Drawing Inspiration From Trump, Far-right Kahane Movement Seeks U.S. Revival

Jonathan Stern, organizer of New York memorial event for the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, tells Haaretz his movement won't stand in solidarity with Montana Jews targeted by neo-Nazis: 'They started it.'

Taly Krupkin
Taly Krupkin
New York
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Supporters of the late far-right Meir Kahane meet in New York in January 2017 where they talk of reviving his movement.
Supporters of the late far-right Meir Kahane meet in New York in January 2017 where they talk of reviving his movement.Credit: Karen Lichtbraun/Facebook
Taly Krupkin
Taly Krupkin
New York

NEW YORK - On a rainy day this week, around 80 supporters, followers, and acquaintances of Rabbi Meir Kahane gathered in New York to mourn a dead leader and celebrate the emergence of a new one.

The event, organized by followers and students of Kahane, had a dual purpose, as explained in the fliers and social media advertisements.

One, to commemorate the late far-right leader's son, Binyamin Kahane and his wife Talia, murdered on their way from Jerusalem to the settlement Kfar Tapuch 17 years ago.

Books by Binyamin’s father, Meir Kahane, leaflets and newsletters of the Kahanist movement were exhibited at the door, and donations were welcomed.

The other reason for the gathering was to celebrate the election of Donald Trump, whose emergence on the political stage has invigorated some Kahane followers in North America, inspiring hope for a possible resurrection of a movement labeled as a terrorist organization by the FBI and all but dead in the United States since the 90s.

The event took place in a Young Israel synagogue in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, next door to the yeshiva where Rabbi Meir Kahane studied as a young man.

Jonathan Stern addresses supporters of far-right late Rabbi Meir Kahane at a New York rally, January 2017.Credit: YouTube screenshot

Beneath banners of the Kach party (a fist emerging from the Star of David), hung across the pulpit, speakers shared memories of Meir and Binyamin Kahane, their disappointment with the disappearance of the movement since their deaths, and hopes for a future under the coming Trump administration.

One of the organizers, Gennady Baruch Faybshenko, in his 30s, described passionately how he saw Meir Kahane as a model of a Jewish superhero, his disappointment with democratic Jewish circles in New York and their “hatred for white people and Jews in Israel” – and how all that has changed with the emergence of Trump.

“When I saw Donald Trump campaigning, it reminded me of when Meir Kahane was campaigning. Now, I’m not comparing the two, but the reactions from the people, the liberal left, the establishment was the same. I saw hatred in the eyes of people in the Democratic Party. And when he won, my God, was I happy and hyper for a week!”, Fabyshenko told those gathered.

“Because I know he will not allow in the so-called Syrian refugees and he will have the guts to say no to the Palestinian terrorist state inside Israel.

"Eventually, Israel will have to make a painful decision about whether to be Jewish or democratic, and I just hope and pray they will have a leader, someone with the charisma that Rabbi Kahane had. Especially with Donald Trump as our president, forget it, the Messiah will come speedy in our time."

In the most dramatic part of the evening, Rabbi Mordechai Yitzchok Friedman, President of the American Board of Rabbis, took out an old laminated membership card of the Kach party, and showed it to the audience.

Friedman basked in the flashes of mobile cameras, as he shared memories of delivering secret correspondence from the late rabbi to his American supporters.

KahaneCredit: Nati Harnik/GPO

“When I got this card, the rabbi told me, one of these goes to you, and another copy inevitably ends up at the secret police,” drawing bitter chuckles from the audience.

Concluding his remarks, Friedman led the crowd in a chant of “No Arabs, No Terror”, and “They Must Go, They Must Go,” though many in the audience did not join in. “We now have some light. The light that comes with the new president,” he said.

Meir Weinstein, head of the Kahane-founded Jewish Defense League (JDL) in Canada, was a force behind the event, according to those present at the memorial.

The Jewish Defense League was established in 1968. Kahane immigrated to Israel in 1971. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the “The FBI deemed the league as a right-wing terrorist group in their report "Terrorism 2000/2001," but its domestic influence has waned since, and today the JDL has no active chapters in the U.S.”

Yet in recent years, the JDL has reappeared in Canada, under Weinstein's leadership. It is active in France and made headlines last year, when a BuzzFeed journalist was beaten by members of the local JDL at a demonstration in Paris, according to a report in The Guardian.

Weinstein is trying to reestablish a Kahane movement in the United States, whether under the JDL umbrella or a different name.

“We are trying to get something off the ground in New York. We have to resurrect it in other states in the US, in LA, Chicago, Florida, Philadelphia, I get emails from all over the US, we have to get this thing going,” Weinstein said at the memorial.

Weinstein's followers in New York are organizing events for the coming months, including a gathering of Kahane supporters for Trump's inauguration, and a protest at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington.

Weinstein promises free bus transportation from New York, to those willing to protest left wing organizations expected to protest at AIPAC.

“We need bodies there”, he told the crowd.

Weinstein spoke enthusiastically about Trump and his appointment of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel.

“The pick of ambassador to Israel is a breath of fresh air," Weinstein said. “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% with our rabbi, and I have no doubt about it.”

Jonathan Stern, another organizer of the event, told Haaretz he saw Trump's election as a perfect occasion to reinvigorate the Kahane movement, which he sees as part of the global trend: the rise of the extreme right in France and other countries in Europe, and now in the United States.

“Our movement is part of the Trump movement,” Stern said, in the interview a day after the memorial was held.

“There is a major shift in US foreign policy. We now feel that the government, I don’t want to say it’s in our hands, but we are part of it and we believe it's going to help us advance our cause once January 20 comes around.”

Stern has not spoken to Friedman and doesn’t know him, but says there are plans to reach out to the new administration and that he saw Friedman as “one of us. Whether he is an avowed Kahanist or not is secondary, because many people have embraced Kahane’s ideology without calling it Kahane.”

“We are also reaching out to people in government, we are going to do everything we can to advance our cause. We have people who know Trump and have been in touch with him in the past, and we are going to work with him and his administration.

"This is a monumental moment in the history of our country, and we intend to maximize the potential here,” Stern said.

Stern believes there is a lot of interest among young Americans in Kahane’s ideas, and that the movement should be molded to fit the needs of 21st century Jews.

These days, the Jewish community in the United States is concerned with news from Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of alt right leader Richard Spencer notoriously videotaped shouting Hail Trump, Hail Victory with a Nazi salute after the election.

A man who runs the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, has announced plans for an armed march by white supremacists to harass Montana's Jewish community.

Kahane established the JDL with the ostensive purpose of protecting American Jews. The group was active against a neo-Nazi march held in 1977 in Skokie, Illinois. But Stern curiously says there are no plans to stand in solidarity with the Jews of Whitefish Montana.

“In this specific event, this guy Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who stands up for white people, and there is nothing wrong with that. A liberal organization started intimidating his mother. I think that was very low.

"So they provoked this guy, and now there is all this response, by white people, and white supremacists, and neo Nazis, and they want to march in the Jewish Community.

"And so I’m trying to figure out what is going on, because if Jews are being targeted, we need to stand up for them. But if this is a response to a liberal organization, it’s a different story...They started it, let them deal with the consequences.” Stern said.

When pressed about the fears of Montana's Jews, Stern replies that there is no budget for activists in New York to get there and acknowledges there have been no attempts to reach out to the Jewish community in Whitefish.

Some Kahane supporters are skeptical of seeing a revival of his movement or whether the memorial's organizers truly reflected his teachings.

Shannon Taylor, a friend and lawyer of the rabbi, was with him the night of the 1990 assassination by El Sayyid Nosair. He took photographs at the scene that were crucial for bringing Kahane's murder to justice and hosted a musical memorial for Kahane marking the 20th anniversary of his death.

Taylor says he is not involved with the movement and attended the event this week only to eulogize Kahane.

“I have no criticism of them, they are doing what no one else is doing," he told Haaretz about the organizers, but added that he does not appreciate the term “Kahanist movement,” printed on the flier for the event, since he both sees the term as pejorative and as implying that the organizers represent Kahane's teachings.

But at least on some issues they did not seem to reflect the late rabbi's thinking.

When asked comments made against Black Lives Matter or LGBT rights at the event, he says that Kahane worked with African Americans. “Blacks were our allies. That was not Meir’s agenda. That is why I say there is no Kahanist movement.”

Taylor said that whoever tries to fill the void left by the murders of Kahane and his son, would have to be the right person or "they might do more harm than good.”

“I saw a leader in Benny, but I haven’t been introduced to anyone like that since,” Taylor said.

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