Jewish Defense League leader Meir Kahane shot dead

By LESLIE WINES  |  Nov. 5, 1990
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NEW YORK -- Ultra right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane, the U.S.-born founder and leader of the Jewish Defense League who spent four stormy years in Israel's parliament, was shot to death Monday night in a Midtown Manhattan hotel, police said.

At least three other people were wounded in the incident in and outside the Marriott Marquis East hotel, including the unidentified gunman, who was in custody, police said.

Kahane, 58, was shot once in the head and once in the chest at 9:05 p.m. as he attended a conference on the second floor of the hotel and was taken to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition, police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Wrensen. He died at 9:57 p.m., hospital spokeswoman Karen Crowe said.

Officer Scott Bloch, another police spokesman, said, 'At the conference an unidentifed male walked up to (Kahane) and started to shoot, striking him twice. An innocent bystander also attending the conference was shot in the leg.'

An eyewitness said people approached Kahane for questions, and one man in the crowd 'was smiling and he looked very strange. ... He drew the gun ... and shot (Kahane).'

The gunman then fled to the street, where he tried to hijack a cab, Bloch said. 'At this point an on-duty worker from a nearby post office attempted to intervene and there was an exchange of shots,' Bloch said.

The postal worker suffered a superficial wound to the shoulder, and the suspect, whose identity was not known, suffered a gunshot wound to the chin, Bloch said. The gunman also was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he underwent surgery, said Crowe, the hospital spokeswoman. The bystander wounded inside the hotel suffered a superficial wound to the leg, Crowe said.

Mayor David Dinkins called Kahane's assassination 'an international tragedy that shocks all of us. Meir Kahane had devoted his life to the state of Israel and the support of the Jewish religion.'

The Brooklyn-born Kahane emigrated to Israel and in 1984 was elected to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, but because of his radically anti- Arab views was not permitted to run for a second term.

Kahane founded the JDL in the United States. The organization's rallying cry, 'Never Again,' refers to the 6 million Jews who perished in the Nazi holocaust.

A Zionist from his youth in New York, Kahane eventually emigrated to Israel. In 1984, as leader of the ultra right-wing Kach Party, he was elected to the Knesset, the Jewish state's parliament, on a promise to drive Arabs from Israel and the occupied West Bank. He also vowed to outlaw marriages between Jews and gentiles in Israel.

His outspokenness proved popular for a time, according to polls, but Kahane later found himself the pariah of Israeli politics. Political analysts said fellow Knesset members agreed informally to shun him, and the Israeli press and television chose to limit coverage of him, and eventually he was denied an opportunity to run for re-election.

'From our point of view, Mr. Kahane does not exist,' a Labor Party spokeswoman said in 1987. 'What he wants is against all our beliefs.'

Jerusalem Post Editor Ari Rath said the policy was an attempt to regain control from someone who used the press by staging events and gimmicks to espouse his beliefs repeatedly.NEWLN: more

Kahane was born in Brooklyn to a respected orthodox rabbi. A guest in their house, admired by young Kahane, was Zev Jabotinsky, founder of the Zionist movement's militant right wing and mentor of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

While a boy, Kahane directed his militance not at Arabs but the British, who occupied Palestine until 1948, when the state of Israel was declared. As a member of the Betar Youth Movement, Kahane demonstrated in favor of creating the Jewish state.

Kahane was 15 when he and his young colleagues smashed the car windows of Ernest Bevin, the British foreign secretary, on a visit to New York. Police arrested Kahane. It was the first of many arrests. He later estimated having spent more than three years in prisons in the United States and Israel.

'He showed brilliance as a kid, marked leadership, a tremendous drive and ambition,' said Mordechai Dolinsky, a friend from boyhood who, long after a political parting of ways, became director of the Israel Government Press Office.

In the 1960s, while in public relations, Dolinsky advised Kahane on how to counter black efforts to rid New York City schools of white teachers, many of them Jews. Kahane organized patrols on Halloween to keep hostile gangs from overturning gravestones in Jewish cemeteries.

Although Dolinsky said Kahane rarely heeded his advice, the meetings gave birth to the Jewish Defense League. Dolinsky dropped out, but the organization grew.

In the years that followed, it was accused of bombings and other vigilgnte actions against targets its members believed to be anti- Semitic. One bomb killed a receptionist at the office of Sol Hurok, an importer of Soviet talent. The JDL disavowed the act. While in the United States, Kahane spent a year in federal prison for conspiring to make bombs.

Kahane emigrated to Israel in 1971. The Interior Ministry nearly denied him citizenship, and he was roundly condemned in the Israeli parliament, for actions that over the years would include barging illegally into Jerusalem's Hebrew University and staging a demonstration in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Three times -- in 1973, 1977 and 1981 -- Kahane failed in his bid for a Knesset seat. But in July 1984 his Kach Party was one of the many small parties that benefited from a large protest vote against the two main parties. His campaign slogan was: 'Give me the strength to take care of them once and for all.'

In his campaign, Kahane made it clear he intended to use his Knesset seat -- and with it, his immunity from prosecution -- to urge ridding the Jewish state and its terrinories of 2 million Arabs.

One in every 80 Israeli voters cast a ballot for Kahane's party. Pollsters said afterward that a large share of the supporters were Jews whose families had lived under Arab rule in Islamic countries before immigrating to Israel.

Kahane refused to say how many card-carrying members the party had, but most of its financial support came from the United States. And so did much of the criticism.

After his election, Israeli newspapers, radio and TV were troubled over how to cover him. Some Israeli editors argued that publicity was the best weapon against Kahane's racism. Others called for a ban.

The Jerusalem Post wrote in an editorial that Kahane might not be a source of legitimate worry, but as a racist, he was 'a source of shame for Israel and for the Jewish people.'

Saying his Kach Party was racist and degraded Arabs, the Israeli Central Election Committee banned Kahane from running for a second term in the Knesset in 1988.

In an interview with United Press International after his election, Kahane disputed the racist label, saying, 'A racist is someone who says, 'I'm better than you, and you can never be better.' I'm a rabbi who says exactly what Judaism preaches.'

He said: 'Jew or non-Jew, our skin, blood and brains are the same. We have only one thing that makes us different from non-Jews, and that's Torah,' the five books of Moses.

Other Jews hated him, Kahane contended, because of his ideas, not his actions. 'I'm forcing them to choose between Judaism and Western humanism. I don't want this to be a Hebrew-speaking Portugal, or Greece, or America. I want all schools to teach Judaism,' he said.

After his election, his mother, a resident of Israel, said he should return to the United States. 'There they understand what he is doing for the Jewish people, and they adore him,' she said. 'But Meir is unwilling. He loves Israel.'

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