Lesson from Kahane and Trump — ideology outlives the ideologue

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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.

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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,… Read more »

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… Read more »

“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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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?