conception lends the reestablishment of the state a definite, positive, religious meaning. In recent years there has even been a growing tendency to present the history of Zionism and the State of Israel as a definite Messianic phenomenon: the realization of the vision of redemption as an irreversible and inevitable process.

Let us now return to Meir Kahane. There has been an admixture here of various elements: In his consciousness and in his utterance the negation and the sharp rejection of the secular Jew, in the style of the extreme wing of ultra-Orthodox Jewry, have combined with a radical Messianic approach to the State of Israel, in the style of the most extreme wing of religious Zionism.

The secular Jew, on the one hand, is regarded as a staightforward violator of the religious covenant, a sinner totally alienated from everything Jewish. There is a confrontation here with "gentile Jews" (goyyim), "Hebrew-speaking gentiles," "Hellenists" and the like. (The term "Hellenist," directed at the secular, leftist or liberal Jew, arouses grave associations from the Jewish past, recalling the struggle of the Maccabees against the Hellenists of their day.) Kahane's pronouncements in this regard are strikingly similar to the protests of the most extremist elements in the ultra-Orthodox camp. He paints a picture of a decadent, debased Jewish community; nor is there any attempt to cite positive elements, to protect the individual and the people as a whole from the severity of divine judgement. These people are not worthy of revival and independence, to say nothing of religious redemption.

On the other hand, in the consciousness and in the declarations of Meir Kahane, the State of Israel has been granted a clear-cut religious standing—and even a definitive Messianic significance which is predetermined, predestined. In the last analysis, the State of Israel inevitably leads us to a full and fillal redemption, whether or not we help this process along. Whether we shall be compelled to fall by the wayside or be overtaken by disaster on that road to redemption, or whether we shall stride steadily and confidently forward to meet it—this is the final redemption from which there is no turning back.

It may be asked: How do these two elements go together? How does "a state that is crawling with Hellenism" nevertheless earn the attribute of a supreme religious significance?

Surprisingly enough, the focus of this religious significance is not the Jew, nor the Jewish people, but the gentile—the nations of th world. The State of Israel, its rebirth and its struggle and wars ar depicted in terms of a confrontation between the Almighty and th gentiles: it is God's revenge on the nations. For two thousand year God was in shackles, so to speak, humiliated and degraded on account of the debased existence of the Jewish people in exile; and now He has bestirred Himself and has arisen to strike out, to tread underfoot, to take His revenge on His detractors. The State of Israe, its rebirth and its wars represent the wrath of the Almighty, exacting retribution from His enemies. In Kahane's words:

From the furnaces and from the ashes, a Jewish state arose not because we had earned it but because the gentiles had; because God in His terrible anger had decided to mete out punishment to a world that had mocked and despised and degraded the Almighty God of Israel.2


The State of Israel is not a "political" creation. It is a religious creation. No force in the world could have prevented its establishment, nor is there a power that can destroy it. It is the commencement of divine wrath, His vengeance against the nations that had ignored His existence, despised and defamed Him, minimized His importance, "did not know" Him.3

The weakness of the Jewish people in its exile, its submission to the whims of its oppressors, for good or evil, appears in the eyes of the world as a manifestation of the weakness of the God of Israel—His powerlessness to save and redeem, to strike and mete out retribution. The issue comes into sharpest focus, of course, in the Holocaust. If, however, for many of us, the theological problem of the Holocaust focuses on the question, Where was divine justice?—the central theological problem posed by the Holocaust in Meir Kahane's perception is:where was divine power, where His Strong Hand and Outstretched Arm against His foes, the oppressors of the Jewish people?

In Jewish sources, from the Bible onward, the ruler of the universe is revealed both as a physical power, the omnipotent being, and as a moral power—He who metes out justice and righteousness. In Kahane's consciousness the balance is tipped, decisively, on the side of God's physical prowess—the historic manifestation of the Lord of Hosts with great force and a strong hand: "The Jewish state—symbol of power and might, the power and might and the palpable existence of the God of Israel. Indeed, He exists! In all his terrifying grandeur!" 4 All the pent-up wrath that has built up inside the Jewish soul for generations now comes pouring out, and it is perceived as the wrath of the God of Israel erupting with great force. Now, at last, the power of the Almighty would be revealed, and vengeance taken, in the sight of the nations of the world.

The religious-Zionist concept of Zionist fulfillment revolved around the notion of a dialogue between God and the Jewish people (redemption of the people). In some circles, in recent years, the accent has been on a conception depicting Zionist fulfillment as a dialogue between God and the Land of Israel (redemption of the land). In the consciousness of Meir Kahane, another kind of "dialogue" has emerged—that with the gentile, the stranger, the other.

Thus, too, with the meaning of the return to Eretz Israel. Again, the question is not only whether the people is returning—being gathered in from the lands of its dispersion, being redeemed. Nor, for that matter, is it merely a question of whether the land is being settled and redeemed—as is the case in the consciousness of the leaders of Gush Emunim. Surprisingly, Kahane also ignores the prevailing view concerning the inherent, essential and independent sanctity of Eretz Israel—a view that is central to the perception of the spiritual leaders of Gush Emunim (based on the development of this concept from the time of Yehuda Halevi down to Rabbi Kook in this century). In Kahane's view, Eretz Israel is a tool, an instrument in the hands of the people, forged in order to serve it and to enable it to realize its destiny.5 The presence of the gentile in the Land of Israel, however, symbolizes the denial of the sovereignty of the Creator, of His capacity to distribute the lands of the earth as He wishes, of His mastery over the world. This gentile presence in the Land of Israel constitutes the greatest Desecration of the Divine Name, for these are people who, with their lips or in their hearts, negate the Jewish people's ownership of its land—that is to say, negate the absolute authority of God, which assigned and sanctified a certain land to a certain people.

Seen from this angle, the negation of the gentiles' civil rights and, eventually, their removal from the land, constitute an objective in its own right—one that is just as important as the Jewish return to the land, the Jewish settlement of the land:

The Arabs of Israel represent a Desecration of the Divine Name . . . Their removal, therefore, is more than a political matter. It is a religious matter, a religious obligation, a (fulfillment of the) commandment to do away with the Desecration of the Name . . . Let us remove the Arabs from Israel's midst, so as to bring the Redemption.6

From the land and the state we move on to Jewish society. Here, too, the gentile and the clash with him form the central point and the focus of identity. A uniform line may be detected on this subject, running from Kahane's books through his movement's leaflets and posters right down to his speeches and diatribes. We are always defined in negative terms, as being opposite—and above—the stranger. Our identity is invariably expressed within a context of confrontation and conflict. Who are we? We are chosen, we are special, we are supreme; we have been set apart from their abominations. No positive content is added to these declarations, no social program like those that characterized religious Zionism. What is good is good simply by virtue of its being the opposite of that which is outside, of the other, whatever it or he may be: ". . . a separate people, set aside, isolated and different, living apart from all the rest, without the defiling contact with the abomination of a culture conceived in uncleanness and born in profane vanity." 7 The reference here is to Western culture, as well as—in fact, more so—to the Arabs residing in our midst. Here, an utter demonization of the stranger is called for, and it is to this target that the barbs of Kahane's social propaganda are directed: the great majority of Arabs are base murderers, they seduce our Women and rape them, they rob us of our livelihood. The expressions used at public rallies are "vermin," "dogs," "foxes;" 8 and "We will deal with them," "We will extirpate them," and the like.

If the state, the land, as well as the society, are judged in this light, no wonder that this will be the focal point in other domains as well—economics and finance, labor and welfare, moral rectitude. Then, too, there is the obsessive preoccupation with the issue of sexual relations between gentile men and Jewish Women. In Kahane's words: "Day after day the Ishmaelite adds to the desecration of the Name, roaming around the country, looking for Jewish girls so as to have intercourse with them." 9 Kahane has demanded legislation that would impose long prison sentences upon any Arab having sexual relations with a Jewish woman.

In the light of all this, it is clear that the clash with the gentile, the stranger, is not primarily a product of political or security Concerns; rather it is a substantive matter, one of cognizance and Consciousness. It is no wonder that this clash did not first rise here in Israel in the conflict with the Arabs. It began in the United States, in a confrontation with the Blacks and, later, with the Soviets. After that, in Israel, Kahane turns his attention to the Black Hebrews in Dimona, to the Christian missionaries,10 and only then to the Arabs. All along the way he is busy fanning the flames of every possible confrontation. It would appear that only in this fashion, in the face of confrontation, the "I" comes into its own, achieves its full identity. Is it the theory, one wonders, that directs the action? Or is it a matter of mentality—the kind that seeks out the clash with the stranger, the other? The fact is that Kahane's first public activity in the United States was to organize a movement in support of the us involvement in Vietnam. His first book, too, was devoted to this subject.11

Beyond all this, there arises, in its full severity, the question of the internal confrontation within the people of Israel—the frontal clash with the secular or the leftist Jew and with secular Zionism (the "Hellenization" theme). When this motif is combined with radical political Messianism, far-reaching conclusions and implications are evoked. The existence of these two elements in tandem releases inhibitions that generally hold back other extremist groups, which curb their thinking and their actions.

Until now, the religious community in Israel has produced two radical, polarized groups, two opposing extremist ideologies: the anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox (Haredi) conception, and the Zionist Messianic-political conception. While one element in each of these positions leads to radicalization, militancy and clashes—a second acts as a moderating and braking element.12

In the radical ultra-Orthodox perception (as exemplified by Neturei Karta and Satmar Hasidim), confrontation is the product of the negation and sharp rejection of the secular Jew, and of the very existence of a Jewish state, in pre-Messianic times. The potential for an outburst and a clash is here to be found in the uncompromising rejection of the other Jew and his institutions.

On the other hand, in the very same perception one will also find the machinery for holding back and for limitation. It is a time of exile, not of redemption. In other words, we are living in an age of non-fulfillment, of imperfection, of "broken vessels"—not in an age of totality, of ultimate Messianic realization. Hence, the meaning of our actions, too, is not a total meaning, nor does it approach the borders of the absolute and the eternal. This awareness has a sobering, restraining effect: We must not try to hasten the advent of the Messiah, the ultimate redemption. The Jew in exile has always known how to accept his fate, wait patiently, subsist and survive under foreign rule and bend under adversity. Even here, in the Holy Land, we have not yet been redeemed from our spiritual exile (and we do not recognize political redemption without spiritual redemption). In the nature of things, therefore, we must expect nonfulfillment, faulty performance and partial solutions. Not everything hangs in the balance awaiting final and absolute decisions.

The precise opposite of this approach is to be found in the extreme Messianic-political perception. Here, radicalism is produced by the consciousness of redemption, the consciousness of the ultimate fulfillment from which there is no turning back. There is here a potential for collision in the sense of urgency, of a unique opportunity, and of the certainty felt by the pioneer marching in the forefront of his society, leading it towards the inevitable redemption. It is a time of final reckoning from which there is no retreat—a time that allows for a liberated drive for perfection, for the long-awaited breakthrough towards totality (reaching its climax in attempts to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount and the like). The logic of the era of the "latter days," of a Messianic order of things, leaves no room for acceptance and adaptation of partial and faulty phenomena. This conception threatens to burst all sorts of dams and encumbrances imposed by the realities of history.

On the other hand, this very same perception also carries within it the potential for restriction and restraint: The members of this group have adopted the doctrine of the late Rabbi A.I. Kook regarding the role of the secular Zionist as a partner, a man who lays the groundwork for the religious redemption, a potential penitent returning to the Jewish fold. Thus, a head-on collision between Jews and latter-day "Hellenists" has been avoided, at least at the ideological level. This redemption-consciousness seeks out the good in those being redeemed, ready to defend and protect the community at large. The renewal of the Jewish body politic in its land draws its validity and its authority from the will of the Jewish community at large, and not from that of some small isolationist elite. By all means, therefore, the assumption of a leadership role—stepping out in front of the camp—is a worthy endeavor; however, in principle, at least, one should take care not to cut oneself off from the camp. (True, some recent events have shown that these ideological principles have not provided an iron-clad guarantee against subversion and the breaking down of barriers. It is no coincidence, however, that the critics of subversion, its opponents within the group itself, have been arguing on the basis of such concepts as Jewish peoplehood, Jewish sovereignty, love of one's fellow Jews and the like).13

Now along comes Meir Kahane and adopts elements of both: a radical confrontation within the Jewish ranks, on the one hand, and radical Messianism, on the other. To put it another way, he has managed to free himself both from the self-imposed restrictions of "love for one's fellow Jews," in the style of the Gush Emunim leadership, and from the fears connected with a premature redemption, in the style of the ultra-Orthodox leadership. Thus, all restraints have been removed.

First, there is the call for a frontal clash with the "Hellenists." This call has been played down or covered up somewhat in Kahane's recent public appearances, but those who will trouble to read his books will find it there in full force. Some examples:

. . . a country crawling with Hellenism . . . Hebrew-speaking goyyim whose self-hate—the spoiled fruit of the cancerous "I"—drives them to reject Judaism and trample it underfoot . . . Hellenists running wild in God's Temple . . . On the day that Judaism was separated from Zionism, the latter became just another form of ugly nationalism . . . Jews versus Hellenists: that is the real battle.14

Kahane does not shrink from the use of expressions like these, and it is quite clear that if the problem of the external clash, the confrontation with the Arabic-speaking goyyim, were to be "resolved," his militant zeal would be directed, full force, at the internal clash—the confrontation with the "Hebrew-speaking goyyim." For "this is a war, no less a war between two philosophies of life that cannot coexist: they are destined to do battle with each other unto death." 15 The constraints imposed by the dictum, "Love of one's fellow-Jew," Gush Emunim style, do not apply here.

Moreover, as for the leaders of the Israeli Left, no holds are barred. Indeed, there are explicit references, in Kahane's writings to people of this stripe deserving to die:

. . . It is this foreign body, this malignancy of gentilized foreign culture, concepts and values, that must be dealt with and erased from our midst . . . These are born-by-accident Jews who are riven with schizophrenia over their identity . . . the truth is that they—not the PLO—represent the real threat to the Jewish state and people . . . They corrupt the country from within . . What to do? How do we fight this? How do we urgently act? . . . The answer lies in ridding ourselves of the extremist version of"love of Jews" . . . Indeed, the rabbis of the Talmud bring down the verse, "and thou shalt love thy fellow Jew as thyself," in order to explain why we must kill the Jew, who is deserving of death, in a humane way ("Bror lo mitah yafah"—Psachim, 75).16

Second, the Messiah is just around the corner. "It is crystal-clear that Almighty God is prepared, this day, to lead us to the full and final redemption, and that the initial phase of this redemption is already in full swing. We have arrived at the historic moment of redemption." 17 Moreover, "time is running out," the end approaches. And, in the true style of the "reckoners of the end of days," we know the precise time that has been allotted us from on high—"forty years" (that is the name of a detailed pamphlet devoted to this forecast). "An extension of forty years—God's last hope that, perhaps, His last warning might be heard. The countdown has begun—the countdown of forty years—our last chance." 18

We no longer live in the age of exile, adaptation and patience, waiting for the storm to pass; it is, rather, an age of mastery and pride. Nor is it a time of partial, gradual fulfillment and renascence, but a time of decision—total, final, overwhelming. No fears, there, of a "prematurely induced redemption," as the ultra-Orthodox would have it.

Finally, in addition to the radicalizing factors cited above, Kahane creates yet another radicalization with his catastrophic motif—his warning of an approaching disaster to be brought on by God's wrath. This applies to Diaspora Jewry as well as to the Jews of the State of Israel.

The Jews of the Diaspora face disaster and destruction worse than the Holocaust of European Jewry. Their countries of residence are moving towards collapse, towards total devastation; and the hardest hit will be the Jew. He will experience a double fall: firstly, as part of the general population of those countries, as a resident of the United States or of Europe. Secondly, as a Diaspora Jew, as a scapegoat for the nations of the world, a target for their slings, a suitable object for their blame—as has always been the case. 19

As for the Jews of the State of Israel, they have been granted a limited reprieve, an allotted period of time in which their fate will be decided: if we perform our duty, if we pass the test, the full redemption will come about without crisis or catastrophe. If we hesitate, however, if we holdback, if we miss our opportunity, the full redemption will be accompanied by tragedy, its course will be marked by devastation and ruin, as set forth in the Scriptures that depict "the great and the terrible day of the Lord."

On what, then, does our fate depend? What is the supreme test? As may be expected—it is the clash with the gentile, with the demon—in other words, the removal of the Arabs from the country (or, sometimes, the negation of their civil rights and their subjugation). This removal means the solution of the demographic problem, of the problem of mingling, of the problems of terror and treachery. But, above all, it means cleansing the Holy Land of the Desecration of the Divine Name that is manifest in the presence of gentiles:

The redemption could come at once and in shining glory if we act in accordance with what we have been commanded by God; or else it may come in the wake of some terrible tragedy—if we refuse (to act thus). A major criterion for true Jewish faith in this decisive era is our willingness to set aside our fear of man—in favor of the fear of God and the removal of the Arabs from Israel . . . Let us remove the Arabs from our midst, so as to bring the redemption.20

Thus we have all the elements of a radicalization coming together in one political point, namely, the removal of the Arabs: firstly, the confrontation with the gentile as the focus of Jewish identity; secondly, the intra-Jewish confrontation; thirdly, precipitous Messianism; fourthly, the threatening catastrophe.


It is patently clear that this ideology and this consciousness have not been able to strike deep roots in the reality of today's Israel. Most of Meir Kahane's support has been not in response to his calls concerning "Hellenism," Messianism or the catastrophe doctrine but for other reasons that have yet to be explored. A distinction must be drawn between the ideology and the mind-set of the leader as reflected in his writings, and the social and political expression: of support for him and his movement.

True, there are certain social groups in Israel that find their identity in confrontation with the stranger, the "other." Prominent among these are those of Kahane's followers who have recently immigrated to Israel from the United States or the Soviet Union, a well as earlier immigrants who, for various reasons, have not been fully integrated in Israeli society. The manifestations of externally directed hostility and anger to be found in these circles may be explained both as a reaction to internal social alienation, in Israel itself, and as the expression of a hostility imported from the outside, from the Exile.

Still, this does not fully account for the phenomenon of Kahanism. It is necessary to probe into the source of support for Kahane and his movement among veteran Israelis as well—religious as well a secular members of different communities and of different socif strata. (An analysis of the results of the last [1984] elections showed that the vote for Kach ranged across a fairly wide spectrum of social groupings.21 Developments following the elections confirmed this.) What, then, are the roots of Kahanism in the Israeli consciousness and experience? In my personal, non-"professional" assessment, there are a number of major factors.

(1) It goes without saying that the problem has arisen against certain factual and objective background: there is an enemy; there is rule over others; there are terror and murder. Every Israeli is exposed to these brutal facts day in, day out, from one newscast to the next. It is natural that this situation should generate deep fears, feelings of indignation, hostility and hate. For many year however, we trained ourselves to repress these sentiments. The accepted norms of Israeli society, the very language spoken in this society, did not allow for such feelings to be aired. The menacing genie was simply pushed back into the bottle, deep down, so that should not shatter normal patterns of thought and discourse, or undermine its self-image.

From time to time there were deviations from this conduct—some called these unavoidable in the circumstances, others regarded them as manifestations of man's evil inclination. But there was no ideology that justified or approved these deviations on their merits, or that presented them as morally good and proper.

Then Meir Kahane arrives on the scene and elevates all these to the level of a positive ideological message: this is not our evil inclination, not the forces of darkness welling up from within our souls, but a privilege and a commandment, an expression of religious faith and national loyalty. The genie has been released from the bottle and allowed to move freely in our midst. It is not the content of the message that captures people's minds but rather the very fact that there is an ideology of some kind that offers a release and an outlet for the fears and the stored-up anger. To put it another way: it is the combination of ideological legitimization conveyed by Kahane and our objective fear, as well as our evil inclination, that gives rise to the social phenomenon known as Kahanism. In point of fact, Kahane does appeal—deliberately—to the prevailing feelings of fear and of anger, to the helplessness of the families of terror victims, and so on.

(2) The people of Israel face a number of serious national problems, in the social, economic and security domains, as well as in other spheres. The Israeli public, and the youth in particular, are experiencing feelings of disquiet, unease and uncertainty. In such a situation people will tend to opt for one of two possible responses, to make a choice between two spiritual and practical alternatives. One response is to turn inward, to demand an effort, self-improvement, readiness to pay a personal as well as a national price in many fields. It calls for sacrifice and a gradual process of reconstruction. The other response turns outward. It looks for a blemish that is clearly visible and that may be addressed as the source of all trouble and infirmity—a blemish that must be cleansed, that must be removed and, with it, all the problems that beset us. It focuses all the problems on one specific area, on one guilty party, whose elimination is the key to any solution.

The choice between these two alternatives has had to be made in the past by other nations as well, and their decisions are recorded in the history books. Today it is Israeli society that is called upon to make that choice—and to do so under the most difficult of circumstances, of terror and bereavement. Lately it has become apparent that some of the members of our society are no longer prepared to bear the spiritual-emotional burden, and to pay the price that is demanded of them. They are looking, instead, for the blemish, for the demon whose removal is going to cure all our ills.

A few words are in order, at this point, on the question of racism. When the stain to which we have referred, the dark spot, is identified with the members of a particular nation, with all the members of a particular ethnic group, wherever they may be, without difference or distinction, we find ourselves on the threshold of racism. Let me stress one thing: From the formal point of view, Meir Kahane and his movement are not racists. The doctrine of racism does not allow for transition from one group to another, by any manner or means. The path from the inferior race to the superior is totally blocked. Meir Kahane, on the other hand, does allow such transition—from one nation to another, one religion to anotherby means of conversion; nor does he claim preference for one or another body or blood group. From the standpoint of the inner content, however, of the spiritual roots of Kahanism, there is a strong resemblance to the racist mind-set aiming to divest itself of the burden, of the internal price to be paid, by means of the demonization of a foreign element and the expressed wish to "extirpate," to "take care of," to "remove" and the like. The root is one and the same. This is manifested in style, too, in the words spoken at public meetings and rallies. It is the style of hate and vituperation directed at the Arab as Arab. One readily discerns, on hearing these words, that the call for the expulsion of the Arabs is not linked to security or halakhic arguments alone; nor does it really address itself to the mind and the reason. It speaks to quite another level of the listener's psyche—the level of straight-forward, undisguised ethnic hostility, a hostility that only grows stronger in the face of the harsh realities of our region.

Clearly, this concentration on the dark spot exercises a considerable attraction. Anyone who thought that we were immune to this sort of thing has lately been compelled to acknowledge this additional aspect of the "normalization" of the Jewish people.

Meir Kahane's public stand on this issue has become increasingly radical over the years, In the early 1970s he was still content with "encouraging emigration," that is, "purely voluntary emigration, born of the free choice and decision of the Arab as an individual." Kahane at that time went so far as to declare that, in spite of the fact that "the Arabs who will refuse to leave the Land of Israel will surely be the majority of the Arab population and will always constitute a political and demographic threat, . . . we must not do anything that would impinge on the civil rights of the Arab citizens of the state or of their children; but it is possible to neutralize them." 22 (Emphasis in the original.) In recent years, however, Kahane has begun calling for the denial of the Arabs' civil rights, for placing them under conditions of subjugation, and for creating a situation wbere some will leave willingly and others under compulsion: "There will be those who will refuse to leave the country of their own free will. These are our bitterest and most dangerous enemies among the Arabs. Their expulsion from the land is of particular importance and must be carried out with despatch and unhesitatingly." 23 (In many cases, the borderline between the demand for the negation of rights and for subjugation, on the one hand, and the demand for outright expulsion, on the other, is left undefined.) In speeches during the last election campaign and since, the recurring emphasis has been on the expulsion of the gentiles from the Land of Israel as the only solution.

Kahane's speeches and mass-distributed posters—as distinguished from his books—go beyond vituperation and the demand for expulsion. For example: "Our war is not only against the PLO but against the entire 'Palestinian' people. It is a 'mitzvah-war' (a religious obligation) requiring the annihilation of any people whose desire is the annihilation of the Jewish people, the people of God." 24 (!) Or: Newspaper advertisements calling upon us, in giant letters, to join in the establishment in Shechem (Nablus) of a settlement to be named Af Sha'al (not an inch)—the word sha'al being explained in terms of the rather original acronym, "Shimon with Levi" (an allusion to the biblical story of Simeon and Levi avenging the rape of their sister Dinah by killing the entire male population of Shechem).25

(3) Just as Kahanism offers the Israeli an escape from personal effort and the price that needs to be paid,26 so too it releases him from hesitation and endless soul-searching. To the youth, especially, Kahane offers "consistency," one-dimensionalism, certainty; an end to split values and inner dilemmas—and instead, a clear-cut, final solution.

All of us, doves and hawks alike, have been wrestling for many years with the tension between the aspiration to develop Israel as a Jewish state (including the Law of Return and its implications) and the aspiration to maintain equal civil rights for all, Jews and non-Jews. All of us, on the Right as on the Left of the political spectrum, have been wrestling with the tension between a life in a state of war with the inhabitants of the neighboring Arab countries and the expectation that their brethren—who live within our borders—will remain loyal to the State of Israel. We maintain this split-level system of values not because it is without problems but, rather, because of our belief that any other solution will be worse, will be destructive, morally as well as pragmatically; and because we realize that the historical realities are complex and multidimensional, and do not offer final solutions prior to the advent of the Messiah. Throughout the history of Zionism, it was the Arabs who were generally "consistent," unequivocal and clear-cut in pursuit of their objectives—and it was they who lost one position after another in the process. The proposal before us now is a switch of roles, both in our mode of thinking and in practice. There can be no doubt concerning the force of attraction exercised by this simplistic and absolutist approach which views the realities through a single perspective, and sets aside all political limitations an moral reservations.

The nature of this one-dimensional outlook is revealed also in the following phenomenon: When Kahane is asked whether his "solution" will not create serious problems in a variety of fields—war, foreign relations, the economy, internal strains in the Jewish community and so on—his answer is that we must have "faith," perfect faith in the wondrous salvation of God, in the divine help that is assured to Jews when they fulfill their duty. Thus:

The more isolated the Jew, the greater the sense of awe and sanctity in the victory of the Almighty . . . And when the day arrives when there will no longer be any alien in whom Israel can trust, even if we appeal to them—then we will witness the Sanctification of the Holy One, and His kingdom will be established in the world.27

In point of fact, that is his answer on every subject but one—the Arabs of Eretz Israel. Here there is no reliance on miracles. Here we are duty-bound to act without reservations. In other word: Kahane turns out to be a "believer," ready to rely on miraculous divine intervention, in every domain, but he is a "realist" in one: the confrontation with the local Arabs. In this domain, the call is for the adoption of a pragmatic, consistent stand, on man's initiative.

In a sense, this is the opposite message of the one proclaimed by Gush Emunim, which adopts a clear-cut, practical position on many issues, but not on the problem of the Arabs living within the domain of Eretz Israel (what is sometimes referred to as "Greater Israel"—the area up to the River Jordan). And now along comes Kahane and offers a clear-cut "solution" precisely in that area wher Israel's political Right betrays ambivalence, offers a release from hesitation, soul-searching and moral inhibitions.

It must be noted in this context that Rabbi Moshe Levinger, leader of the radical group within Gush Emunim, has lately begun to talk in terms of limiting the rights of Israeli Arabs to the sphere of private life, and of taking away their right to vote in Knesset elections. This contradicts the declared position of the Gush; and it may be a response to the direct question posed by Kahane. Of course, th existence of Kahane makes possible the radicalization of other positions which, from now on, will appear "moderate" in any event.

An observation is called for, in this context, concerning the impact of Kahanism on the boys and girls who have been raised in the religious Zionist movement. This movement has distinguished itself, all along, by its endeavor to maintain complex conceptions and split-valued positions in various domains: Torah and labor, yeshiva study and army service, Zionism and religion, Torah and science, Torah and Derech Eretz etc. While other contemporary Jewish movements made their choice on one side or another—either Torah or labor, either yeshiva or army—religious Zionism consciously chose to maintain the tension and to produce a synthesis.

In recent years, however, the synthesis has been weakened in certain circles. Many of the young people have found it difficult to keep faith with the comprehensive position, and a flight towards the opposite poles, towards mutually exclusive decisions has occurred. Lately this process has been accelerated in the face of Gush Emunim's explicit message: Greater Israel with all its Arab inhabitants on the one hand, and equal rights and moral reservations, on the other. The problem is evident, and along comes Meir Kahane, offering a sharp, clean-cut solution in this domain as well, responding to the needs of those youngsters who for some time now have tended to reject messages that appear to them to be lacking in clarity, and that have forced them into moral inhibitions of which they wearied.

(4) A number of recent developments in Israel's affairs and in the socio-political atmosphere in Israel have also contributed significantly to the emergence of the Kahanist phenomenon.

Two of these are directly connected with the war in Lebanon. On the one hand, the internal political polarization in Israel greatly increased during various stages of this war. In not a few cases, one's opponent was depicted not merely as a political adversary but as a "traitor," in one case, and as a "murderer" in the other. This kind of development makes for accelerated radicalization in various fields, and in such cases the extremes tend to reinforce each other.

On the other hand, a prominent characteristic of this war found expression in the fact that, in many cases, the Israeli soldier found himself face-to-face with the Arab as an individual, posing a danger at every step, at every corner and behind every rock or bush. This was not the kind of war to which he was accustomed, a war between armies or armoured corps, but a war of terror, a clash between individuals and small units fighting for their lives—with every Arab, soldier or civilian, Palestinian or Lebanese, Shi'ite or Druse, representing a direct threat and a potential bombshell. It goes without saying that this kind of situation sharpens and increases the sense of confrontation with the Arab as Arab, and it is apt to generate personal hostility towards the individual, instead of towards governments and armies only.

Then there was the retirement of Menachem Begin as Prime Minister and head of the Likud. Ever since his retreat into seclusion, the need of a part of Israel's citizenry for a "strong," charismatic and resolute leader has remained unsatisfied. It may be that if Mr. Begin (or Ariel Sharon) had headed the Likud in the last election campaign, the chances of Meir Kahane being elected to the Knesset would have been materially reduced.

Finally, there is the wide use being made by Kahane of current feelings of social and communal deprivation, and of the argument that Arabs are taking away Jews' jobs and depriving them of their livelihood. This kind of propaganda has proved very effective in a period of unemployment in development towns and other communities; journalists and pollsters have already had occasion to call attention to the impact it has had in these communities. In effect it appears that much of the sense of frustration, deprivation and alienation in various fields has been channelled into support for Kahane, who emerges as rebel par excellence, adversary of the Establishment and foe of the social conventions.

(5) The support Meir Kahane has been able to muster among the public has been helped also by the fact that in his speeches he has played down and largely concealed the sharp hostility towards non-Orthodox Jews one finds in his books. This shrewd tactic which prevents the exposure of certain implications of his doctrine in the context of the internal confrontation in the Jewish community, clears the way for the support of irreligious voters. In the words of one enthusiastic follower during a press interview: "Kahane himself told me, "never mind, Reuven, you understand more about religion than any Kippa-wearing religious fellow who votes for Burg!" (i.e., for the National Religious Party).28

Kahane calls for the expulsion of the Arabs, as he poses the incisive question: Will we allow an Arab majority to undermine the Jewish character of the state—democratically? What he does not tell his listeners, however, is that behind this question lurks another, no less "consistent" one: will we allow a secular majority to mold our state as a "Hellenist" state—democratically? Kahane's tactic has worked so far, but it is doubtful that it will be possible to continue with it indefinitely, considering that the man and his movement will be called upon to offer concrete answers to questions concerning the internal Jewish scene, questions of religion and state, religion and society and the like—questions that constantly occupy the attention of the Israeli public.29

The phenomenon of Kahanism has been roundly condemned by spokesmen30 representing the entire ideological and political spectrum in Israel. The criticism has been based on human values and moral considerations, Jewish sources and the collective Jewish historical experience, as well as pragmatic, utilitarian factors. Israeli society will be tested by its capacity to cope directly by ideological, educational, juridical and political means—with the roots of Kahanism, which threatens its humanism, its Jewishness and its peace and well-being.

About the Author

Aviezer Ravitzy is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His book on the medieval Jewish philosopher. Rabbi Hasdai ben Abraham Crescas (1340-1410) will be published shortly by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Mr. Ravitzky is now working on a book on Messianism and Zionism. The essay here published is a translation of a lecture delivered before the Study Circle on World Jewry under the auspices of the President of Israel on April 22, 1985. The complete Hebrew text appeared in the fourteenth series of publications of the Study Circle, edited by Yehuda Bauer, Shazar Library, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


1. See Tehumin, B(1981), edited by I. Warhaftig.

2. M. Kahane. Forty Years (Jerusalem. after 1978). p. 3 {in Hebrew).

3. Idem. As Thorns in Your Eyes (Jerusalem 1980). p. 244 (in Hebrew).

4. Forty Years. p. 19.

5. As Thorns in Your Eyes, p. 224; On Faith and Redemption (Jerusalem 1980) pp. 71, 92 (in Hebrew).

6. As Thorns in Your Eyes, pp. 244-45.

7. Forty Years, p. 13.

8. See, for example, O. Shohat, Ha'aretz (May 22, 1985); M. Kahane, ibid., p. 49.

9. Ibid., p. 49.

10. See E. Sprinzak, The Origins of the Politics of Delegitimization in Israel (Jerusalem 1973), p. 28.

11. See M. Kahane, J. Churba and M. King, The Jewish State in Vietnam (New York 1967). (M. Kahane and Michael King are one and the same. For some surprising biographical details about Kahane's activities in that period, see The Village Voice, New York, October 9, 1984.) In this book, Western democracy is still portrayed as a highly positive value that is worth fighting for (see, for example, p. 92).

12. See my article, "Messianism, Zionism and the Future of Israel: the Conflicting Religious Perceptions in Israel," Israel Towards the 21st Century (Jerusalem 1984), pp. 135-197 (in Hebrew).

13. See, for example, Rabbi Yitzhak Shilat, "And Let Us Renew There the Kingdom," Ha-tzofeh, May 25, 1984; Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, "An Accounting," Zeraim, Adar-Nisan 5744 (1984).

14. Forty Years, pp. 30-31.

15. Ibid., p. 13.

16. "To Have the Strength to be Strong," Jewish Press, Vol. 34, No. 35, August 1984; see also remarks by Secretary-General of Kach movement, Ma'ariv, August 16, 1984.

17. M. Kahane, The Challenge—A Chosen Land (Jerusalem 1973), p. 10 (in Hebrew}.

18. Forty Years, p. 2.

19. This is a recurrent theme in his above-cited Hebrew works; see also M. Kahane, Time to Go Home (Los Angeles 1975).

20. As Thorns in Your Eyes, pp. 244-45.

21. See G. Bieger,Ma'ariv ,August 2, 1984. There is a close corre1ation between low education and income levels and votes for Kahane. See Y. Peleg and G. Shafif, Davar, June 2, 1985.

22. See The Challenge—A Chosen Land. p. 49.

23. As Thorns in Your Eyes, p. 235.

24. Kach poster, Adar 5743 (1983).

25. See Genesis 34: 25; 49: 5-7.

26. See the fitting remarks of Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, "The Cancer," Yediot Aharonot, August 3, 1984.

27. On Faith and Redemption, p. 108; see also M. Kahane, Israel: Eternity and Victory (Tel Aviv , no date), p. 9 (in Hebrew).

28. Yediot Aharonot, August 17, 1984. My thanks to my friends Haim Goldgraber and Aryeh Barnea, who gave me access to the press clippings they had collected on the subject of Kahane.

29. After this article was written, a coalition was set up in Kiryat Arba with the participation of Kahane supporters. Indeed, the issue of a series of religious demands at once made the headlines and aroused fierce opposition among secular residents.

30. Statement of the President of Israel, August 1, 1984:

A program that advocates racism, discrimination and the denial of rights is contrary to Israel's Torah and has no place in a Jewish state. Coming to grips with this shameful phenomenon represents a moral challenge to the Jewish people, which has suffered, throughout its history, from persecution, expulsion, hate and discrimination" . . . This phenomenon is alien to the spirit of Israel and stands in total contradiction to all the exalted human values of Judaism and Zionism, rooted in Israel's Torah and in the Declaration of Independence.

Chief Justice Menahem Eilon (judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of the Kach list of the Knesset elections):

The content and aims of the Kach list stand in flagrant contradiction to the doctrines of Judaism, its laws and customs, to the past of the Hebrew nation and to its aspirations for the future. They stand in total contradiction to the basic moral principles of this people, to Israel's Declaration of Independence and to the rudiments of the enlightened democracies of our day. They constitute an attempt to have the Jewish state adopt notions and deeds held and practiced by the most degenerate of the world's nations.

The government's Legal Adviser:

The phenomenon of Kahanism is shameful, abominable and in flagrant contradiction to all the values we cherish. It also conflicts with international law, distorts Judaism and the heritage of the Jewish people and undermines the foundations of the State of Israel. It is devoid of heart and of humanity. Kahanism is a phenomenon that encourages the killing of innocents and is therefore intolerable. It poses a danger not only to Arabs, but to Israel and the Jewish people.
Sentiments in this vein have been expressed by many—from all parts of the political spectrum. The most outspoken, perhaps, in this regard has been Member of Knesset Michael Eitan of the Herut movement, who drew a detailed comparison between the legislative proposals of Kahane and the Nuremberg Laws.

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