Lily Galili

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was once a member of the outlawed far-right party Kach, Haaretz learned yesterday.

Former Kach secretary general Yossi Dayan said he issued Lieberman, a prime ministerial candidate whose current electoral campaign against Israeli Arabs has provoked outrage, with a party membership card when he was still a new immigrant to Israel.

"I don't recall to what extent he was active in the movement, but if he denies [this], I am ready to testify in any forum that Lieberman was indeed a member for a short amount of time," said Dayan.

Kach was banned from the 1988 Knesset elections for inciting to racism.

Ultra-nationalist activist Avigdor Eskin, meanwhile, remembers meeting Lieberman at Kahane's office on Ussishkin Street in Jerusalem. "I remember this very well, because I arrived there one day after I immigrated to Israel in 1979," he said.

Eskin came to public attention for having boasted of holding a pulsa dinura ceremony before the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The ceremony, believed to be of kabbalistic origin, seeks to confer a death curse on the subject.

"Kahane thought he was a good guy. I also thought back then that he was not a Kach man ideologically, unless the only measure of this is whether you like Arabs. From what I remember, he handed out the movement's publications among its small student group at the Hebrew University," Eskin said.

He added that he met Lieberman in Kahane's office a number of times, but to the best of his knowledge the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman was involved in Kach for only a few months.

Yisrael Beiteinu responded, "We are not dealing with this orchestrated provocation. The success of Yisrael Beiteinu has created a great quantity of lies and fabrications among its opponents, which the political and media establishment knew beforehand."

The revelation came one day after Israel's most recognizable television anchor, Haim Yavin, branded Lieberman "Kahane's successor," a reference to the murdered extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who led the Kach movement.

Former Kach members reject the Kahane comparison. "He is a poor imitation of Kahane," one said. Dayan, who was close to Kahane for more than a decade, said he was disgusted by it.

"Not everyone who speaks against Arabs is a Kahane," he said. "[Lieberman] can take a few elements, but to be Kahane is a whole doctrine. Nevertheless, I'm happy he's saying what he's saying, because without a radical solution to the problem of Arabs in Israel, it can't be good here."