Tribute to Kahane Planned by Israeli Legislators

Rabbi’s Followers "Terror Cell in Parliament"

A plan by right-wing legislators in Israel to commemorate the anniversary this month of the death of Meir Kahane, whose banned anti-Arab movement is classified as a terrorist organisation, risks further damaging the prospects for talks between Israel and the Palestinians, US officials have warned.

A move to stage the commemoration in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is being led by Michael Ben-Ari, who was elected this year and is the first self-declared former member of Kahane’s party, Kach, to become a legislator since the movement was banned 15 years ago.

The US Embassy, in Tel Aviv, has sent a series of e-mails to Reuven Rivlin, the parliamentary speaker, asking that he intervene to block the event.

According to US officials, pressure is being exerted on behalf of George Mitchell, the US president Barack Obama’s envoy to the region, who is concerned that it will add to his troubles as Israeli and Palestinian leaders clash over a possible move by the Palestinians to issue a unilateral declaration of statehood.

Some Israeli legislators have warned that Mr Ben-Ari and his supporters are gaining a stronger foothold in parliament, in an indication of the country’s increasing lurch rightwards.

“Ben-Ari and the advisers he has brought with him are unabashed representatives for Kach and Kahane’s ideas,” said Ahmed Tibi, an Arab legislator and the deputy speaker. “What we have is in effect a terrorist cell in the parliament.”

Kahane, a US rabbi who emigrated to Israel in the early 1970s, advocated the expulsion of all Arabs from “Greater Israel”, an area that the far right believes encompasses not only Israel but also the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and parts of neighbouring Arab states.

Kahane was elected to parliament in 1984 but was barred from standing again four years later. He was assassinated by an Egyptian-American in New York in November 1990.

In 1994 Kach was declared a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States after Baruch Goldstein, a supporter, went on an armed rampage through the Ibrahimi mosque in the Palestinian city of Hebron, killing 29 worshippers and injuring 150.

Despite the ban, Kach is still active in many West Bank settlements, especially in and around Hebron, where shrines to Kahane and Goldstein regularly attract large numbers of devotees.

Mr Ben-Ari, one of four members of the National Union elected to the 120-seat parliament, has included as his parliamentary advisers two former Kach activists, Baruch Marzel and Itimar Ben Gvir, who are leaders of the far-right Jewish National Front. Mr Ben-Ari has never disavowed his support for Kahane, telling the Jerusalem Post newspaper this month that Kahane “dedicated his whole life to Israel … He was a great man and a great leader.”

This month Mr Ben-Ari was the voice on an advertisement on the Israeli radio station Reshet Bet to promote a public memorial service for Kahane held by his family. It was also reported that for the first time posters had been placed in many central areas of Jerusalem publicising the event and declaring “We all know now – Meir Kahane was right”.

The United States has expressed more concern, however, at a commemoration being planned in parliament.

Michael Perlstein, the second secretary at the US Embassy, is reported to have e-mailed Mr Rivlin several times, asking whether the commemoration was likely to be approved. According to e-mails leaked to the Israeli media, he added: “This is something Senator Mitchell and his team are following with some concern.”

An embassy spokesman reiterated those concerns last week: “To stir up controversy at the same time that we are trying to get people back to the [negotiating] table, is not productive of that effort. It is only natural that Senator Mitchell would be paying attention to that – and the US government as well.”

Mr Rivlin has reassured the United States that he has refused Mr Ben-Ari permission to stage a commemoration but has also admitted that it would be difficult for him to stop a “stunt” by Kahane supporters in the chamber.

“We are talking about a provocation,” Mr Rivlin told the Haaretz newspaper. “The man [Kahane] and his outlawed movement cannot be separated. This is an attempt to bring the Kach movement into the Knesset through the back door.”

Last week, Mr Ben-Ari appealed against the speaker’s decision to the House Committee, which rules on issues of parliamentary procedure. Mr Rivlin has said he will abide by the committee’s decision.

Its chairman, Yariv Levine of the ruling Likud Party, said he was not happy with Mr Rivlin’s refusal and is reported to be working with the speaker and Mr Ben-Ari to find a solution.

Mr Ben-Ari responded angrily to the US concern: “I was elected to the Knesset by citizens of the independent state of Israel. The flagrant involvement of Mitchell has crossed a red line and it testifies to the bowed head of the Knesset speaker that is turning the Knesset into a dish rag.”

Mr Ben-Ari is probably not the only former member of Kach in parliament. Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, the third largest in parliament, is believed to have joined Kach when he first arrived in Israel in the 1970s. His membership was revealed in February by Yossi Dayan, the movement’s former secretary general.

Last week Mr Ben-Ari had to cancel a trip to the United States, his first overseas visit, after he was refused a US visa. He had intended to speak to American Jewish groups to encourage emigration to Israel.

To date, the only authorised parliamentary commemorations are for Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated by a right-wing Jew in 1995, and for Rehavam Zeevi, a former general and leader of a far-right anti-Arab party, who was assassinated by Palestinian gunmen in 2001.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

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  1. sid wright said on November 22nd, 2009 at 12:59pm #

    Pro-Israel Canadians Strike Back with ‘Buy-Cott’ Campaign

    Leftists and anti-Israel activists in Canada will be “celebrating” the United Nations’ International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People November 28 with nationwide picketing of the country’s MEC stores (Mountain Equipment Co-op), a 2.9 million member strong retail cooperative, that sells outdoor gear and clothing – while supporters of Israel hit back with increased efforts to promote a “buy-cott” of Israeli goods.

    Leftist and anti-Israel groups have been using the Palestinian Solidarity Day as a springboard to punish Israel instead of seeking ways to improve the lives of Arabs living in Israel. Each year, groups in Canada hone in on a different business that buys from or otherwise has financial interests in Israel. The groups, under an umbrella organization called the “Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign,” have targeted MEC this year because some of the products it sells – including underwear and hydration packs – are made in Israel, by a company called Source Vagabond (best-known for their “shoresh” sandals, popular among Israeli youth).

    Demonstrations outside MEC stores will take place in the 12 cities in Canada where the large MEC branches are located, including Calgary, Toronto, Ottowa, Montreal, and Vancouver. Protestors will attempt to sign up shoppers on petitions calling for MEC to ban Israeli products, and the organization urges customers “write/fax/phone the board of MEC telling them of your actions and asking that MEC halt all dealings with Israeli companies.”

    The group has been targeting MEC not just in recent weeks but all year; at the company’s annual meeting last April, boycott organizers tried to foist a resolution on the company forbidding it to buy Israeli products. That effort, as well as other attempts to impose a boycott on Israeli goods in Canada, was foiled by the Canada-Israel Commitee’s “Buycott” campaign, which encourages Canadian consumers to buy Israeli goods.

    In one recent incident in Toronto, the group says, anti-Israel groups began a campaign against Israeli wines before Passover .In response, the group said, “the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto led the way in a Buy-cott drive to purchase as much Israeli wine as possible. E-mails were sent out to thousands and the pro-Israel community mobilized to counter the boycott, with their wallets and purses. The result? Within half an hour, the liquor store at which the protestors called for a boycott was completely sold out of Israeli wine.”

    Ironically, a recent editorial in the Vancouver Sun said that urging MEC to boycott Israeli goods would end up hurting the very people the anti-Israel groups claim they want to help; a boycott would “penalize MEC, its Israeli suppliers and Palestinian subcontractors who work for Source Vagabond Systems.”

  2. Shabnam said on November 22nd, 2009 at 6:40pm #

    By Yitzhak Laor
    And the left? In this spiritual context no left – which can only exist in a discourse of equality – can have air to breathe. So when the ethos “shut your mouth because we’ll punish you” rules everywhere, Peace Now was bound to disappear and be reduced to paid ads in the newspaper, with no foot soldiers. Meretz was bound to evaporate, and Labor’s doves were bound to crumble. This left insisted on clinging to the consensus, treating the conflict with the Palestinians as a war in defense of the state rather than as a massive policing of an occupied nation with tanks and F-16s.
    In short, this left vanished because it was afraid to call a spade a spade – a colonial war. Gradually, tens of thousands of left-wingers altered their positions. They continued to sing ” Song for Peace,” came to terms with “large settlement blocs” and said “no more violence.” Their government plundered water and land, and they knew nothing about it. They told the Palestinians to “lay down your arms” and denounced soldiers who refused to serve in the territories as though they had betrayed them.

    Throughout the 42 years of occupation, those moderate peace movements hardly made any contacts with the Palestinians. The Palestinians, for their part, did not always help, at least not during the first two decades of the occupation. But in that estrangement and in the peace camp’s clear preference to be on “the Israeli people’s side,” the left vaporized between one military operation and the next. It supported the IDF, sighed over the situation and waited for the Americans to make order in the region…



  3. b99 said on November 23rd, 2009 at 6:44am #

    Sid – “Seeking ways to improve the lives of Arabs in Israel’?

    That will come when Israel is a democratice state of its citizens rather than a race-based state of the Jews.

  4. sid wright said on November 23rd, 2009 at 10:13am #

    b99,why,in your opinion,can’t the jews have a state of their own?

  5. b99 said on November 23rd, 2009 at 10:39am #

    Sid- What do you mean by a state of their own? That they should evict non-Jews? That non-Jews should be second-class citizens? That their state should move beyond accepted borders and establish Apartheid rule in neighboring countries?

    Who has such a state?