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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2007, pages 19-21

Special Report

U.S. Appeals Court Affirms Designation of Kahane Chai, Kach as Terrorist Groups

By The DC Investigative Journalism Collective

picA follower of the late Brooklyn-born Rabbi Meir Kahane (image on candle) prays at his grave in the Givat Shaul Cemetary outside Jerusalem on the 16th anniversary of his assassination in Manhattan (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana).

IN A UNANIMOUS Oct. 17, 2006 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the petition by Kahane Chai and its aliases Kach and that the State Department revoke its 2003 designation of Kahane Chai as a foreign terrorist organization.

As evidence that the designation was legitimate and legal, the State Department submitted the administrative record upon which it was based. The record contained both public and classified material, and government attorneys based their closing argument on four items from the unclassified record:

  • An Israeli radio report that death threats had been made against Israeli police officers investigating the attempted 2002 car-bombing of a Palestinian school for girls in occupied East Jerusalem;
  • An article in the Israeli paper Ma’ariv reporting threats and demonstrations against “one of the heads” of the Shin Bet’s Jewish Affairs Division who was investigating the attempted bombing;
  • A CIA Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) translation of Hebrew-language press accounts of a “personal incitement campaign” launched by right-wing activists, including members of Kach, against then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and
  • A July 2003 Israeli radio report quoting the Shin Bet director as saying that “the threat to the life of Prime Minister Sharon had grown” and that “there was a threat from several dozen Kahanist extremists.”

Interestingly, all the targets of the cited terrorist attempts were Israelis, not Americans. Butthe court agreed with the State Department and Secretary Condoleezza Rice (the two named defendants) that these provided “sufficient evidence to support the redesignation of Kahane Chai” as a foreign terrorist organization.

In fact, over the past 30 years, Kahane Chai has operated both in Israel—especially the occupied territories—and the U.S. In his book The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane, From FBI Informant to Knesset Member, the late Village Voice reporter and Kahane movement expert Robert I. Friedman describes how in 1971 Kahane, a Brooklyn native under investigation by the FBI, fled to Jerusalem, where he opened an office of his Jewish Defense League (JDL).

Soon, Friedman wrote, the JDL was ”firebombing Christian churches and bookstores in Jerusalem.” Kahane refused to join right-wing Israeli parties wooing him, however, and instead formed his own party, Kach (“thus”), with the blunt platform of expelling the Arabs from Israel.

Riding the tide of the growing Israeli settler movement and anti-Arab extremism, evidenced by bombing campaigns against Palestinian mayors as well as a sophisticated plot to blow up Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, Kahane was elected to the Knesset in 1984. “Kahane’s victory-drunk supporters carried the exultant rabbi through the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem,” Friedman wrote, “smashing shops and heads with equal abandon, while shouting ”˜Death to the Arabs!’”

Terrorism at Home

One year later, on Oct. 11, 1985, a pipe bomb planted on his office door blew apart Alex Odeh, Western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Suspicion immediately fell on Andy Green and Robert Manning, Kach members and residents of the extremist Israeli settlement Kiryat Arba. The two also were suspected of carrying out a string of seven terrorist bombings in the U.S. that year. According to Friedman, Green and another Kach member, Keith Fuchs, using Manning’s identification, were found to have flown to Los Angeles on Oct. 10. One of the men was spotted flying out of Los Angeles two hours before Odeh’s death the next day.

While Manning eventually died in prison on a separate conviction, Green, aka Baruch Bar Yosef, got a law license and is currently defending Kach activists in Israeli courts. To this day the Odeh case remains open.

In 1988, on the eve of Knesset elections and as Kach’s popularity surged in the wake of the launch of the first intifada, Israel’s Central Election Committee banned Kahane’s party from running on the grounds that it was a racist and anti-democratic party, a new law passed by the Knesset that August.

Five years later, Kahane was dead, felled by an assassin’s bullet as he spoke in New York City on Nov. 5,1990, and Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were negotiating an historic peace initiative in Oslo, Norway, entailing mutual recognition.

Kahane’s legacy did not die with him, however. On Sept. 13, 1993—minutes after Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords on the South Lawn of the White House and shook hands under the spreading arms of President Bill Clinton—a JDL activist calling himself “Josef Benetton” and a group of Kahanists massed on the sidewalk a block from the White House and assaulted a Palestinian family returning from witnessing the historic event.

Opposition to the peace process was also launched on a wider scale by the Israeli settler movement, including supporters of Kahane. In a quickly published book titled A Peace to Resist: Why the Rabin-Arafat Deal Must Be Stopped, and How It Can Be Done, pro-settler spokesman Yechiel M. Leiter argued for mass mobilization and “the threat of a campaign of political violence.” The book included a full-page memorial to the memory of Rabbi Meir Kahane, “who showed the way.”

In the immediate wake of the signing of the Oslo accord, Palestinian attacks against Israelis dramatically declined. Israeli attacks against Palestinians increased, however, including random drive-by shootings in the occupied West Bank in which four Palestinians were killed and two wounded, and for which Kach claimed responsibility.

Late one night in February 1994, the right-wing settler radio station Arutz 7 broadcast an interview with a Kach supporter. According to an English transcript, interviewer Ben Israel ended his talk by wishing Purim greetings to settlers imprisoned for murdering Palestinians, as well as to “all those that did what a lot of us think of doing and don’t have the guts to do.”

Five hours later, one settler decided to take action. On Feb. 25, 1994, Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein, a Kach sympathizer who lived in Kiryat Arba, walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque in the center of nearby Hebron and opened fire, killing 29 worshippers. Kahanist leaders in the West Bank celebrated the attack, calling Goldstein a hero.

The following month, the Israeli Knesset banned the existence of Kachand its offshoot, Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives) as terrorist organizations.

In response to the Hebron Massacre, Hamas, which opposed the Oslo accords, launched a wave of suicide attacks in Israel, introducing that brutal tactic for the first time into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In January 1995, following a suicide bombing in Israel which killed 19 people, and for which Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, then-President Bill Clinton ordered the freezing of U.S. assets belonging to 12 groups and 18 individuals “accused of undermining Middle East peace plans with terrorist acts.” The list included Kach and Kahane Chai.

In 1995, Kahane Chai’s monthly magazine, The Judean Voice, ran a series of articles titled “Rabin vs. the People of Israel,” compiled by Kahane Chai leaders Michael Guzofsky and Fern Sidman. On page 7 of the Nov. 15, 1995, published just before Rabin’s assassination, Sidman’s article (titled “Rabin—The Downfall Begins,”) cites the arrest of Kach activist Itamar Ben Gvir at a demonstration on Oct. 5:

“Ben Gvir was arrested again after boasting that Kach youth had vandalized Rabin’s car. He was photographed by Yediot Ahronot while holding the Cadillac symbol from Rabin’s car. Ben Gvir told reporters: ”˜If we can get to Rabin’s car we can get to him’” [emphasis in original].

The article also featured a photo from a flyer with Rabin’s head and face pasted onto an SS Gestapo uniform. Advertisers in that issue include a full-page ad for Commentary, Irving Podhoretz’s neoconservative magazine.

On Nov. 4, 1995—one month after Ben Gvir boasted that Kach had gotten to Rabin’s car—Yigal Amir got into Rabin’s car and fired four hollow-tipped bullets into the prime minister, killing him, and the Oslo peace process.

A Record of Failure in Israel

Much of the administrative record that the State Department submitted in its brief is a record of failure by the Israeli security agencies to crack the Kahanist underground.

As a result, in his brief to the court, Kach’s attorney Kenneth Klein was able to successfully argue that neither Kach nor Kahane Chai could be conclusively linked to many of the acts of anti-Arab violence cited in the record.

According to the headline of an April 11, 2003 FBIS report, “Israeli Shin Bet Fails to Catch Jewish Terror Cells, Denies Targeting Kakh [sic] Group.” The report refers to the 2002 case of a massive truck bomb parked between a Palestinian girls’ elementary school and a hospital in Arab East Jerusalem. A passing patrol discovered the truck by chance.

The police arrested and convicted the main participants, residents of the Bat Ayin settlement, south of Jerusalem, and of the radical outpost Maon, near Hebron. Following aggressive interrogations, officials were unable to uncover a wider plot. The defendants’ determination to reveal nothing beyond their own direct involvement foiled any wider indictments.

The FBIS report paints a stark picture of the Israeli terror cells still at large in 2003:

“It is thought that there are at least three Jewish terror cells currently active. Their operations are divided into two main areas: the first is the most lethal and involves shooting attacks....

“The second front, the ”˜less successful,’ has tried over the last two years to put together explosive devices and set them off in the heart of the Palestinian populace. In the last year alone, five ”˜Jewish’ devices have been planted in the West Bank. Three of them were discovered and neutralized before they went off...

“According to the operational profile of these cells, they are usually made up of two or three members, usually professionals who acquired their knowledge of weapons and explosives during their army service. ”˜The cell members know which ambush points to pick on the West Bank roads and set up there. They also know exactly how to get away from the security forces without getting caught. These are highly skilled professionals,’ said a Defense Department source this week.”

Violence in the Occupied Territories

What is missing from the Department of State’s administrative record, and generally from mainstream press, is the continuing role of the Kahanist movement in settler violence against the Palestinians with the aim of ethnically cleansing the West Bank, especially the ancient city of Hebron.

The State Department brief does include a Yediot Ahronot report that, according to the Israeli State Attorney’s office, Baruch Marzel “was, and still the head of the Khak [sic] terror organization.” During an August 2002 raid of Kach offices, police found an English-language disc that stated, “Hebron resident Barukh Marzel heads the organization and participates in public events and activities by day and night.”

Marzel told the newspaper: “I ceased to be a member of Kakh [sic] 20 seconds after it was outlawed.” According to the paper, Marzel has said “he would be happy to set up phalanges in Hebron if allowed to do so.”

A video produced by the Tel Rumeida Project of the International Solidarity Movement documents daily stone throwing attacks by settler children, too young to be prosecuted by Israeli courts, against children and teachers coming and going from a nearby Palestinian elementary school. The video shows small children hurling stones at human rights workers in the presence of Israeli troops, as well as a teenage girl shouting, “Die! Slaughter all the Arabs!” while attacking a teenage Palestinian girl.

Yesh Din, Hebrew for “there is law,” is a newly founded group of Israeli volunteers documenting settler violence in the occupied territories. In September 2006, they released a comprehensive report on settler violence during the preceding year and the almost complete (90 percent) failure of the Israeli police or army to provide any effective protection to the Palestinian civilians living under military occupation.

While not naming the Israeli settlers alleged to have carried out attacks, the report’s figures suggest that in areas where Kahanist leadership is present, the rate of violent incidents soars. In 2005, attacks in Hebron and Nablus, near the Kahanist strongholds of Tel Rumeida, Kiryat Arba, and Kfar Tapuach, amounted to over 300—more than occurred in the rest of the West Bank combined.

The report paints a disturbing picture of the “phalange” Marzel has been allowed to set up in Hebron:

“In one-third of the investigation files opened in the SJ District [Judea and Samaria] in 2005 and closed by November of the same year—50 out of 150 files—the offenders were minors under the age of 12, the age of legal responsibility. All these 50 files were opened in the Hebron Region...

“In a press interview, the commander of the Hebron Region in the JS District, Assistant-Commander Eli Zamir, commented: ”˜We have a problem of major proportions here. [The settlers] have realized our weak point, which is the use of children under the age of criminal responsibility—under the age of 12. They do this deliberately. The children throw stones and break walls. The children are the tactical, even strategic, arm of the adults.’”

In one of the most ominous reports to come from the territories, the Nov. 19, 2006 report from Christian Peacekeeper Team (CPT) Hebron bears the headline, “Palestinians Flee Village of Tuba Due to the Invasion of 50 Israeli Settlers.” According to the report:

“At 8:45 a.m. 50 adult, male, Israeli settlers, some of whom were carrying guns, walked from the illegal Israeli outpost of Havot Ma (Hill 833) toward the small Palestinian village of Tuba...A villager testified that when the settlers first approached the village they said they were out hiking and would not bother the villagers. The Palestinian said, however, that the settlers entered the village and started throwing stones at the animals and at the village’s generator. They also emptied storage containers of water, a commodity which is in very short supply in the village...

“The children of the village were escorted to nearby At-Tuwani, while many of the villagers took refuge in the hills, taking their flocks of goats and sheep with them. One hour after the Israeli police had been called, Israeli police and army arrived.

“A villager later reported that the soldiers then shouted to the settlers to leave because the police were coming. The villager also reported that he saw the settlers go into a nearby valley to hide.”

 The DC Investigative Journalism Collective can be contacted at <[email protected]>.