Mourning Kahane
By A. D. Freudenheim

7 January 2001

On 31 December 2000, Binyamin Kahane was murdered in a Palestinian ambush on the West Bank. Kahane's death is tragic not just because his is another, senseless death suffered in a conflict that should have stopped years ago, but because of what Kahane represented while alive, what he may come to embody now that he's dead - and because his murder is a Palestinian duplication of an abysmal Israeli policy.

Binyamin Kahane was the son of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded the Jewish Defense League (in the US) and the Kach Party (in Israel); among other things, these groups advocated the removal of all Arabs from Israel as the only sound solution to maintaining Israel's internal and external security and the purity of the Jewish people. After Meir Kahane was murdered in 1990, his son founded Kahane Chai (literally, "Kahane Lives") and began to advocate similar policies, drawing on the image of his father as a martyr to "the cause," and expanding the presence of Kahanist organizations and ideas among Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. Kahane Chai and its related splinter groups are considered by the United States government to be terrorist organizations and are prohibited from organizing here; in Israel, the Kach Party was eventually prevented from running for Parliament because it was deemed to be undemocratic and because it advocated racist policies.

On the same day that Kahane was murdered, Israeli soldiers assassinated a high-level Palestinian government official, a man that the Israelis believed to be associated with terrorist groups. Dr. Thabet Thabet's death is not the first of its kind; it is one result of a policy that the Israeli government began enforcing many weeks ago, in what Prime Minister Barak has referred to as "action against the direct perpetrators of terrorist attacks."[1] This assassination policy was designed by the Israeli government to be acceptable to left-wing Israeli and American interests; it suggests that the Israeli approach is different, carefully strategic, and it hopes to exchange our outrage at actions that add to the violence for the reassurance that those "direct perpetrators" are being responsibly and adequately handled.

In the end, Kahane's death is senseless for precisely the same reason that the Israeli assassinations of leading Palestinian terrorists is senseless. While Kahane and Thabet are irreplaceable to their families, they are completely replaceable to the ideologies and movements they were associated with. In the case of Kahane, some of his followers were quoted in newspaper interviews stating that his death would not go un-avenged. On the Palestinian side, Thabet's funeral will likely become another in a series that have served to inflame anti-Israeli passions - which will help to drive more people (including children) into the streets for violent protests, and in turn provoke further violent responses from the Israeli side. These murders also increase the strength of the terrorist groups the Israelis wish to remove, fueling their recruiting efforts by creating more noble martyrs for the cause - and in this case, both the Kahanist and the Palestinian causes. With Thabet and Kahane gone, how many more will be emboldened to replace them?

The Thabet and Kahane murders may make a momentary political point, but it is a statement without long-term value. It places the killers and the killed on the same moral level and brings the Israelis and the Palestinians to the status of terrorist at exactly the moment when both sides should be working to overcome that role and all that it represents. When the Israelis murder those they label "terrorists," they are still murdering humans. These actions de-legitimize the stated Israeli position on respect for human rights - and circumvent a judicial process that does not permit the death penalty. For the Palestinians, it only adds to the view that for their cause, violence is the only solution; but this is a fundamentally false position, as their negligible achievements in the last 53 years have shown. In murdering Kahane, the Palestinians have suggested that the Israeli position on killing those they believe responsible for the violence is an effective one - as much as they many not like it when Palestinians themselves are the targets.

If there is to be peace, both sides must renounce violence. Self-defense is a legitimate application of force, but the assassination of opposition leaders is not. As it stands, these murders do not stop the violence - they only crystallize the belief in the fundamental inhumanity of the opposition. These actions perpetuate the values of revenge and retaliation, damage Israel's claims to the values of human rights and equal treatment for both Arab and Jew, and reinforce the view that Palestinians are incapable of making peace. These are exactly the positions for which Binyamin Kahane gave - and lost - his life.

[1]"Son of Slain Rabbi Kahane Dies With Wife in West Bank Ambush," by Deborah Sontag, The New York Times, 1 January 2001. Copyright 2001, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.