Thirty-five years ago Likud wouldn’t conceive of sitting down with Kahane. What changed?

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Last week, PM Netanyahu did his nefarious best to make certain “Kahane’s people” – the talismanic name used by former members of the terrorist organizations Kach and Kahane Chai, an incantation so powerful it makes the prosecution blind to who they are – will enter the next Knesset. For that purpose, he cooked up an unusually malodorous witch’s brew, as part of which he will make a Jewish Home member, Eli Ben Dahan,  a part of the Likud list, and after the elections Ben Dahan will take this Likud seat and return back to the Jewish Home. It will probably be the duty of the High Court of Justice to finally decide whether this groundbreaking deal, which bypasses the entire democratic process (people voting for Likud will be actually voting for the Jewish Home in order put a member of Jewish Power in the Knesset) is stinking but kosher.

The union between the Jewish Home and Jewish power is anything but surprising. Yours truly was the editor of the school paper in Nechalim Yeshiva back in 1988, and the paper was suppressed by the rosh yeshiva, Yoske Ba-Gad, because I made a poll which showed that, among the two senior classes, 30% would vote for Kahane if they could (and, among the senior class, many did have the vote). Ba-Gad, who himself told us “Kahane is right, but he’s insane”, was afraid of bad publicity.  

The course charted by Religious Zionism, focusing on the “redemption” of the West Bank, steered it towards supporting terrorism even back in the early 1980s. For the past four years, it was represented in the Knesset by B’tzalel Smutrich, who spoke about ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. The Kahanists were always legitimate during the Kiddush following Saturday morning prayer, when the words not meant for strangers’ ears were spoken.

The Kahanists, after all, were always the unhiemlich of religious Zionism: the uncanny, the stranger who looks too familiar, the one whose existence wakes in you your deepest fears about your identity – and your deepest urges. Now the person merged with its shadow. Troubling, perhaps, but hardly surprising. Rafi Peretz, the newly-minted leader of Jewish Home, moved from firebrand opposition to the Kahanist deal to an enthusiastic embrace of them within 24 hours.

Likud, we’d think, would be another opera. Unfortunately, we think so because we are still listening to the sounds of a bygone, completely different orchestra, and we find it hard to notice the conductor and the players have all changed. In the 1980s, all members of Likud left the well of the Knesset when Kahane spoke; Likud MK Miki Eitan made a minute and devastating comparison between Kahane’s laws about “protecting Jewish honor” and the Nuremburg Laws. Kahane and his followers were beyond the pale.

So what changed?

In the 1980s, the Likud still believed in Jabotinsky’s “Iron wall” concept: that if the Jewish state would be steadfast and refrain from retreating, the Palestinians will eventually understand it’s not going anywhere, will tire of war, and peace will be reached. This theory had one glaring hole: 1980s Likudniks had no idea how to handle millions of Palestinians.

Jabotinsky, when he was writing in the 1920s and 1930s, had no such problems. He supported a one-state solution. Some Likudniks (notably President Rivlin) still do. Most of the party, however, can’t conceive of this notion.

It’s been 30 years and more since Kahane’s party was disqualified from running in the 1988 elections, but the Palestinians have not gone anywhere. Quite the contrary. If they weren’t even on the radar of the West in the 1970s, and in the 1980s they were seen just as terrorists, now the Palestinian issue haunts Israel everywhere.

In 1987, Likud torpedoed the London Agreement between King Hussein of Jordan and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, which was supposed to return the West Bank to Jordanian control. Soon afterwards, the First Intifada broke out; it led Palestinian society to a paradigm change few Israelis understood then or now.

Until 1987, the Palestinian struggle was focused on the Palestinian diaspora: the vision of the violent struggle which will bring Israel down and return the refugees to their land. The Intifada, on the other hand, did not just stress non-violent struggle: it changed the focus. It demanded struggle will deal, first and foremost, not with the refugees but with the Palestinians living on their land and under Israeli occupation. It moved the Palestinian struggle from outside to inside. It’s not a coincidence Yasser Arafat did his considerable best to behead the local leadership of the Intifada: it grew from below and represented people on the ground, not grandiloquent would-be revolutionaries.

Yet the First Intifada, crushed by the IDF and the ISA (Shin Bet) from one side and by terrified Palestinian bureaucrats in exile on the other, did reach an impressive victory. It made it clear to Israeli decision makers the danger they faced was not a few scattered terror attacks, but in a Palestinian uprising, not by refugees but by people living under a military dictatorship. Following the Intifada, the Palestinian issue never left the stage, neither in Israel nor in the world.

Under Shamir, the Likud was dragged, screaming and kicking, to Madrid, where it mostly burned time to delay the end. Madrid led to Oslo, which made the hitherto fringe idea of separation into two states a mainstream one. The two state solution would wipe out Likud’s vision; Netanyahu made sure to kill it before Barak came to power in 1999. This left only three options on the table: A country of all its residents, an official apartheid regime (contrary to the unofficial one already in place), or ethnic cleansing.

Maybe we should have noticed the old Likud idea died back in 1999. Benny Begin ran for the Knesset with a right-wing outfit, crashed and burned, and left politics for a decade. He said then that he still believed Israel could be, had to be, a Jewish state which will promise human rights to Palestinians – but that there didn’t seem to be many Israelis who thought so.

Then came the Second Intifada, an ocean of the blood of the blameless. Palestinian killers committed crimes against humanity in busses and restaurants; Israel committed massive war crimes on an almost daily basis. When the smoke cleared, the Palestinians were still there, still demanding independence.

(It should be noted that many proud Palestinian veterans of the First Intifada will not recognize the 2000-2005 struggle as an Intifada; they deride it as “the second fauda“, chaos, and claim there was only one Intifada. Theirs, they say, was led by the people; the other was taken over by gunmen.)  

The concept of an “iron wall” looks shaky after the Second Intifada, Cast lead and Protective Edge. If this massive flow of bloodshed wouldn’t build a wall, it seems nothing wall. Israel requires more and more effort to maintain the occupation: it has to run in order to stay where it is. Peres’ “Jordanian option” is long dead, assuming it ever lived; the two state solution died about a decade ago; and we’re fast slipping into what looks into a T-Junction. Either a one state solution or an official apartheid.

But there is another option: ethnic cleansing. The right-wing doesn’t speak about it openly, but the Kahanists do. This is what is whispered over kugel and herring in Kiddush after prayers for decades. And Likud’s internal logic, having hit the iron wall of reality, begins to bend in this way. Some 10% of the Jewish population of Israel have been speaking about “a second nakba” even as they denied the first; now Likud joins them.

That’s where the shock of the Kahanist deal comes from. The road was leading there; there’s no surprise here. But names do have meanings, and Netanyahu invoked shem ha’meforah, the explicit name.

Meir Martin Kahane used to say there was a little Kahane in every Jew, and that it was his mission to make him come to the fore. He could not know Netanyahu would be better, so much better, at this than him.

A beast is slouching from Hebron to be born. Perhaps its time has come. But we need to face it, and vanquish it. Hopefully, we still can.

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For years people who could see where things were going were told to butt out. Israel was an internal Jewish matter For years Palestinians were told to resist peacefully. Now BDS is deemed anti Semitic. So are left wing parties who want to change the dead system . Israel is out of control. If it fell apart would it be a tragedy ? No Hitler made sure he got what he wanted unscrupulously and… Read more »

According to Zionists, the majority of people who have chosen to embrace the religion-based identity of Jewish believe that their identity comprises a right: – to Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of geographic Palestine; and – to commit the “necessary evil” to secure it. Rather than disabuse them of this unjust and immoral belief, the “Western world” for decades has done nothing but validate it with endless economic,… Read more »

Thanks, Yossi. I have long been horrified by the ‘leaders’ in Israel, many of whom have openly advocated for and acted toward continued apartheid, occupation, ethnic cleansing, and massacre. Never, ever peace and justice. Bennett~ “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.” Shaked of “little snakes”~ “This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people… an entire people, including its… Read more »

What changed? The times they are a changin’, and not in a good way. As a famous follower of Kahane once said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Seems like a lot of young U.S. Jews are now saying to Israel, “You go your way and I go mine.”

Netanyahu is desperate. Desperate to remain in power, and he is running for re-election on a very weak position, because he is going to be an indicted PM as candidate, which will go against him. Desperate people do desperate things. Now that he cannot convince his people that he is the toughest candidate, and can kill Palestinians mostly unarmed ones easily, as his rival can brag about it too, he has to resort to these… Read more »