The US and Israel's radical right connections to the world's most racist rabbis

The US and Israel's radical right connections to the world's most racist rabbis
Comment: The fact that American envoys are so closely connected to Israel's Kahane movement should be of great concern, writes David Sheen.
7 min read
17 May, 2018
A charity supported by Kushner (r) reportedly donated $93,000 to the Kahaneist Komemiut movement [Getty]
When two US envoys met Monday in Jerusalem - Trump's former bankruptcy lawyer, now Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner - both must have been over the moon.

News that just a hundred kilometres southwest, the Israeli army was fatally shooting 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters and injuring thousands more, may have marred the media spectacle over which they presided.

But these dead will sadly soon be forgotten, as were those killed in the last Israeli attack on this scale, the 2014 "Protective Edge" assault on Gaza, which took the lives of more than 500 Palestinian children.

What will remain with us next week, next month, and next year, is the fact on the ground that these men had facilitated and assembled to celebrate: Moving the official US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Nakba - the 1948 dispossession of the Palestinian people - the move amounted to a symbolic recognition of Jewish supremacy over Jerusalem and all the land from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean sea.

While the gala event glorified a political development for which they had laboured long and hard, Friedman and Kushner had another reason to celebrate: All of the pomp and pageantry had obscured emerging questions about their own support for some of Israel's most frightening racial supremacists.

Last week, Haaretz reported that the Friends of Beit El Yeshiva - a charity to which Kushner donated at least $20,000, and which Friedman served as president until just before he became US ambassador - donated $93,000 to Komemiut, a nonprofit group inspired by the ideology of Meir Kahane.
Graffiti hailing Kahane and his hateful ideology is common throughout the country

Komemiut's chief rabbi is former Hebron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, one of Kahane's staunchest supporters. Kahane was an American-born Israeli rabbi who openly advocated extending Israel's borders, ethnically cleansing the country and its colonies of non-Jews, and changing its system of government from an ethnocracy to a theocracy.

Komemiut operates without restrictions in Israel, and top Israeli politicians regularly attend Komemiut conferences.

Friedman has also embraced Bezalel Smotrich, a key Komemiut activist who, as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, proposed a plan to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of Palestinians who won't accept permanent apartheid.

Meanwhile, Komemiut is not the only Israeli association with Kahanist connections that has received funds from Kushner.

Kushner also donated the far more modest sum of $500 to the religious seminary founded by another far-right American-born Israeli rabbi, Yitzhak Ginsburgh.

This secular-religious political partnership to advance anti-democratic legislation is a dangerous development

In the past decade, Ginsburgh's disciples have authored textbooks that together read as instruction manuals to incite a race war and commit genocide against the Palestinian people.

One, authored by a Ginsburgh acolyte who is also Meir Kahane's grandson and namesake, is a manifesto that calls to turn Israel's somewhat secular ethnocracy into a strict religious theocracy. Another, authored by the head of the seminary that Kushner funded, is a religious treatise ruling that Jews may murder non-Jews - even non-Jewish babies - if one suspects they may grow up to pose a threat to Jews.

The fact that American envoys are so closely connected to some of the most racist rabbis in the country should be a cause for great concern.

But it is must also be noted that even without the encouragement of the Trump administration, the upper echelons of the Israeli government have cultivated their own ties with Kahane's followers for years.

The ruling Likud party is currently working with its religious coalition partners to pass a bill authored by Ginsburgh's political action group, Derech Chaim, which would give the government the ability to override any effort by the Supreme Court to declare racist laws unconstitutional.

Former Hebron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior is one of Kahane's staunchest supporters. In 2011, he was arrested
 by Israeli police and questioned on suspicion of inciting violence for endorsing a
religious book that gives Jews permission to kill innocent non-Jews, including children [AFP]

This secular-religious political partnership to advance anti-democratic legislation is certainly a dangerous development, but official Israeli support for groups promoting Kahane's agenda is not exactly new. Multiple ministries of the government have funded Kahanist initiatives in Israel, such as the movement opposed to "miscegenation" (romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews), and the Templar movement.

One Kahanist institution that receives funds from Israel's Culture and Education ministries is the Temple Institute, which wants Jerusalem's Al Aqsa compound - containing the country's most beautiful building and Islam's third-holiest shrine - to be demolished, so that a Jewish temple for animal sacrifices can be built on its ruins.

Ginsburgh's disciples have authored textbooks that together read as instruction manuals to incite a race war and commit genocide against the Palestinian people

The Temple Institute, paid by the government to enter religious and secular state schools and educate Israeli youth, is headed by Yisrael Ariel, who was Kahane's deputy when he served in the Knesset.

At that time, during the mid-1980s, Kahane's unapologetic racism was considered to be too extreme, even by Israeli standards. His Kach party got banned from running for re-election, and by the end of the decade, Kahane himself had been assassinated in New York City. But over the quarter-century that followed, Kahane's genocidal ideas have seemed to gain traction in Israel. Graffiti hailing him and his hateful ideology is common throughout the country.

Read more: Temple Movement urges Jews to 'conquer' al-Aqsa

Twenty-five years later, the racism of Kahane's protege, Temple Institute Chief Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, has not diminished. In 2015, Ariel called for a Jewish army to conquer the entire Middle East, including Turkey and Iran, destroying churches and mosques, and killing all Christians and Muslims who wouldn't renounce their respective religions.

Even the Jewish priests who conduct the Temple Institute's religious rites - often attended by government lawmakers - are Baruch Kahane and Avraham Kahane, the son and grandson of Meir Kahane.

An arm of the Temple Institute recently minted a coin bearing the visage of Trump, to honour his support for Israeli supremacy in Jerusalem, which they believe will advance their apocalyptic agenda.

Official Israeli support for groups promoting Kahane's agenda is not exactly new

Another Kahanist institution that has been the beneficiary of Israeli government funding is Lehava, which works to prevent incidences of miscegenation.

The group's members regularly patrol the streets of Israeli cities, harassing Arabs and physically assaulting them.

Lehava is led by Kahane loyalist Bentzi Gopstein, who has called for churches in Israel to be torched.

In 2015, members of the group were convicted of torching one of the few schools 
in Israel where Jews and Palestinians learn side by side, in Hebrew and Arabic. The arsonists' motives were evident from the slogans they graffitied at the scene on the crime: "No miscegenation".

Gopstein draws a salary from Hemla, a group closely associated with Lehava. Hemla received a million dollars in funding from Israel's Ministry of Social Affairs between 2005 and 2010.

Another group used to funnel funds to Lehava, by Gopstein's own admission, is the Fund for Saving the People of Israel. Between 2011 and 2012, this Kahanist group was the beneficiary of bursaries from the Segal Fund for Israel, totaling about $60,000.

The Segal Fund is directed by the Israeli-American Falic family, and its coffers are funded by offshore accounts owned by members of Falic family.

In the run-up to the last Israeli general election, this same Falic family donated to the campaigns of five ministers from the ruling Likud party - one of them being Binyamin Netanyahu himself. The prime minister's re-election fund received a $45,000 donation from the Falics, making them the premier political patrons of both Netanyahu and Lehava.

But the fact that Israel's own political leadership courts and supports groups associated with Meir Kahane should not excuse representatives of the US government who do the same.

After last Thursday, when we saw their past connections to the Kahane-inspired Komemiut exposed, will Kushner and Friedman be more careful in the future about associating with known arch-racists?

The answer seemed to arrive on Sunday evening.

Hours before the embassy dedication ceremony, Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump made a point of receiving a religious blessing from Israel's Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef - a cleric who recently compared people of colour to monkeys, and ruled that non-Jews were forbidden from living in the land of Israel.

With Trump in the Oval Office, and Netanyahu now in his tenth consecutive year as prime minister, it would appear that the answer to our question is a resounding no.

David Sheen is an independent journalist originally from Toronto, Canada and now based in Dimona, Israel. 

Follow him on Twitter: @davidsheen

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.