Jewish Leaders Warn of Far-right Kahane Group's Revival in U.S.

Followers of the Jewish Defense League, listed by the FBI as a terror organization, are upping their activities following Trump's election.

A supporter of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter, wears a shirt depicting Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach party.
Oded Balilty/AP

Jewish leaders and a hate-groups monitor in the United States are concerned about attempts to revive the Jewish Defense League, founded by late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, as first reported by Haaretz on Friday.

The JDL has mostly fizzled out in the United States since the deaths of several leaders, among them Kahane, gunned down at a New York City hotel in 1990, and his son Benjamin Kahane, killed in a West Bank road ambush some years later.

While the JDL has recently been active in France and Canada, its followers, inspired by Donald Trump’s election, hosted a memorial event last week for Benjamin Kahane in Brooklyn and celebrated Trump's victory.

The JDL is also planning other events in the U.S., including a watch party for Trump’s inauguration and a demonstration in support of AIPAC in Washington D.C.

“JDL has a long documented history of terrorism”’ Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Haaretz. The organization monitors hate groups and is one of the country’s leading experts on the world of extremism.

“This is a group that engaged in bombings, in beatings, all kinds of violence," Potok said.

Potok thought it unlikely the attempts to revive the group would succeed given its history, including its listing as a terrorist group by the FBI in 2000. But he thought there was still reason to worry. 

“We haven’t seen activity from them in many years it's a cause for concern when any group like that appears, no matter how small. It takes very few people to do actual damage, either through actual terrorism or through production of hate-filled propaganda,"Potok said.

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said that "any time a terrorist organization tries to reinstate itself, it's a cause for concern. They have been violent before, and we should watch closely to make sure they are not violent again. Terrorists by their nature are concerning, In United States and in Israel. "

“When you have authority figures feeling free to use racially tainted, divisive rhetoric as Donald Trump did throughout the campaign, and as the government in Israel has done – see no further than the current prime minister, who said 'Arabs are heading to the polls and voting in droves' – these things clearly empower those people who subscribe to nationalism rather than the rule of law and democracy,” Sokatch said.

Both Potok and Sokatch felt that the JDL would not be able to gather support among many Americans. 

“These Jews that are spouting racist rhetoric sympathizing with the alt-right, I really don’t think it will get a lot of traction among American Jews, not even the minority who voted for Republicans”, Sokatch said.

During the memorial last week, speakers praised Trump and his nomination of David Friedman as the US ambassador the Israel.

Meir Weinstein, leader of JDL in Canada, said that “the pick of ambassador to Israel is a breath of fresh air. He thinks how we think. He can fit perfectly well here. There is no question about it. In fact his detractors say that he agrees 100 percent with our rabbi, and I have no doubt about it.”

 “It's a reflection of the crisis facing the American Jewish community, and every member now has to choose a side," 'said Yonah Lieberman, spokesperson for the anti-occupation group IfNotNow.

IfNotNow is engaged in protests across the U.S. against Trump’s nomination of Steve Bannon and David Friedman.

“You're either with Kahane, Trump, and Friedman or you're against them,” Lieberman said. "For those of us against their ideology of hate, we have a responsibility to speak out early and often."

Meir Weinstein, the leader of JDL Canada, shrugged off the accusations, telling Haaretz that he wasn't surprised by them. "I expect these organizations to be against us, because the Jewish Defense League opposes the two-state solution. We believe it's no solution at all. They support it, that is the real clash," he said.

"It's about time there is a strong presence of JDL in the United States, that will provide the American community with an alternative vision to the two-states solution."