How to stop Kahanists from taking over

Twenty-five years after a follower of Meir Kahane massacred Palestinian worshipers in Hebron, Netanyahu is basing his future coalition on a Kahanist party. Now Israelis will have to decide between apartheid and a future of hope and equality.

By Raluca Ganea

Kahanist Michael Ben-Ari gives a speech to right-wing demonstrators who are protesting an event commemorating the Palestinian Nakba at Tel Aviv University, May 14, 2012.
Kahanist Michael Ben-Ari gives a speech to right-wing demonstrators who are protesting an event commemorating the Palestinian Nakba at Tel Aviv University, May 14, 2012.

Reality is often too complex to draw clear lines between cause and effect. But occasionally, a single act by a single person changes the course of history. Twenty-five years ago, on February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinian worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Instead of evacuating the Hebron settlement following the massacre, Israel punished the city’s Palestinian residents by severely restricting their movement. The Israeli army imposed a two-month curfew, shut down businesses in one of the city’s main thoroughfares, and turned Hebron into the ghost town it is today. Palestinian suicide bombings commenced shortly afterwards. With Israeli public terrified, the atmosphere became increasingly extreme, leading to the wild incitement that eventually led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Since then, Hebron has become the ultimate symbol of Israel’s occupation, and a stronghold of Kahanism – a fascist ideology named for the founder of the Jewish Defense League, Rabbi Meir Kahane, who sought Jewish supremacy through violence. Goldstein was one of Kahane’s followers, and his spirit hovers over the current election cycle in more ways than one.

Last week, one of the rabbis who exerts influence over the far-right Jewish Home party set a precondition for the party’s union with the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, demanding Otzma member Itamar Ben-Gvir remove Baruch Goldstein’s framed photo from the walls of his office. Ben-Gvir refused, but the unification proceeded nevertheless with the active encouragement of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is not deterred from potentially forming a coalition with a Kahanist party that openly runs on a racist, ultra-nationalist platform.

The Kahanists have been Netanyahu’s covert allies since the 1990s. All he had to do was stand on a balcony overlooking angry crowds inciting against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem’s Zion Square; the Kahanists took care of the rest. In fact, Kahanism has seeped into a far wider spectrum of Israeli politics than many care to admit, by legitimizing anyone who demands a “Jewish majority” in the Knesset, and anyone who isn’t working with determination and perseverance to end the occupation. The only difference is that Netanyahu, who for decades has excelled in unleashing the demons of Israeli society, has now placed the Kahanists in the front seat.

As was the case 25 years ago, today Israel is still subjugating millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem under military rule. In Hebron, the occupation is particularly pronounced. Over 800 Jewish settlers are living under military protection in a city of 230,000 Palestinians. The two populations live under two separate legal systems.

This reality, in which Israelis are entitled to civil rights that millions of Palestinians are deprived of, has a name: apartheid. The previous Israeli government has contributed more than any other in the past 25 years to institutionalizing this system of apartheid by advocating a policy of annexation, intended to complete the process that began with the occupation of the territories in 1967.

Kahanists Itamar Ben-Gvir (left) and Benzi Gopstein (right) take part in the annual Purim parade on Hebron's Shuhada Street, February 24, 2013 (
Kahanists Itamar Ben-Gvir (left) and Benzi Gopstein (right) take part in the annual Purim parade on Hebron’s Shuhada Street, February 24, 2013 (

Anyone who believes that under this policy of accelerated annexation Israel can maintain the status quo in the occupied territories is delusional. In the upcoming elections, voters will have to decide between annexation and apartheid on the one hand — or a courageous policy that will finally put an end to the occupation and the domination of another people. We face a choice between the legacy of Kahane, Goldstein and their heirs in Israeli politics, and a future of hope and equality.

As in any election campaign, the votes of Israeli citizens alone will determine the fate of five million disenfranchised Palestinian women and men. The results will be crucial for their future and that of their children.

Before casting their vote, the Israeli public deserves to hear from each candidate for prime minister and from each of the parties whether they support annexation or an end to the occupation. Most parties, however, present a vaguely centrist platform that misleads the public. Some use sanitized language referring to the “political issue,” others emphasize only Israel’s security needs, while a few speak of separation.

Blurring the harsh reality of the occupation is a victory for the Kahanists and the legacy of Baruch Goldstein. Before April 9, all parties and candidates should take a tour of Hebron. Our leaders should look reality in the face and return to the Israeli public with a clear decision: equality or apartheid.

Raluca Ganea is the Executive Director of “Zazim – Community Action.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.