Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Role in Life and Death


The murder of Meir Kahane has revealed an interesting aspect of the militant, racist rabbi’s career that perhaps even he did not appreciate. In life, and now in death, Kahane functioned as a foil alongside whom others may look more attractive.

In an otherwise worthwhile column in The Washington Post on Nov. 11, Walter Reich of the Woodrow Wilson Center wrote that Kahane “expressed views about Palestinians and advocated actions against them, particularly their ‘transfer’ to Arab countries, that are simply incompatible … with … traditional Israeli [standards]. They were, to be sure, compatible with the standards of rhetoric and behavior toward Jews in most Arab countries”.

This statement clearly is intended to separate Kahane from Israel’s leaders and indeed Israeli society generally. Let’s see if they pass historical muster.

Historical Muster

If Kahane’s proposal for the transfer of Arabs is incompatible with Israeli standards, what are we to make of Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Fund, the organization that acquired land in Palestine? In 1940 Weitz wrote the following:

It must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country … If the Arabs leave the country, it will be broad and wide open for us. And if the Arabs stay, the country will remain narrow and miserable … The only solution is Eretz Israel, or at least Western Eretz Israel, without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point! The Zionist enterprise so far … has been fine and good in its own time, and could do with “land-buying”-but this will not bring about the State of Israel; that must come all at once … and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer them all; except maybe for Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem, we must not leave a single village, not a single tribe. And the transfer must be directed to Iraq, to Syria, and even to Transjordan. For that purpose we’ll find the money, and a lot of money. And only with such a transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers, and the Jewish question will be solved, once and for all. There is no other way out. [Emphasis added.]

Weitz uses the T-word four times, eight years before the state of Israel declared its independence. We can go back further. There is a famous statement of Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, about I ‘gently” expropriating Arab property and trying “to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly. “

Kahane functioned as a foil alongside whom others may look more attractive.

Nor should we overlook Chaim Weizmann’s hope that “Palestine shall be as Jewish as England is English and America is American.”

That was the theory. It was faithfully carried out in practice. Before and after the 1948 war, Arabs were dispossessed of their land and belongings and driven mercilessly across the borders. (For details, see Tom Segev’s and Benny Morris’ excellent work 1949: The First Israelis.) This was repeated in 1967.

What of the treatment of Jews in the Arab countries? Reich didn’t say which country he had in mind, but since the exodus of Jews from Iraq in the early 1950s is well-known, let’s look at that. Iraq, of course, had a large Jewish community that dated back to antiquity. Despite some bad times, the Jews of Iraq often prospered, especially as the 19th century dawned. The 1839 Noble Words of the Decree introduced a new civil code that applied to everyone regardless of religion or sect. According to Nissim. Rejwan, an Iraqi Jew who emigrated to Israel, beginning in 1876 Jews served in the parliament and were appointed to government courts and district and municipal councils. Small numbers of Jews joined the civil service. Jews were free to educate their children and start schools. This is not to say that Jews suffered no discrimination, but the conditions were so favorable that some central European Jews moved to Iraq.

The situation changed with the flourishing of Zionism. A prominent member of the Iraqi Jewish community, Menahem Salih Daniel, confirming predictions of anti-Zionist Jews in the West, wrote in 1922 that Zionism prejudiced the Jews of the Arab world: “If [the Jews of Iraq] espouse so publicly and tactlessly … a cause which is regarded by the Arabs as not only foreign but as actually hostile, I have no doubt that they will succeed in making themselves a totally alien element in this country.”

“Initiating That Distress”

The Zionist progress toward statehood, including the above-mentioned aggression against Palestinians, worsened things for the Jews of Iraq. Some Jews left for Israel, but apparently not enough for the Zionists. They decided to give them a shove, because, as an Israeli agent put it, “Mass immigration [to Israel] will pour in only as a result of distress … We must consider the possibility of initiating that distress. ” That they did. According to a CIA man in Iraq at the time, Wilbur Crane Eveland, the Israelis transferred weapons to Zionist operatives in Iraq. This was later confirmed by Yigal Allon. “In attempts to portray the Iraqis as anti-American and to terrorize the Jews, the Zionists planted bombs in the US Information Service library and in synagogues, ” Eveland wrote. The US Embassy was furnished evidence that the terrorism was committed by an underground Zionist organization. The Iraqi government tried to discourage the exodus, going so far as to confiscate the property of fleeing Jews. All but about 5,000 Jews left.

Thus the most celebrated “transfer” of Jews from an Arab country had its roots wholly in Zionism and in a shameful effort that violated the Balfour Declaration’s caveat about actions “which may prejudice the right and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Sheldon Richman is a writer and editor based in the Washington, DC area.