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Lesson from Kahane and Trump — ideology outlives the ideologue

US Politics
on 11 Comments

A political candidate with a messianic complex, who has incited his supporters to violence, exhibited authoritarian tendencies, openly espoused racism, cheated on his wife repeatedly, and manipulated his associates for personal enrichment.

The similarities between Rabbi Meir Kahane and Donald Trump are striking.

But perhaps the most revealing similarity has been how the American and Israeli political establishment have responded to these figures. Both have been repudiated, while many of their policies have been embraced.

Rabbi Meir Kahane was an unlikely person to be elected to the Israeli Knesset, and few, other than perhaps Kahane himself, could have predicted his rise to power.

His path was unconventional, to say the least: from congregational rabbi to sports writer to newspaper delivery boy to FBI informant to founder of the Jewish Defense League to member of the parliament.

Following three failed bids for public office in Israel, finally, in July 1984, Kahane was elected to the Knesset.

At this point, he was well known for founding the Jewish Defense League, whose terroristic activities included the smuggling of arms, bombings, assassinations, and regular thuggish violence against Arabs or other individuals the organization had deemed its enemy.

The Israeli political establishment made clear its objections to Meir Kahane in myriad ways, insisting he was not representative of the country.

For instance, Mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek, described Kahane, upon being elected, as “a stain on Israeli democracy.”

Furthermore, Meir Kahane and his party were viewed as a grievous threat to the country’s democracy and as promoting racist policies, and were subsequently barred from participating in the 1988 election.

But politicians, empowered by Kahane’s work, began promoting policies similar to the racist and antidemocratic ones he advocated.

For instance, in 1989 the mayor of Ariel, a West Bank settlement, proposed a law requiring Arabs to wear identification badges.

In another West Bank settlement, the city council passed a resolution in 1986 prohibiting the hiring of Arab workers, but the attorney general struck down the resolution.

And in 1988, a Likud candidate for mayor in the city of Acre ran on the platform of expelling Arabs from the town.

Rabbi Kahane popularized the notion of mass expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Previously, support for mass expulsion was viewed as taboo, but nowadays some of the most powerful politicians in Israel support it.

The policy, euphemistically called “transfer,” has been advocated, in various forms, by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as well as by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kahane further normalized unapologetic racism and incitement to violence among the political establishment. In the summer of 2014, Ayelet Shaked, current Minister of Justice, reposted on Facebook a call for genocide against Palestinians, referring to them as “snakes.”

Whiffs of Kahane’s philosophy permeate the present-day government in Israel.

Similarly, the American political establishment has made clear its objections to Donald Trump, all while endorsing his policies.

True, members of Trump’s own party, ranging from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and John Kasich, have criticized him, but many Republicans are unwilling to state unequivocally they will not vote for Trump.

Paul Ryan has opted not to campaign for Donald Trump, but will be voting for him come November 8th.

As intolerable as Donald Trump is to some Republicans, they have no qualms voting for vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, who endorses Trump’s most controversial policies.

Just look at South Dakota Senator John Thune, the third highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, who, along with others, has called for Trump to step down and for Pence to lead the ticket.

And other Republicans simply support Trump outright. Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Rudy Giuliani have vigorously defended Donald Trump, with rare qualification.

Like Meir Kahane, Donald Trump has empowered politicians to promote similar, sometimes more severe, policy proposals.

Newt Gingrich, for example, has built on Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, advocating a religious test for all Muslims who wish to remain in the United States.

And during the Republican presidential primaries, Ted Cruz announced his support for mass deportation of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, the same as Trump’s proposal. Cruz, however, felt it necessary to make clear his plan was stricter than Trump’s because it didn’t allow immigrants to “come back in and become citizens.”

The lesson to be learned from Kahane’s impact on Israeli politics is that ideology long outlives the ideologue. In other words, even if Donald Trump loses the general election, Trumpism is here to stay.

About Eli Massey

Eli Massey is a freelance journalist, researcher, and editor whose work has appeared in In These Times, Portside, and elsewhere. Previously, he interned at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he worked on Middle East politics.

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11 Responses

  1. JWalters
    October 18, 2016, 6:02 pm

    Thanks for pointing out the parallels between Trump and Kahane. I hope other reporters and analysts look at this instructive pattern. With the overwhelming talk about the white racists supporting Trump, and how horrible that is, there is a deafening silence on the Israeli supremacists who are just as bad, and who are wrecking America’s position in the Middle East to boot.

  2. dx
    October 18, 2016, 10:24 pm

    The thing about Trump is that he is only taking Republican positions to the next step. For instance, voter ID laws were passed in my state to deal with the problem of voter fraud–even though there was virtually no evidence that voter fraud existed. The idea that elections are rigged and poll watchers are needed is really just saying that voter fraud is a problem.

    All these little policy bombs have existed in Republican rhetoric for 40 to 50 years (including talk radio and Fox news), and Trump is just setting them off. Sometimes, I listen to conservative talk radio and more than once I have truly been shocked by the racist talk on the show and on the commercials. It’s just extraordinary—there’s nothing implied about it–it’s absolutely blatant. So in my opinion, Trump is the logical result of Republican/ conservatives opinion, action, and rhetoric. He’s reaping what they have sown.

  3. Marnie
    October 19, 2016, 12:06 am

    “Newt Gingrich, for example, has built on Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, advocating a religious test for all Muslims who wish to remain in the United States.”

    My oh my. It looks like this democratic experiment has come full circle. From bygone times, people fleeing their countries to seek freedom from religion in the ‘new world’ to a proposal to require current and future american citizens of the Muslim faith to pass a ‘religious test’. If Kahane were alive today he could go back to New York and feel like he’d never left the occupied territories. Holy Sh*% Batman.

  4. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    October 19, 2016, 1:32 am

    Yes, I agree that a defeat of Trump does not portend a defeat of Trumpism. The aftereffects of Trump’s candidacy, assuming he is defeated, will outlive Trump, although i happen to also believe that Trump will outlive his defeat at the polls in November. He is a trouble maker and if the margin is close he will contest the election and that might mean greater political instability than this country has ever seen in the aftermath of an election since 1860. But one other point. Trump will win the white vote and he will be the candidate to represent Trumpism for the near future, no one else but Trump. He combines ego, racism and stirring of trouble and this will not disappear on November 9th and it will be Trump who will carry Trumpism forward.

    Kahane might have received more votes had he been allowed to run again in 1988, but in fact in 1984 he won less than 2% of the Israeli vote and Trump will win in excess of 40% of the American vote and in excess of 50% of the white vote, and probably in excess of 60% of the white male vote, so though the comparison of Trump to Kahane is a way of highlighting Israeli evil, in fact it is silly to compare a danger to the american political system to the Kahane phenomenon.

  5. Marnie
    October 19, 2016, 4:38 am

    As an aside – the late kahane and current kahane/trump have tiny hands in common and were and are constantly point, jabbing, waving, etc. Maybe that’s the cause of the angst, past and present?

  6. lysias
    October 19, 2016, 7:30 am

    Warmonger Hillary is no better. I’m voting for Jill Stein. If I can do nothing else, I will reduce Hillary’s mandate for her neocon policies.

    • Keith
      October 19, 2016, 11:19 am

      LYSIAS- “If I can do nothing else, I will reduce Hillary’s mandate for her neocon policies.”

      Hear, hear! What lesser evilists fail to comprehend is that a vote for either evil is a vote for the policies which they will implement and which provides electoral legitimacy for imperial depredations. Better to protest corporate rule than support it.

      • lysias
        October 19, 2016, 3:01 pm

        And World War Three edges ever closer. Zero Hedge: Russia Is Deploying The Largest Naval Force Since The Cold War For Syria: NATO Diplomat:

        Just moments ago we reported that in the latest escalation involving Syria, the Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov was now sailing past Norway on its way to Syria, where it is expected to arrive in just under 2 weeks. As part of the carrier naval group, Russia also deployed an escort of seven other Russian ships, which we dubbed the “most powerful Russian naval task force to sail in northern Europe since 2014” according to Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reports.

        It turns out it was more than this and as Reuters reported second ago, citing a NATO diplomat, Russia is in fact deploying the largest naval force since end of Cold War to reinforce its Syria campaign.


        That would be in addition to significant components of the Russian Black Sea fleet that are already there.

      • lysias
        October 19, 2016, 3:20 pm

        Also, in recent weeks ships of the Russian Caspian Sea Fleet have been launching missiles against targets in Syria.

      • RoHa
        October 19, 2016, 7:34 pm


        If what the NATO diplomat says is true, this suggests that Russia is not planning an invasion of Poland and the Baltic countries in the next few weeks. Perhaps the squawking war mangers of those countries could give it a rest, at least until Russia is finished in Syria.

      • RoHa
        October 19, 2016, 9:02 pm

        War mongers.

        Damned predictive text.

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