Kach and Kahane Chai
|Paramilitary wing||Jewish Defense League|
|Politics of Israel
Kach (Hebrew: כ"ך) was a far-right political party in Israel. Founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in the early 1970s, and following his Jewish nationalist ideology (subsequently dubbed Kahanism), the party entered the Knesset following the 1984 elections after several electoral failures. However, it was barred from participating in the next election in 1988 under the revised Knesset Elections Law banning parties that incited racism. After Kahane's assassination in 1990, the party split, with Kahane Chai (Hebrew: כהנא חי, lit. Kahane Lives) breaking away from the main Kach faction. The party was also barred from standing in the 1992 election, and both organisations were banned outright in 1994. Today both groups are considered terrorist organisations by Israel, Canada, the European Union and the United States. The groups are believed to have an overlapping core membership of fewer than 100 people.
Kahane immigrated to Israel from the United States in September 1971, at first declaring that he would only involve himself in Jewish education. However, he soon became involved in controversy, initiating protests advocating the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian territories. In 1972 Jewish Defense League leaflets were distributed around Hebron calling for the mayor to stand trial for the 1929 Hebron massacre.
In 1971 Kahane founded a new party, which ran in the 1973 elections under the name "The League List". The party won 12,811 votes (0.82%), just 2,857 (0.18%) short of the electoral threshold at the time (1%) for winning a seat. Following the elections, the party's name was changed to Kach, taken from the Irgun motto "Rak Kach" ("Only thus"). The party was less successful in the 1977 elections, in which it won 4,396 votes (0.25%), and in 1980 Kahane was sentenced to six months in prison for his involvement in a plan to commit an "act of provocation" on the Temple Mount. The 1981 elections were another failure, with Kach receiving only 5,128 votes (0.27%).
Events in the next couple of years increased the party's popularity. In 1982, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, as part of the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty which involved evacuating Israeli settlers living in the peninsula. There was fierce resistance, particularly in Yamit, the largest settlement, where several extremists had barricaded themselves inside a synagogue and were threatening to commit suicide. Menachem Begin's government asked Kahane to act as an intermediary and convince them to give in.
Prior to the 1984 elections, the party was barred by the Central Elections Committee for racism. It successfully appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the CEC's decision, ruling that the Knesset Elections Law (one of the Basic Laws of Israel) did not allow a party to be barred on the grounds of racism, but did suggest that the law be amended. In the elections the party won 25,907 votes (1.2%), passing the electoral threshold for the first time, and winning one seat, which was duly taken by Kahane.
Kahane's legislative proposals focused on revoking the Israeli citizenship for non-Jews and banning Jewish-Gentile marriages and sexual relations, based on the Code of Jewish Law compiled by Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah.
As his political career progressed, Kahane became increasingly isolated in the Knesset. His speeches, boycotted by Knesset members, were made to an empty parliament, except for the duty chairman and the transcriptionist. Kahane's legislative proposals and motions of no-confidence against the government were ignored or rejected by fellow Knesset members. Kahane often pejoratively called other Knesset members "Hellenists" in Hebrew (a reference from Jewish religious texts describing ancient Jews who assimilated into Greek culture after Judea's occupation by Alexander the Great). In 1987, Rabbi Kahane opened a yeshiva (HaRaayon HaYehudi) with funding from U.S. supporters, for the teaching of "the Authentic Jewish Idea".
Despite the boycott, Kahane's popularity grew. Polls showed that Kach would have likely received three to four seats in the coming November 1988 elections, with some earlier polls forecasting as many as twelve seats, possibly making Kach the third largest party.
In response to Kach's electoral success and following up on the recommendation of the Supreme Court, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Elections Law, which stated:
A candidates list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
- negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
- negation of the democratic character of the State
- incitement to racism
As a result, Kach was disqualified from running in the 1988 elections by the Central Elections Committee. The party once again appealed the decision, with Kahane claiming that security needs were justification for discrimination against Arabs. This time the appeal was unsuccessful, with the court stating that the aims and action of Kach were "manifestly racist."
Kahane's death and party split
On 5 November 1990, Kahane was assassinated after making a speech in New York. The prime suspect, El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian-born American citizen, was subsequently acquitted of murder, but convicted on gun possession charges. The party subsequently split in two, with Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane (Kahane's son) leading a breakaway faction, Kahane Chai, based in Kfar Tapuach (an Israeli settlement in the West Bank), and Kach initially under the leadership of Rabbi Avraham Toledano (later replaced by Baruch Marzel) in Kiryat Arba. Both parties were banned from participating in the 1992 elections on the basis that they were followers of the original Kach.
Following both parties noting their support of a grenade attack in Jerusalem's Old City, government minister Amnon Rubinstein asked the Attorney General to launch criminal proceedings against both Kahane and Marzel on the charges of incitement to terrorism.
In 1994, both groups were banned outright by the Israeli cabinet under 1948 anti-terrorism laws, following statements in support of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs (Goldstein himself was a Kach supporter). Many of their leaders spent time in Israeli jail under administrative detention, particularly Noam Federman, who spent more than 6 months in lockup without being indicted. Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 who was in contact with Eyal (the Jewish Fighting Organization), established and headed by Avishai Raviv (a paid government informant) and portrayed as linked to Kach and Kahane Chai.
After being convicted for sedition for distributing pamphlets advocating violence against Arabs, Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane and his wife were both killed in a Palestinian ambush in December 2000.
Following the banning of Kach and Kahane Chai, the movements officially disbanded. The leadership of the former Kahane Chai formed an advocacy group known as The Kahane Movement. The group's activities consist mainly of maintaining the Kahane website, kahane.org. However, the Kahane Movement is listed on the United States' list of terrorist organizations as an alias for "Kach", though the group denies this.
The New Kach Movement existed during between 2001 and 2003 and maintained websites posting Kahanist political commentary and held meetings with informal members. Headed by Israeli-born student Efraim Hershkovits, it had chapters worldwide as well as a youth movement, Noar Meir. Upon returning to live in Israel in 2003, Hershkovits disbanded the movement to avoid harassment by the Israeli government, advising its former members to support the Kahane Movement. After the organization had disbanded, its name was also added to the United States' list of terrorist organizations as an alias for "Kach". Hershkovits was arrested on 7 August 2005 and placed in administrative detention for three months by Israeli authorities.
- using explosives or firearms with intent to endanger the safety of individuals or cause substantial damage to property (including an attempt to car bomb a Palestinian girls school in East Jerusalem)
- threatening and conspiring to carry out assassinations
- soliciting funds and members for a terrorist organization
In the 2003 elections, former Kach leader Baruch Marzel ran as number two on the Herut – The National Movement party list. The party narrowly missed obtaining a seat. In 2004, he founded the Jewish National Front, which gained 24,824 votes (0.7%) in the 2006 elections, less than half needed to win a seat. Michael Ben-Ari, elected to the Knesset in 2009 on the Ihud Haleumi list, where he represents Eretz Yisrael Shelanu, is a self-declared follower of Rabbi Kahane who was involved with Kach for many years. Jewish National Front merged into Eretz Yisrael Shelanu prior to the election.
- Knesset Records of Kach Activity
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kach.|
- Kach Knesset website (English)
- Terrorist Group Profiles: Kach and Kahane Chai United States State Department
- List of incidents attributed to Kach on the START database
- List of incidents attributed to the Kahane Chai on the START database
- Kach and Kahane Chai International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism
- State Department Brief to DC Court of Appeals Defending Redesignation of Kach/Kahane Chai as FTO
- DC Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Denying Kach/Kahane Chai's Motion to Overturn Their FTO Designation DC Indymedia
- on YouTube