This Week in Haaretz 1988 / The High Court Rules That Kach Is Racist

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On October 18, 1988, the High Court of Justice ruled that Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach movement would be outlawed and candidates it had put up for political office could not run in elections. Haaretz reporter Nadav Shragai reported that according to the court ruling, "the objectives and acts of Kach are clearly racist."

Later in the article Shragai noted that "the Kach movement will not participate in the elections for the 12th Knesset. A special panel of five judges, headed by Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, unanimously rejected the appeal submitted by Kach regarding the decision of the Central Elections Committee to prevent it from participating in the elections."

According to the justices, "Kach wishes to prevent some of the citizens of the country, who are distinguished by their national-ethnic origin, from voting and being elected. A denial of rights, as mentioned, is a clear and unequivocal attack against the soul of democracy."

In a response written after the publication of the decision, Kahane called the court "inferior."

It is possible Kahane felt slighted by being outlawed at the same time that the Progressive List for Peace (a left-wing group of Jews and Arabs ), which right wing groups had sought ousted, were allowed in the elections.

Haaretz political correspondent Ilan Shehori presented another aspect of the High Court decisions, reporting "satisfaction in the two major parties at the outlawing of Kach."

But he said that "while in the Likud and the Labor Party there was satisfaction that the Kach movement has been disqualified from running for the Knesset, contradictory reactions were heard from the two major parties regarding the approval of the Progressive list. Likud expressed great disappointment, as opposed to the Labor Party, which agreed that there is room in the Israeli political arena for the Progressive list as well."

According to Shehori, the chairman of the Likud elections headquarters, minister Moshe Arens, explained that "this is a list that is clearly identified with Israel's enemies, and first and foremost with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and therefore should not have been allowed to participate in the elections."

According to Likud sources, the left-leaning Alignment planned to form a minority government "with the support of groups identified with the PLO."

Shragai, Haaretz's Jerusalem correspondent, added that "Mapam and the Shinui-Center list welcome the disqualification of the Kach movement. MK Yair Tsaban (Mapam ) said this decision would be registered as a milestone in the battle of Israeli democracy against its destroyers from within, and MK Amnon Rubinstein (Shinui-Center ) said that the ruling strengthens Israeli democracy and removes a stain from the Knesset."

Four days before the High Court deliberations and the publication of the decision, Haaretz published an article by Uzi Benziman entitled "A one-man party - the invalidation of Kach: A beginning or an end."

Benziman wondered, in light of the threats by Kahane's followers to initiate far-reaching activities, "whether it is possible that the man will fail just at a time when his philosophy is winning?"

Today, almost exactly 20 years after a Muslim assassinated Kahane in New York, the question has yet to be answered. In his article Benziman cites Dr. Ehud Sprinzak, who said that "preventing the great white hope from entering the 12th Knesset with substantial power, will lead to the collapse of Kach."

He said that the High Court decision to outlaw it would bring an end to the Kach movement. Kahane would not call on his people to vote for another party, because "he is too egocentric to share the political power with another factor."

Nor is it reasonable that the party will go underground, according to Sprinzak, because "the party has no organizational infrastructure, and is based entirely on one man and is focused on him and his declarations."

In spite of the hope expressed by many in 1988 for the elimination of racism and Kahanism, the phenomena apparently still exist, and not only in the margins.

On the fence of a house on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv, opposite the spot where prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot to death, there is a black graffiti with the words: "Kahane was right."

U.S.-born Kahane, was a graduate of Yeshiva University in New York, a politician, a rabbi, and according to rumor also worked as an FBI agent and was close to elements in the Mafia. In 1968 he formed the Jewish Defense League, which used violence in trying to help Soviet Jewry.

In 1971, then-president of B'nai B'rith William Wexler said that Kahane was a "scoundrel and a blackguard who had caused inestimable damage to Soviet Jewry." (Yael Gruenpeter )

Rabbi Meir KahaneCredit: Archive