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The Ghost OF Meir Kahane

ONCE CONFINED TO THE MARGINS, ISRAEL’S ALT-RIGHT IS NOW MAINSTREAM. ARE LAWMAKERS DOING ENOUGH TO STOP IT?

ALT-RIGHT

FIRE AND FURY Kahane, a Brooklynborn rabbi known as the most racist politician in Israeli history, was largely a marginal figure. But his successors have gone mainstream.
DAVID H. WELLS/CORBIS/GETTY

Photograph by DAVID H. WELLS

ON NOVEMBER 5, 1990, AT A MARRIOTT Hotel on Manhattan’s East Side, Rabbi Meir Kahane had just taken his seat at a Zionist conference when El Sayyid Nosair, a 34-year-old Egyptian-American, shot him in the neck. Hours later, the Brooklyn- born rabbi—known as the most racist politician in Israeli history—was pronounced dead.

Most Israelis didn’t mourn. Two years before, the Israeli government had banned his political party, Kach, for its anti-Arab platform. Kahane had called for the forced expulsion of the millions of Arabs living in Israel, whom he often referred to as “dogs.” As the Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi puts it, “Kahane turned his political agenda into a kind of Jewish jihad with an explicitly religious, apocalyptic message.”

Yet 27 years after Kahane’s murder, on another November evening, hundreds of Israelis gathered in West Jerusalem to commemorate the anniversary of his death. It was one of 25 such events held throughout Israel that week. At the podium, Jewish extremists took turns praising the rabbi, calling him a righteous prophet whose politics were ahead of his time.

Among those in attendance: Kahane’s prodigy and successor, Ben Zion “Bentzi” Gopstein. In 2005, he established Lehava, a nonprofit whose Hebrew name translates to “preventing assimilation in the Holy Land.” Gopstein’s group sends patrols of young men to “defend” Jewish women from Arabs. It also runs a hotline for people to report Jews having interfaith relationships, or renting or selling apartments to Israeli Arabs. Lehava has grown into the largest radical right-wing organization in Israel, with chapters in every city and more than 10,000 registered members— most of them young adults and teenagers. The group spreads its message and recruits members in schools, city streets and community centers.

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