What if Kahane was right?
Recently, outraged at the string of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated against Jews in the tri-state
area of NY, over 25,000 of our fellow Jews assembled in New York City to send a message of NO
Hate- No Fear. The day before 90,000 gathered to celebrate the Siyum Hashas, an event
unparalleled anywhere in the world in any other culture. While Jews gather to pray, to study, to
celebrate our heritage and our culture, the haters conspired to murder us. Are we surprised?
Once again Jewish destiny has caught up with us. While we got used to persecution in our two
thousand year of wondering, this spate of attacks took many by surprise not only by their sheer
frequency but where they were taking place. It was not supposed to happen here in America.
The goldene medina was supposed to be a haven against Jew hatred. Some may have thought
that the world learned the price of anti-Semitism and buried Jew hatred along with millions of
our families in Auschwitz. They might have thought this because after the Holocaust, for a brief
moment, it became less fashionable to be an anti-Semite. But it was only for a fleeting moment,
a quick dream that quickly turned into an evaporating illusion.
Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League, never had any such delusions.
He warned us 50 years ago that the US will not escape the fate of Christian Europe and Jews will
be targeted here as well. He felt that it was only a matter of time. Most did not believe him and
dismissed his warnings as the ravings of an extremist “right winger”. Now in light of current
events, it seems as if his words have become a prophetic warning and that his message has
unfortunately came true.
I was a member and a leader of the JDL for over 4 years. I worked alongside Kahane from 1968
until 1972 and travelled with him throughout the US and abroad. But to be honest, I myself
weren’t sure that he was right about the inevitable Jewish destiny he was prophesizing in the
USA. In Europe sure, but not over here. Jewish history taught us that, in any country with a
large Christian influence, anti-Semitism was a constant disease, an epidemic spread along with
the Church’s doctrine. But here in the US, I thought, things would be different. But
unfortunately, it turned out that Kahane was right. Today, not only those who were Kahane
supporters back then but even many who rejected his message have come around in ever-
growing numbers to accepting his fundamental warnings. You see with greater frequency both
here in the US as well as in Israel, stickers on cars proclaiming “Kahane Tzadek” Kahane was
Jews are not extremists, in general. We are usually in the middle of the road. We prefer to live
under the radar, not drawing attention, raise our children and coexist with our neighbors.
Kahane scared many Jews with his brand of extreme ideology, his ‘in your face’ confrontational
style. He was not begging for Jewish security, he was demanding it.
To be sure, Kahane and the JDL were extremists and as a result, represented a minority
perspective in the Jewish community. But with time, that has changed. With the rise in
orthodox demographics, more and more religious Jews have moved toward the right.
Conservative politics have taken a firm foothold among orthodox Jews and many who were
once staunch democrats are now embracing the Republican Party. More and more, former
middle of the roaders are now longing for a Kahane resurrection. Where is the JDL today? so
many are asking. Although in its heyday, the JDL never had more that about 500 active
members, the nostalgia for its militant ideology has caught on judging by the thousands who
now claim to have been members. So be it.
But our situation today is more dire than the conditions that elicited Kahane’s activism in the
70’s. Synagogues weren’t shot up then, Rabbi’s homes weren’t invaded, and Jews were not
routinely attacked on the subways and the streets, as today. Our children could go to the
universities of their choice without fear of physical harm and bullying from fellow students and
Today, anti-Semitism is a double whammy, coming at us from both sides: right and left.
Undoubtedly, the growing anti-Semitic narrative of the BDS movements on campus is
responsible for much of this Jew hatred. The minds of the students at many of our nation’s
universities have been hijacked by professors with a decidedly anti-Semitic agenda. They have
become emboldened and they force their points of view on others, shouting down opposing
sentiments through aggressive and repressive means. We have all heard about professors
refusing to give recommendation letters for students wishing to study in Israel.
As conditions have deteriorated since the seventies even a Kahane-like response may not be
adequate. Yesterday’s tactics are not applicable today. But we are not yesterday’s Jews either.
We have more political muscle, influence and have yesterday’s lessons to guide us.
Today, action and not marches are needed.
The latest wave of attacks have taken on a very personal nature. That means individual self-
protection. We simply cannot rely on others to help us. The news stories describing these
attacks, clearly indicate that people who witnessed them chose not to get involved. Not the
passerby’s, not the conductors on the trains or bus drivers. Its quite obvious that our
protection is up to us. As the old adage teaches “G-d helps those who help themselves”.
More and more synagogues around the country have opted for security committees consisting
of armed and licensed members. Such an idea would have been way too radical in the
seventies. Think of the outcry, the vilification, had Kahane advocated armed protection in our
synagogues. But, today in the face of shooting attacks, nothing less will do. Yeshivas and Jewish
schools must immediately add self-defense classes to the curriculum. Parents should demand
such training along with periodic active shooter drills. Let’s add them to the fire drills that every
school already has. Now, I am not suggesting that a quick Krav Maga or self-defense course will
enable our kids to disarm a gun wielding assailant. What I am saying is that we must adopt an
attitude of confidence, preparing ourselves and our children to act appropriately in case of an
Self-confidence is a prerequisite, the very enabler for success in an emergency. Without
confidence one is afraid to act. As we educate our students and empower them to refute the
narratives spread by BDS, we need to recognize that it takes confidence along with knowledge
to make a stand. Furthermore, will they be intimidated into silence by aggressive opponents.
Or will they wisely opt to remove their kippahs and wear baseball cap instead. Are we raising a
generation that will be afraid to admit their Jewishness and be encouraged to wear baseball
caps instead of kippahs? Getting beaten up or being intimidated to not express your ideas is
not much of a choice. Confidence is an emotional state of mind that can be developed.
Nothing promotes confidence more that knowing how to defend yourself!
The world-wide increase of anti-Semitism is fueled by the constant Israel bashing in the UN.
Who believes that when countries hostile to Israel’s existence call someone a Zionist that they
don’t mean Jews? It’s not political, its Jew hatred, plain and simple. Zionism is the age-old
yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancestral homeland. It can not be separated
from being a Jew. All Jews are Zionists, don’t kid yourselves. Even the most fervent Hassid. We
only argue about the timing and conditions of our return but never where we long to return to!.
Those countries leading the anti Zionist charge know what they are doing. They fully
understand that ‘Zionist’ is a code word for Jew. Just as the Nazis first dehumanized the Jews
they meant to exterminate, so do these countries delegitimize Israel. Its only their first step.
Look at the steady denial of civil rights in Germany, Poland and Hungary in the 30’s leading up
to the Holocaust. The UN is doing exactly that with their resolutions. If these countries get their
way, soon it will be against the law in many places to support Israel. Its already not “politically
correct” even here in the USA.
Make no mistake about it. It’s working. On the campuses, Jewish students are routinely
referred to as Zionists and Nazis simply for being Jewish. Often, they are harassed and at times
In Hungary in the 1920’s and 30’s, a virulently anti-Jewish student group, the Turul
Society came into existence. In their effort to bar Jews from attending universities, they
agitated for the so called numerus nullus campaign designed to eliminate Jews from the
universities. They systematically harassed and beat Jewish students both men and women who
showed up for classes. It produced results. My mother was among the young Jewish students
who quit and went home. Are we heading in that direction here? President Trump is leading
the war on terrorism with concrete actions such as sanctions. Its time for our mainstream
organizations and Jewish leaders to demand that the US levy and enforce sanctions against
such hate mongering countries as well. There has to be consequences to anti-Semitism if we
are serious about ending it.
Many of the recent attacks against us were perpetrated by members of the African-American
community. I do not believe that the African American community is anti-Semitic as a whole. I
do however believe that greater dialog with the leaders of the African American community is
vital. There is no use in pretending that there is no friction especially in communities with a
large Jewish and Africa American population living side by side. Similar friction existed in Irish
and Italian mixed communities, in the past. Increased education about each other has proven
to be helpful in the past. Ongoing education is vital to reduce the tension that is often sparked
by miseducation or a lack of education about each other. Long term solutions to solve long
But In the interim, our shuls are getting invaded. Jews are getting beaten up and killed. This is a
short term, immediate issue. This requires immediate action.
Every shul must have trained and armed members patrolling. The members must be subjected
to active shooter drills as well. Some of these measures we can accomplish our selves. For some
others, we need the support of our elected officials. They must be encouraged by our
community leaders and the leaders of the major organizations. To develop such measures
funding from the government is available. Let’s apply!
Leaders of large mainstream organizations claim to speak in our name. Time to speak for us not
just about us.
Does anyone believe that we are any safer after this past Sunday’s “feel good” march in
Manhattan? Holding ‘No Hate-No Fear’ rallies are OK (I guess) Personally I would have called it
a Rally Against Anti-Semitism and not couch the event in a “Parve” title that might offend the
very anti-Semites we are marching against.
No hate- No Fear? Fear from what? Fear of stating that Anti-Semitism is Jew hatred?
“Stamp out anti-Semitism” might have been a better title. The media and elected officials
would have no doubt as to what turned 25,000 people out on a cold day. Perhaps the first
group of Jews that must enroll in the self-confidence instruction are the leaders of the Jewish
organizations who sponsored the march.
It is time for Americans who are Against Anti-Semitism to call out the problem without fear or
So, in retrospect was Kahane right back in the 70’s? Or perhaps he understated the problem.
Dr. Alex Sternberg
Chairman: 5 Towns Americans Against Anti-Semitism
Author: ”Recipes from Auschwitz- The Survival Stories of 2 Hungarian Jews with Historical Insight”
Former Chief Self Defense instructor for the JDL