Rabbi Meir Kahane, born Martin David Kahane, was notorious for his controversial anti-Arab and ultranationalist stances in Israeli politics.
He founded the militant Jewish Defense League (JDL) in 1968 to “protect Jews from antisemitism by whatever means necessary.”
In 2001, the FBI classified it as a rightwing terrorist group after a report by the US Department of Energy concluded that “for more than a decade,” the JDL “has been one of the most active terrorist groups in the United States.”
The report added: “Since 1968, JDL operations have killed 7 persons and wounded at least 22. Thirty-nine percent of the targets were connected with the Soviet Union; 9 percent were Palestinian; 8 percent were Lebanese; 6 percent, Egyptian; 4 percent, French, Iranian, and Iraqi; 1 percent, Polish and German; and 23 percent were not connected with any states. Sixty-two percent of all JDL actions are directed against property; 30 percent against businesses; 4 percent against academics and academic institutions; and 2 percent against religious targets.”
In an article published by the Washington Post, Kahane admitted: “We bombed the Russian mission in New York, the Russian cultural mission here in 1970, the Soviet trade offices.”
The result was to “put Soviet Jews on page one,” he said. “Our violence was a very well-thought-out political movement.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1932, Kahane’s youth was influenced by his father Yechezkel (Charles), who was involved in the Revisionist Zionist Movement.
As such, his home was frequented by prominent ultra-Zionists such as Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Peter Bergson.
Kahane’s formal education included elementary school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush in New York, and high school at Abraham Lincoln High School and the Brooklyn Talmudical Academy.
He received a BA in political science from Brooklyn College, a bachelor of law from the New York Law School, and an MA in international relations from New York University. Kahane received his rabbinical ordination from the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s he became an FBI informant, infiltrating the anticommunist John Birch Society.
This was seen as ironic after the JDL’s later classification by the FBI as a terrorist organization.
Kahane immigrated to Israel in 1971 and began pushing for the total expulsion of Arabs from the country.
He gathered lists of Arabs who were willing to be compensated for emigrating, and started protests across the country advocating for Arabs to leave.
Kahane founded the Kach political party in 1972, and ran for Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) in 1973, 1977, 1981 and 1984. He only won a seat in 1984.
Due to his and the party’s racist ideology, as classified by Israel’s Supreme Court, he and Kach were barred from the 1988 election, making him the first candidate to be barred from an Israeli election due to racism.
Kach was labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2004.
In November 1990, Kahane, who was 58 at the time, was assassinated by Egyptian-American El Sayyid Nosair.
Kahane was arrested more than 62 times for domestic terrorism, inciting hate, conspiring to manufacture explosives, leading attacks on the Russian mission in New York, and conspiring to bomb the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.
His hateful rhetoric, known as Kahanism, led to the rise of ultra-nationalism, which has left an imprint on public discourse in Israel to this day.