This Day in Jewish History |

1990: Meir Kahane Is Gunned Down

The founder and leader of the Kach Party, which advocated for an Israel free of Arabs, had also reportedly freelanced for the FBI.

David Green
David B. Green
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A memorial for Meir Kahane in Jerusalem.
A memorial for Meir Kahane in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman
David Green
David B. Green

On November 5, 1990, Meir Kahane, founder and leader of the Jewish Defense League and later of Israel’s Kach party, was shot to death by an assassin after delivering a lecture at a Manhattan hotel.

Born Martin David Kahane in Brooklyn in 1932, Meir Kahane was raised in an Orthodox, Revisionist Zionist home in Flatbush. He was the son of a European-born rabbi and was active in the youth movement Betar. He received rabbinical ordination at Mir Yeshiva, in New York, and later earned a B.A. and law degrees at several different New York institutions.

In the 1950s, he served briefly as a congregational rabbi, and also reportedly worked as a freelance agent for the FBI, assigned the task of infiltrating the ultra-right-wing and anti-Semitic John Birch Society.

Kahane established the JDL in 1968, and although its initial function was to provide physical protection to Jews in urban neighborhoods via “anti-mugger patrols,” with its punch slogan “Never Again,” it quickly became part of a violent U.S. political campaign against what it saw as more high-profile enemies of the Jewish people.

Most significant was the role the JDL played in the context of the larger campaign, beginning in the late 1960s, to press the USSR to stop persecuting its Jews and allow them freedom of emigration. Whereas other groups in the Free Soviet Jewry campaign during the 1970s and '80s staged sometimes audacious acts to draw attention to the cause, the JDL attacked Russian targets: an Aeroflot airline office, a Soviet diplomat’s residence, and performances given by visiting Russian cultural ensembles in the U.S.

The JDL also was implicated in attacks on Arab diplomatic missions and – although no one was ever convicted and the crime took place long after Kahane departed the U.S. – for the killing of Alex Odeh, the head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, in 1985.

In 1971, Kahane made aliyah to Israel, and that same year he established the Kach political party here. In 1973, 1977 and 1981, the party failed to get enough votes to enter the Knesset. During the same years, he became involved in a campaign to convince the Jewish public of the need to expel its Arab citizens as well as the Palestinians from the territories occupied in 1967. He wrote a book called “They Must Go,” and was arrested dozens of times for provocation against Arabs. He said openly that Israel could not be both Jewish and democratic, and that his choice was a state guided by Jewish law. "I want a Jewish state, not a Hebrew-speaking Portugal,” he was quoted as saying at one point.

In 1984, Kahane finally entered the Knesset, after Kach won a single seat in the election. Although he was largely ostracized by his fellow MKs, Kahane’s militant anti-Arab positions and strong nationalist-religious message brought him increasing public support, leading to speculation that Kach could receive multiple seats in the 1988 election. By then, however, the parliament had passed a law prohibiting “racist” candidates from making bids for Knesset.

On the evening of November 5, 1990, Kahane gave a talk to a Jewish group at the New York Marriott East Side, on Lexington Ave. After the talk, as he was greeting well-wishers, he was approached by a man dressed as an Orthodox Jew, who shot him at short range with a .357-caliber pistol. Kahane died shortly after. The shooter, who turned out to be an Egyptian-born Muslim American named El Sayyid Nosair, was arrested on the street after he shot and wounded a postal service policeman who stopped him as he attempted to hijack a cab.

After a trial that ended in December 1991, Nosair was unexpectedly acquitted of the murder but convicted and imprisoned on other charges, including the shooting of the police officer. Later, the investigation that followed the 1993 attempt by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman to blow up the World Trade Center revealed that Nosair had been part of the terror cell led by the “Blind Sheikh.” This led to new charges and a new trial for him, during which he was convicted of participation in a “seditious conspiracy,” one of whose components was the murder of Kahane. He is now serving life-plus-15 years in a federal prison in Indiana.

After Kahane’s death, his political movement in Israel split, with one faction, Kahane Hai, being led by his son Benyamin Ze’ev Kahane. The younger Kahane and his wife were killed, and five of their six children wounded, when their van was fired upon early in the second Intifada, in December 2000, as they drove to their West Bank home. Today, a self-declared follower of Meir Kahane, Michael Ben-Ari, is an elected member of Knesset from the National Union party.This day in Jewish history / Meir Kahane is shot dead

The founder and leader of the Kach Party, which advocated for an Israel free of Arabs, was gunned down in Manhattan in 1990.

This day / Meir Kahane is shot dead

The founder and leader of the Kach Party, which advocated for an Israel free of Arabs, was gunned down in Manhattan in 1990.



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