In 1968 in New York City, an American rabbi named Meir Kahane founded an organization called the Jewish Defence League. Despite the claim in the name to be defending the Jewish community from anti-Jewish attacks, the JDL was from the start far more concerned with going on the attack against its enemies. And the attacks were of an extremely violent nature — to the extent that the FBI in 2001 listed the JDL as a terrorist organisation.
The JDL was founded on a poisonous ideology which combined ultra-Zionism with anti-Black racism and the anti-Arab racism which is already inherent to Zionism. In the 1970s and 1980s, the JDL under Kahane embarked on a long campaign of domestic terrorism.
The JDL’s master bomber was Victor Vancier, who took on the Hebrew name Chaim ben Pesach. Vancier and his accomplices bombed Soviet and Arab targets, mostly in New York and Washington DC. They also attacked Jews deemed by Kahane to be internal enemies within the JDL. Kahane once warned his enemies that Vancier was “the most dangerous Jew alive today.” Vancier himself once claimed to a reporter that he was a “crazy Jew”.
Palestinians were of course targeted too, and PLO and pro-PLO offices and Arab language newspapers were attacked, ransacked and vandalised by the JDL, with their workers and volunteers being beaten up. In 1986, the New York offices and home of the famous Palestinian intellectual Edward Said was broken into by a band of Jewish thugs. Speaking to journalist Robert I. Friedman a few months later, Vancier issued an apparent death threat to Said: “anything goes”. He claimed not to know who was behind the break-ins but said that whoever did it were “Jewish patriots” (Friedman, The False Prophet, page 228).
In California, the violent rhetoric and actions of the West Coast branch of the JDL vied to compete with the swaggering Vancier. In 1985, Alex Odeh a well-liked Palestinian activist in the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was assassinated by a pipe-bomb attached to his office door. The top FBI suspects in the case were JDL members who fled to Israel, and are thought to be living now near Hebron in Kiryat Arba – one of the most notoriously violent extremist Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and a centre of Kahanist agitation. One of the suspects, Robert Manning, was ultimately deported back to the US to serve time, but for a different bomb plot. The other suspects are still at large in Israel and the FBI seems to be doing little to pursue the case which remains unsolved.
The police allowed the JDL to get away with a lot for a long time, but ultimately, in 1987, Vancier was sentenced to 10 years in jail for a string of bombings. By the early 1990s, though, an entirely unrepentant Vancier was free again to spread his message of hate via a new Kahanist faction which he dubbed the Jewish Task Force. Today, Vancier is the ideological inspiration for the small Jewish Defence League UK, run by the Brazilian fascist Roberta Moore, who split off from the English Defence after some of its members found her too extreme for even them. Moore and her fellow racist Robert De Jonge invaded the stage at a Palestinian literature festival in September last year, and De Jonge received a fine and community service after being convicted of assault.
Despite Vancier’s conviction in 1987, the JDL’s terror campaign continued.
In 1990, the JDL threatened Edward Said with death again — he appeared on a hit list mailed to the press threatening “things will go boom in the night,” along with several other prominent critics of Israel, including the Palestinian academic Rashid Khalidi.
After Vancier’s incarceration, the West Coast wing of the JDL grew more powerful, and Irv Rubin became JDL national leader. Rubin ultimately committed suicide in jail in 2002 while awaiting trial for an alleged bomb plot that was to target a mosque and a politician of Lebanese descent.
Today, the JDL in the US is not what it once was. But the JDL Canada is quite active, although slightly less violent. And the French JDL, the Ligue de Défense Juive is particularly well-organised, virulently anti-Muslim and and violent. Roberta Moore’s JDL UK on the other hand seems only to consist of her, De Jonge and maybe a few other sympathisers who split violent racist hatred online at on the street.
The international Kahanist movement is wider and more diffuse. For such relatively small groups, they have a huge number of schisms, vendettas and feuds, and are constantly falling out with each other. Kahane himself was assassinated in 1990, but not before founding an Israeli branch of his movement, the Kach. He won a seat in the Knesset in 1984’s elections, although Kach (and the splinter faction Kahane Chai, which was formed by Meir’s Kahane’s son Binyamin after his death) was ultimately banned even in Israel.
Many of today’s violent settler fanatics are often followers of Kahane. The ultra-Zionist terrorists who today burned a Palestinian baby to death with a fire bomb near Nablus are likely to be modern day followers of Kahane. One of their main slogans is “Kahane was right,” which you often see in Hebrew stickers or graffiti in “Israel,” especially near settlements. In this slogan, they are referring to Kahane’s call to deport every single Palestinian from historic Palestine, or as he termed it “the Land of Israel.” This unambiguously includes present-day Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
For that reason, Kahane titled his despicable 1981 manifesto They Must Go. In that book, he wrote detailed plans for how to remove all Palestinians from Palestine.
But today we can say that Kahane was right in only one sense. He was an extreme ideologue of hatred, and never seemed to waiver in his belief that one day he would be vindicated and his ideas would become mainstream in Israeli society and in the Israeli government. In that sense, he was right. Today, there is no need for an Israeli Kach party, because many of its ideas have been adopted by more mainstream Israeli parties.
With an Israeli “justice” minister such as Ayelet Shaked (who slandered Palestinian children in genocidal terms as “little snakes” during last year’s war on the Gaza Strip) and a former deputy-speaker of the Knesset who openly called for genocide against Palestinians (he called for all Palestinians to be forced out of Gaza and put in “encampments,” where they would be “concentrated.”), who can doubt it?
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.