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Who's “Right” in Israel, and Who Isn't

Ze'ev Binyamin Begin, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Last month, two dozen followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane marched on the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, stronghold of the extremist Islamic Movement. They were making the point that Jews have the right to go anywhere in Israel. In the predictable mayhem that ensued, a dozen police were injured and ten Arab rioters were arrested. Sympathetic reports about the "mounting anger of Israel's Arab minority" made the world press, as did portrayals of the Kahanists as Israeli "right-wing activists" and "nationalists." But is that what they are?

Relevant Links
Despicable Vengeance  Elyakim Haetzni, Yediot Aharanot. The behavior of extremist Jews is reminiscent of Arab terror and must be condemned on moral grounds.
Memorializing Kahane  Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, Israel National News. Michael Ben Ari, the lone Kahanist in the Knesset, is urging local politicians to honor the slain rabbi on the anniversary of his death.
The Rubicon-Crossers  Ze'ev Binyamin Begin, Haaretz. The son of former premier Menachem Begin, a member of Israel’s inner cabinet, outlines current right-wing thinking about negotiations with the Palestinians.  

To this day, the Zionist Right carries the ideological mantle of Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940). For decades, this meant loyalty to the idea of "Greater Israel": the land, on both sides of the River Jordan, that was promised to the Jewish people under the post-World War I British Mandate. Incrementally, though, the Right has abandoned the notion of implementing this idea even as it has remained unenthusiastic about ceding additional parts of the Jewish heartland to the Arabs.

In 1982, Jabotinsky's disciple Menachem Begin withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula (never part of Greater Israel) in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt. In 2005 Ariel Sharon, who helped Begin create the Likud party, unilaterally pulled back from Gaza. And in a seminal speech in 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who grew up in a home imbued with Jabotinsky's values, followed Sharon in declaring that Israel did not want to rule over the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria.   

In short, once handed the responsibility of managing the Zionist enterprise, the Right was forced to abandon ideological purity. As Sharon put it to intimates, there are "things you see from here that you don't see from there." He might have been thinking about the troubling demographic balance of Arabs and Jews west of the Jordan; about Israel's deepening diplomatic isolation; about the requirement for foreign support in overcoming the existential threat posed by Iran; and, not least, about the need to heal the cleavages within Israel over the settlement enterprise.

As the followers of Jabotinsky found themselves pulled toward pragmatism, a political vacuum was created—and it was filled, largely, by the politically radical and fervently Orthodox supporters of the U.S.-born Kahane. His overtures to Begin having been rejected when he moved to Israel in the early 1970s, Kahane formed the Kach party—whose platform called for the expulsion of the Arabs from Israel—and ultimately won a single seat in the 1984 Knesset elections.

Kahane's parliamentary aide was Baruch Marzel, who would become the leader of the party after his mentor was slain by a Palestinian terrorist while on a visit to New York in 2000. Marzel's original portfolio was to draw into the movement ultra-Orthodox elements who had no affinity for modern Zionism. Over time, his efforts spawned a toxic political concoction. Where left-wing, right-wing, and national-religious Zionists all viewed the state as an instrument of Jewish self-determination, Kahanists came to think of it as an obstacle to the establishment of a theocratic and anti-modern Jewish commonwealth.

What places Kahanists outside the framework of the Zionist Right, and off the Zionist spectrum altogether, is thus not the vehemence with which they oppose this or that government policy but their radical commitment to regime change—and the ease with which they turn to violence. Not only the Likud but other right-wing parties have no use for the Kahanists. Habayit Hayehudi, a small national-religious grouping, has condemned Marzel for "desecrating religious Zionism." Avigdor Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, the third biggest party in the Knesset, has nothing but disdain for Marzel. Indeed, the settler elder Elyakim Haetzni has condemned the Kahanists' actions.

The Kahanists are best not ignored; they are indefatigable, they are headline-grabbers, and they have shown a certain acumen at infiltrating supporters into the Likud. But there is no place for them in the evolving and in itself quite fascinating constellation of Israel's right wing. Today that right wing remains hawkish on security issues, steadfastly opposes a return to the 1949 armistice lines, and is dubious about Palestinian intentions. By contrast, Kahanists are opposed on biblical grounds to any territorial compromise and seek to replace the modern Zionist enterprise with a theocracy. Jabotinsky, a classical liberal in a 19th-century mold, would emphatically not have approved.

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Dennis on November 9, 2010 at 8:53 am (Reply)
Good try. Kahanists are not "democratic" right, but that doesn't remove them from the rubric of politically "right." They are just extreme right - religious fascists. They have all the hallmarks of right-wing fascism - contempt for democracy as weak, a rabid "blood and soil" nationalism that requires the exclusion of minorities from the national body, a romanticism about violence, militarism, and its ability to purify the nation, and an arch nostalgia for a lost glorious past that must be restored. Like all such movements, it shares little in common with the left, but finds sympathy among and moves closely with the democratic right, because they share share overlapping values. Who's a cat? Calico, bobcat, tiger. Who is right? Revisionism, Likud, Beiteinu Yisrael, Kahane.
Jacob Arnon on November 9, 2010 at 9:06 am (Reply)
Thanks Jager a very informative article. You wrote about people I hold in contempt. The Kahanists by opposing modern Israel, which is to say modernism, would destroy the very idea of Jewish sovereignty.

Jacob Arnon on November 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm (Reply)
Dennis: “Good try. Kahanists are not "democratic" right, but that doesn't remove them from the rubric of politically "right." They are just extreme right - religious fascists.”

Dennis, I think Jager is right in claiming that there are political views which are neither “right” nor “left” but belong to a different political category.

Left and right are terms that belong to political systems predicated on the notion of human beings ability to govern themselves without appeal to transcendent legitimacy.
Theocracies are the antithesis of such a system.

One could argue that in as much as totalitarian regimes (fascist, national socialist, Leninist, Stalinist) with their appeal to fixed transcendent laws, laws based on mythic claims (“race,” or “laws of history”) also don’t belong to the continuum of left and right but are closer to theocratic regimes than to those political regimes which have their origin in the enlightenment.
Isaac Flaks on November 9, 2010 at 6:52 pm (Reply)
First of all there is our right to travel where we wish in Israel. To go to instigate violence is wrong. The desire of the Arabs to destroy Israel is nothing to take lightly or to feel like Obama and look the other way from the constant violence put on Israel by the Arabs. We must re evaluate our feelings about Israel--especially the spiritual, less observant Jew. Israel is the nation of the Jewish people and we must use every media and dialogue avenue not to be docile but to aggressively promote our nation-- to college students, to people in the public eye, politicians, actors ( whether they are Jews or non-Jews), Observant Jews across to the less or non observant Jews. This a battle for our existence, our place in the world. Nothing can be taken for granted. As long as something is done, regarding an issue just will not do to solve any issue--especailly the security of Israel and any free country in the world.
Eugene Kravis on November 10, 2010 at 2:40 am (Reply)
I am an American Jew, secular of Polish ancestry. am 79 years old. I heard Kahane speak on his visits to San Francisco. I also had private conversations with him.
His "crime"? - He was a fervent supporter of the parliamentary Jewish State and physically protected Jews on the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y.from anti-semitic attacks - with a baseball bat. He publicly stated, more than once, that any Arabs who wished to stay in Israel were welcome, protected by Israeli law, but should not be allowed to vote. The Israeli Declaration of Independence, supported by the UN, states a "JEWISH STATE." The descriptions given in the media of Rabbi Meir Kahane are planned political assassinations.
Mark Levine on November 10, 2010 at 4:56 am (Reply)
With all due respect it has become more and more clear that all of Rabbi Meir Kahane's warnings regarding the danger to Israel posed by its large and hostile Arab minority have proven to be correct. Many minorities have legitimately been expelled from countries where they acted as fifth columns. Was it "radical" or "fascist" to expel the German minority from Poland at the conclusion of World War Two. I think not.

And regarding Rabbi Kahane being a theocrat. This is incorrect. He advocated democracy, Jewish democracy.
Isaac Flaks on November 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm (Reply)
I am not for violence unless there is no choice. We have experienced for over 60 years constant violent attacks on Israel and Jews in general. Yet people like Barack Obama as well many Non Jews and Jews whose attachment to Judaism is more spiritual than observant that feel Israel is the culprit of the Middle East. All the double talk and violence spewed by the Arab Muslim nations o f the Middle East is ignored except when it is politically correct to back Israel. The question I pose is why does Obama
favor the violent ways of the Arab Muslims of the Middle East and the world. How come Israel must prove time and time again she wants a peaceful solution with dialogue and tangible concessions.
Howard R. on November 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm (Reply)
Rabbi Kahane was first and foremost a rabbi, someone who lived according to the Torah. Judaism is not, as some of those who have commented here seem to believe, whatever the hell you happen to think it should be. The laws are of divine origin, and not subject to debate and opinion. Sorry if that bruises your ego, but what Rabbi Kahane taught and lived was pure Torah. If that truth sticks in the throats of modern Jews, well, that's a tragedy, but it doesn't alter the truth. As for the person who called Rabbi Kahane a Jewish fascist, well, that's just ignorance together with some sort of axe to grind. It is to be pitied. Rabbi Kahane was and remains a hero.
Bob Holt on November 13, 2010 at 3:02 am (Reply)
Rabbi Kahane, was correct. The Torah sets the Jews
apart as the repository of Gods' message to humanity.
The truth is always truth regardless of mans changing opinions and attempts at altering His word to agree with the latest reasonings of the elite.
Theocracy is the way life was meant to be. We have freedom of choice by divine providence, and have used (misused) that choice to develop many about opinions and sects,and hsve failed to follow the superior way of life designed by our creator, whereby we are responsible to God wholly, and in following Him we are lead to live a meaningful life in the present, leading to eternal fellowship with our creator. "The whole duty of mankind is to love God with all our heart soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourself." In this way we will fulfill the Laws of our creator without fail. We have ignored this truth and thus produced only chaos in our lives and worldwide. That is TRUTH, we simply have ignored it.
Gershon on November 14, 2010 at 7:47 am (Reply)
Good for Eugene, Mark and Howard! Probably the only people making comments that have actually listened to what Kahane actually did have to say! Regardless of whether you support Kahane or not, there is no denying that one cannot for the sake of political correctness or ideological convenience cut out the other side of the equation: namely that there is a major arab/muslim-Jewish population exchange which must be completed in order to bring stability. The "palistinians" (a creation of the 1960's and 1970's, since they were just Arabs before that) have Jordan.

First, its time for the Liberals and Kibbutzniks to educate themselves about the history of the non-Ashkenazi part of the Jewish population, about how they were thrown out of their homes and businesses and countries with NO COMPENSATION!

Do the liberals and Reform Jews know where the gold star patch was invented? Nazi Germany, you say? Well wrong! In the Arab world to mark out their Jewish dhimmis who could not build their houses or synagogues higher that the houses of Muslims and their Mosques. And these obnoxious little rules were the least of their problems. Pogroms were not at all uncommon and were not related to the "occupied territories".

I am not a Kahanist, but even I know that our government should not negotiate about anything before the situation of Jews who had to flee Arab lands is included in any settlement of the issue. And BTW, for those drooling over the idea of giving back the Golan Heights, read a little history about how the Jews of Galil lived before we had the area and about how much property in that area and in Syria legally belongs to Jews!
Eugene Kravis on November 14, 2010 at 11:41 pm (Reply)
To Bob Holt
Were you standing on one foot when you made your November 13th statement? I believe there are more Kahane followers than are known to the politicians.

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