Meir David HaKohen Kahane was an American-Israeli ordained Orthodox rabbi, writer and ultra-nationalist politician who served one term in Israel's Knesset. His work influenced most modern Jewish militant and far-right political groups

A funeral for Rabbi Kahane has been held  at Young Israel of Ocean Parkway, at 1781 Ocean Parkway in Flatbush, after which his body has been flown to Israel.

NyTimes Archives | 1990

Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League, who was shot to death in a Manhattan hotel last night, made a long journey from the streets of Brooklyn to a powerful position on the far-right fringes of Israeli politics.

To his followers, the 58-year-old Orthodox rabbi's slogan of "Never Again" meant simply that Jews would fight before enduring any threat; that the Holocaust would never be repeated. To his enemies, including many in Israel, he was a charlatan and a racist.

Elected to the Israeli Parliament in 1984, Rabbi Kahane threatened to become a major force in the fragmented world of Israeli politics until his Kach Party was banned in 1988 on the ground that it was racist and undemocratic.

He publicly called Arabs "dogs." Liberal Israelis pelted him with eggs, but he drew strength from many fearful and resentful Israelis, particularly Sephardic Jews of the Middle East. Cheered at Rallies

"I don't want to kill Arabs, I just want them to live happily, elsewhere," he told cheering rallies. "Give me the strength to take care of them once and for all."

"Kahane, King of Israel," his followers shouted back at a funeral of two Jewish schoolteachers allegedly killed by Arab youths in 1985. "Kahane, messiah, messiah. The Arabs are everywhere."

"Before his election a year ago, Kahane was just an illness; now he is an epidemic," Alouph Harevan, associate director of the Van Leer Foundation, a private Israeli research group trying to promote tolerance, said that year.

When he took his seat in Parliament, most Israeli political commentators dismissed him as "an American import" and a "racist lunatic" who would never find a serious following in Israel.

But it soon became clear he had tapped a visceral political feeling. An Appeal Based on Fear

"I have touched a simple and honest nerve on the part of the people," Rabbi Kahane said. He said the appeal was based on mounting fears Israelis had of Arabs and of a desire to end what they called the Arab problem once and for all.

That desire was still visible last May as Rabbi Kahane was part of a crowd seeking revenge after a Palestinian wielding a knife killed two Israelis in Jerusalem's Old City.

Joining hands in a human chain and shouting "Kill the Arabs" the crowd marched toward the walled city and tried to lynch two Arab passers-by who were rescued by the police. Rabbi Kahane was arrested in the incident. Violence Between Arabs and Jews

Political commentators in Israel said the appeal of his ideas, which was particularly strong among young voters, had several roots: nationalism had become increasingly acceptable; personal violence between Arabs and Jews had increased, and confidence in Israel's major parties had weakened.

Born Martin Kahane in New York on Aug. 1, 1932, Rabbi Kahane, who grew up in a second-floor apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, was the first-born son of Rabbi and Mrs. Charles Kahane.

"He was always a sensitive and sentimental boy," his father, a highly regarded Talmudic scholar, said in a 1971 interview. A Brilliant Student

As a boy, Meir began his education in neighborhood yeshivas, later enrolling as a night student at Brooklyn College, where he comfirmed his reputation as a brilliant student, graduating in three and a half years.

Ordained as a rabbi after studying at the Mirrer Yeshiva, he was named to head a congregation in Howard Beach, Queens, where he served for two years in the mid-1950's.

The Rabbi began using the Anglicized pseudonym "Michael King" in 1962 -- mostly as a lark, he said.

To those who knew nothing of his background as a Brooklyn-born scholar, he was an author who lived in an apartment on Manhattan's East Side.

Meir's brother Nachman -- who came to regard his brother as "an idealistic fighter for a great cause" -- was later a ranking civil servant in Israel's Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Reminiscing about Meir in the interview, the father recalled that his son's political views first began to take shape in 1952, after swastikas were smeared on several synagogues in Brooklyn.

The elder Kahane, then the head of the Rabbinical Board of Flatbush, said he had returned home after a meeting about the incident feeling depressed and discouraged.

"Unwittingly, I said it would be a good idea if Jews would organize an underground," the father said. "Meir took it seriously."

" 'That's the only thing we can do,' " the father remembered Meir saying. Paramilitary Youth Movement

Meir came early to his militancy. As a teen-ager in Brooklyn, he joined Betar, the paramilitary youth movement of the right-wing Herut Party led by Menachem Begin, with its roots in the Jabotinsky Revisionist Movement. At 15, he smashed the car windows of the visiting British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, as a protest against the British mandate over Palestine. Beginning with that incident, he estimated that he spent a total of three years in jail in the United States.

Jewish philosophy, Rabbi Meir Kahane contended, was never based on Western democatic principles, but on Jewish ritual law, that he said forbade close contact with non-Jews.

"I have said it a million times," he said. "Western democracy as we know it is incompatible with Zionism. Zionism came into being to create a Jewish state. Zionism declares that there is going to be a Jewish state with a majority of Jews, come what may.

"Democracy says 'No, if the Arabs are the majority then they have the right to decide their own fate.' So Zionism and Democracy are at odds. I say clearly I stand with Zionism.

"I want a Jewish state, not a Hebrew-speaking Portugal," he said. 'Exchange of Populations'

Rabbi Kahane advocated what he called an "exchange of populations" -- the expulsion of Arabs -- contending that "a democracy allows non-Jews to become a majority and to turn Israel into a non-Jewish state."

"The idea of a democratic Jewish state is nonsense," he said.

He frequently warned against intermarriage and threatened in Israel to seek out Jewish women married to Moslems in Arab villages.

But reportorial investigations into Rabbi Kahane's own life have found a relationship he is alleged to have carried on under the name Michael King. The relationship was with a Christian woman, Gloria Jean D'Argenio, a sometime model who threw herself to her death from the Queensborough Bridge in 1966, apparently in despair over the relationship. Neighborhood Patrols

Rabbi Kahane founded the militant Jewish Defense League in Brooklyn in 1968, defying the stereotype of the Jew as victim. The organization mounted "anti-mugger" patrols in neighborhoods bordered by black areas, with which the group was at odds. They escorted Jewish teachers through black neighborhoods with baseball bats, taught riflery and karate to rabbinical students and invaded Soviet diplomatic offices here to protest the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union.

To his followers, he was the spearhead of insistence on Jewish rights. To established Jewish organizations, he was an embarrassment to the liberal traditions of Judaism and a right-wing danger to the faith. His enemies saw him as a terrorist.

The Jewish Defense League came under increasing pressure from the authorities, accused of a series of violent, anti-Soviet attacks, and Rabbi Kahane was sentenced to a year in jail for conspiring to make bombs.

He moved to Israel in 1971 and founded his Kach ("Thus") Party, which held many of the same ideals. Power to Fringe Parties

He was first elected to the Knesset in 1984 and in the fragmented Israeli parliamentary system, where proportional representation gives added power to fringe parties, particularly on the religious right, he was a growing political force.

But in October 1988, the Israeli Central Election Committee banned the party ruling it violated a 1985 law -- aimed specifically at Rabbi Kahane -- because of its "Nazi-like," "racist," and "undemocratic positions."

Rabbi Kahane is survived by his wife, the former Libby Blum; a brother, Nachman; his mother, Sonia; two sons, Baruch and Binyamin, and two daughters, whose names were not immediately available last night. All are of Jerusalem.


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