I don't like Rabbi Meir Kahane's ideas - period.
While walking in a quiet residential neighborhood in Jerusalem, I came upon a sign, illustrated with a crying eye, announcing "The Museum of the Potential Holocaust." The museum's founder and curator, Mrs. Barbara Ginzburg, accepted my entrance fee and guided me, her only visitor, through the rooms of what had originally been an apartment.
Using a short metal pointer, Mrs. Ginzburg, a well-groomed and energetic woman in late middle age, indicated as we went along items of particular interest among the exhibits - literature and artifacts from Holocaust Revisionists, skinhead, Klan, neo-Nazi and other hate groups and articles from newspapers documenting or responding to anti-Semitic incidents.
Mrs. Ginzburg explained that most of her exhibits derive from the United States because, as an American immigrant, she has easiest access to anti-Semitic literature from there. But, she assured me, the increase of anti-Semitism documented on her walls is happening in "most" other countries of the world as well.
There has, indeed, been a disturbing rise in reported anti-Semitic incidents in recent years. The Museum of the Future Holocaust, however, was noticeably lacking in any evaluative material. Nor did the exhibits distinguish between phenomena. For example, Mrs. Ginzburg, using her pointer, directed my attention to a news article about an American truck driver who displays on the side of his vehicle a huge, hand-lettered sign protesting U.S aid to Israel. He has displayed other such slogans over the past few years, and the Anti-Defamation League has tried to force him to desist. (The basis on which his right to publicize his opinion might legitimately be curtailed was not clear to me.)
Such an episode seemed to me quite different from, say, Oprah Winfrey's obnoxious use of a mentally disturbed women to talk about Jewish "ritual slaughter," and that in turn seemed vastly different in magnitude and seriousness from the two Brooklyn College students who were savagely beaten near the campus Hillel House - and that in turn was quite different from the sordid and threatening pamphlets and cartoons generated by neo-Nazi groups.
In brief, the Museum of the Future Holocaust lacked anything that might lead one to an understanding beyond the inflammatory level of anecdote. The preference to eliminate perspective, to put all these dissimilar items together and then claim that they inescapably prove one thing - that the world is preparing to incinerate its Jews - turned out, not surprisingly, to serve a specific political agenda - that of Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach party.
I don't like Kahane's ideas. I don't like racism - a word I am not using here in an impressionistic or imprecise way. Kahane is a racist, the first Jew, as the New Republic
's Leon Wieseltier puts it, "who may properly be compared to the Nazis." Kahane, who enjoys likening Arabs to various species of animals, also wants to deprive Israeli Arabs of their citizenship on the basis of their ethnicity. Then he wants to go further and - in an exact analogy to the Nuremburg Laws - make it a crime against the state for a Jew and a non-Jew to have sexual relations.
I will honor my readers by assuming that they do not need to be convinced that such an enactment by a modern state - let alone by a Jewish state - is an artifact of radical evil. Mrs. Ginzburg, to whom I confessed a few of my reservations about Rabbi Kahane, insisted that he was merely teaching the requirements of halacha
, Jewish law.
He isn't. Jewish law does not require rabbis, let alone the State of Israel, to dehumanize or terrorize either Jews or non-Jews.
Mrs. Ginzburg and I did not, I am afraid, part great friends.
But our conversation about Rabbi Kahane's horror of miscegenation (or whatever the term is for inter-ethnic sex) became both more poignant and bizarre to me when, on returning to the States, I read an excerpt in a Jewish weekly from The False Prophet
, a book about Rabbi Kahane.
Its author, Robert I. Friedman, recounts that in the mid-1960s, Rabbi Kahane, then living in Queens with his wife and four children, had an alternate life in which he rented a Manhattan apartment under an assumed name and spied on left-wing groups for the FBI. During one of these escapades, the 33-year-old rabbi met, loved and proposed marriage to a young woman - a young gentile woman. According to Friedman, Kahane broke off the affair two days before their scheduled marriage, and soon afterward the woman, despondent, killed herself.
Rabbi Kahane's personal hypocrisy does not in itself disprove his ideas. But it does suggest their powerful, and twisted, psycho-sexual component. One has the sense that something analogous may have driven Hitler's terrible engine.
Certainly, the increase in the pollutant of anti-Semitism constitutes a test for American democracy - the treatment of minorities is always the test of a democracy. I see, however, no reason to believe that American society is about to turn against us, dehumanize and terrorize us.
But I would not feel quite so sanguine if I were an Israeli Arab. The danger from pollutants is greater when the system is overstressed, as Israel's polity is. One meets increasing numbers of Jews infected by Kahane's cruel and simple solutions; one finds it institutionalized even in quiet residential neighborhoods; ultimately, one feels partly infected oneself.
I write this to strengthen those who remain committed to democracy, not only in America, where it suits us as Jews, but in Israel too, because it suits us as human beings.