Why the U.S. Removed Kahane Chai From Terrorist Blacklist

'The Immigration and Nationality Law requires that the secretary of state must revoke a designation' if the secretary finds this to be the case, a U.S. official says

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Meir Kahane addressing his followers during a demonstration in Jerusalem, in 1984.
Meir Kahane addressing his followers during a demonstration in Jerusalem, in 1984. Credit: Nati Harnik / GPO
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The United States on Friday officially announced the revocation of the "foreign terrorist organization" status of the far-right Israeli extremist Kahane Chai organization, also known as Kach. It will, however, remain designated as a "specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) entity."

The United States is framing this change as a technical, legally obligated move that does not signal a policy change toward the organization. The revocation came alongside the removal of four other organizations from the list: the Basque Fatherland and Liberty; the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, which carried out the Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995; the Mujahidin Shura Council, a Gaza-based Salafi organization; and Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which in the past was one of the most prominent terror groups in Egypt.

The State Department is legally required to review FTO designations every five years to determine if the circumstances behind the designation have changed in a way that warrants a revocation. According to a U.S. official, "the Immigration and Nationality Law requires that the secretary of state must revoke a designation" if the secretary finds this to be the case.

"Our review of these five FTO designations determined that, as defined by the INA, the five organizations are no longer engaged in terrorism or terrorist activity and do not retain the capability and intent to do so." the State Department said, requiring a revocation by law. In the case of Kahane Chai, a U.S. official said it hasn't been linked to a terror attack since 2005.

The State Department clarified, however, that it is “retaining these SDGT designations for a number of reasons, including to support law enforcement actions or ensure frozen assets are not released to still active individual terrorists.”

The Kach movement was born out of a political party led by far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was elected to the Israeli Knesset in 1984 and was later barred from running again by the Israeli Supreme Court due to his incitement for violence.

The movement continued its activities in Israel after Kahane’s murder in 1990, and was outlawed and declared a terror organization by Israeli authorities following the 1994 massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which was carried out by Baruch Goldstein, a supporter of the slain rabbi. Groups led by Kahane's supporters have continued incitement campaigns over the past several decades, and in 2021, an Israeli politician considered the ideological disciple of Kahane, Itamar Ben Gvir, was elected to the Israeli Knesset.

Haaretz asked for further clarification about why, in this case, the Biden administration is taking this step now if the Obama administration failed to remove Kach from the FTO list twice and the Trump administration once.

"The Department conducts a thorough review of all potential FTO designation actions, including new designations, reviews and revocations. During mandatory FTO reviews, we begin by assessing organizations against the criteria for FTO designations to determine if the groups remain foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism," a U.S. official said.

"In addition to publicly claimed attacks, we review a broad variety of classified and unclassified information when conducting reviews, including about an FTO’s organizational structure, leadership capabilities, planning and aspirations of terrorist activity, and fundraising efforts to determine if a designation can be maintained. In cases where we think the circumstances may have changed in such a manner as to warrant revocation, we consult the intelligence community, embassies, and foreign partners to gather all possible facts before recommending that the secretary make such a determination," the official continued.

The official further explained the FTO designations are being revoked now because Secretary of State Antony Blinken "determined that the circumstances that were the basis of the designation have changed in such a manner as to warrant a revocation," stressing that "once such a determination has been made, revocation of a FTO designation is not discretionary."

"These actions are intended to reflect the United States’ resolve to comply with legal requirements to review and revoke FTO designations when the facts compel such action. These revocations do not seek to overlook or excuse the terrorist acts each of these groups previously engaged in or the harm the organizations caused its victims, but rather recognize the success Egypt, Israel, Japan, and Spain have had in defusing the threat of terrorism by these groups," the State Department further clarified in a statement.

It added that "revoking FTO designations and the delisting of deceased individuals ensures our terrorism sanctions remain current and credible and does not reflect any change in policy towards the past activities of any of these terrorists or of the organizations in which they were members." Further, a U.S. official noted that the organizations' "property, or interests in property, that are located in the United States or that are controlled by U.S. persons will continue to be blocked and U.S. persons will continue to be generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them."

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