Flag of Kach, used by Kahanists

Kahanism (Hebrew: כהניזם) is a religious Zionist ideology based on the views of Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach party in Israel.

Kahane held the view that most Arabs living in Israel are enemies of Jews and Israel itself, and believed that a Jewish theocratic state, where non-Jews have no voting rights, should be created.[1]

The Kach party has been banned by the Israeli government. In 2004, the U.S. State Department designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organization.[2][3] In 2022, it was removed from the U.S. terror blacklist due to "insufficient evidence" of the group's ongoing activity, but it remains a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity.[4]

The Otzma Yehudit party, which has been called Kahanist and anti-Arab,[5][6] won six seats in the 2022 election and is a member of the current Israeli government. The party, and the Kahanist movement as a whole, have been described as espousing Jewish fascism.[7][8]


The Kach party saw electoral success in 1984, winning 26,000 votes, equivalent to one seat.[9] Early polls after the election predicted that the Kach party would become the third-largest party, winning as many 12 seats in the next election.[10] But in August 1985 the Kach party was barred from participating in elections.[9] Some Kahanist groups, such as the Sicarii, decided to manifest their political goals violently instead.[11] On November 5, 1990, Meir Kahane was assassinated by El-Sayyid A. Nosair, who was associated with terror cells that eventually became al-Qaeda.[12]

Kahane's assassination led to the splintering of the Kach party, with Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane leading Kahane Chai from Kfar Tapuach and Kach led by Baruch Marzel, who eventually became a member of Otzma Yehudit.[13] In 1992 both groups were banned completely from participating in elections. In 1994, due to the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein, they were declared illegal terrorist organizations by the Israeli government.[14][15][11] After the ban, Kahane Chai's leaders created an extraparliamentary advocacy group, "The Kahane Movement", which archived media content from Kahane online.[11]

The next election where Kahanists received political representation was in 2009, with Michael Ben-Ari, who ran on the National Union ticket. Ben-Ari split from the National Union after the election, forming Otzma Yehudit. Otzma Yehudit failed to pass the electoral threshold in the 2013 Israeli election.[16]

Kahanism gained no political legitimacy until the April 2019 Israeli election. As a result of the Israeli political crisis, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to gain extra seats by appealing to Kahanist voters by making a deal with the Jewish Home to have them run on a joint list with Otzma Yehudit as the Union of Right Wing Parties.[17][11] The party received enough seats for Otzma Yehudit to be represented, but Ben Ari, who was supposed to represent the 5th slot on the Union of Right Wing Parties list, was barred from running after the list was submitted.[18] Otzma Yehudit eventually saw parliamentary representation in 2021, when Itamar Ben-Gvir won a seat as part of a joint list with the Religious Zionist Party.[19]

The Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, which espouses Kahanism, won six seats in the 2022 Israeli legislative election and will be represented in what has been called the most right-wing government in Israeli history.[7]

In November 2022, after a memorial event for Kahane attended by Ben-Gvir, the U.S. State department hosted a press briefing, saying, "Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent. There is no other word for it. It is abhorrent."[20]


Kahanism is a religious Zionist[21] ideology that denotes the controversial positions espoused by Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane proposed that the State of Israel should enforce Jewish law, as codified by Maimonides,[22] under which non-Jews who wish to dwell in Israel would have three options: remain as "resident strangers" with all rights but national ones, which would require non-Jews to accept resident-stranger status with all rights but political ones. Those unwilling to accept such a status will be required to leave the country with full compensation and those who refuse to do even that will be forcibly removed.[23]

Kahanism's central claim is that the vast majority of the Arabs of Israel are and will continue to be enemies of Jews and Israel itself, and that a Jewish theocratic state, governed by Halakha, absent of a voting non-Jewish population that includes Israel, Palestine, areas of modern-day Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, should be created.[24]

According to Kahane, the term "Kahanism" is primarily used by people ignorant of Torah Judaism in order to discredit his ideology,[citation needed] which he asserts is rooted in Halakha[citation needed] and the same as Torah Judaism.[25][verification needed][better source needed] "Meir Kahane did not hate the Arabs – he just loved the Jews", said his widow Libby in a 2010 interview.[26]

Allegations of fascism

Kahanism has been controversially been described as a form of neo-fascism. Newspapers and organizations such as Haaretz, the Institute for Middle East Understanding, and +972 Magazine[27][28][29] have called it explicitly fascist. Kahanism's ideological tenets of violent expansionism, extreme racism, and ultranationalist messaging have been cited as proof that it is a form of Jewish fascism. Israeli scholar Ehud Sprinzak has described Kahanism as "quasi-fascism" due to its overt racism.[30] Kahane's appeal that the "enemy is within" has been called a "classic position of fascists".[31]

Kahane denied these allegations throughout this life, instead calling his opponents "leftists" and "fascists".[32] He likened his struggle for an ethnically pure Israel to the Jewish people's struggle against fascist powers during the Holocaust.[33] Some doubt the label's accuracy; historian Matthew N. Lyons argues that Kahanism's religious fundamentalism could be more accurately described as "religious nationalism".[34]

Criticism and legal action

Since 1985, the Israeli government has outlawed political parties espousing Kahane's ideology as racist, and forbids their participation in the government. The Kach party was banned from running for the Knesset in 1988, while the two Kahanist movements formed after Kahane's assassination in 1990[35] were ruled illegal terrorist organizations in 1994 and the groups subsequently disbanded. But followers with militant Kahanist beliefs remain active, as seen below. In 2001, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the official Kahanist website a hate site espousing prejudiced views in which "Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular are vilified."[36]

U.S. terror designation

In 2004, the U.S. State Department designated Kach a Foreign Terrorist Organization.[2][3] In 2022, it was removed from the U.S. terror blacklist due to "insufficient evidence" of the group's ongoing activity in the most recent five-yearly review, but it remains a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity.[4]

Kahanist groups

Name Country Description Status
Kach and Kahane Chai Israel Original political parties Defunct
Jewish Defense League Global Militant activist organization, founded by Kahane Active
Terror Against Terror Israel Militant group Defunct
Sicarii Israel Militant student group founded in 1989 Defunct
Lehava Israel Activist organization Active
Jewish Task Force US US based Kahanist media organization Active
Otzma Yehudit Israel Political party Active
Jewish National Front Israel Political party Defunct
Hatikva Israel Political party Defunct
Jewish Defense Organization US Militant self defense organization Defunct

Notable Kahanists

Baruch Goldstein

Main article: Cave of the Patriarchs massacre

The deadliest Jewish terrorist attack occurred when Baruch Goldstein, supporter of Kach, shot and killed 29 Muslim worshipers, and wounded another 150, at the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron, in 1994. This was described as a case of Jewish religious terrorism by Mark Juergensmeyer.[37] Goldstein was a medical doctor who grew up in Brooklyn and was educated at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. He resettled in the Kiryat Arba settlement in the West Bank, and was politically active for years. Goldstein saw Kahane as a hero,[38] and was Kahane's campaign manager when he ran for the Israeli parliament through the Kach party.[39] When Goldstein was threatened with a court-martial for refusing to treat non-Jewish soldiers in the Israeli Defence Force, he declared: "I am not willing to treat any non-Jew. I recognize as legitimate only two religious authorities: Maimonides and Kahane."[40]

Goldstein was denounced "with shocked horror" by Orthodox Jews,[41] and most Israelis denounced Goldstein as insane.[42] Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin condemned the attack, calling Goldstein a "degenerate murderer", "a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism".[43][44][45] At the same time, Goldstein's actions were praised by some extremist settlers; Yochay Ron said that he "felt good" when he heard the news, and also said that Jews were "at war with the Arabs" and "all Arabs who live here are a danger to us... they threaten the very existence of the Jewish community on the West Bank."[46] Goldstein and other religious settlers at Beit Hadassah (both Kahanist and Gush Emunim) believe that the biblical lands on the West Bank are sacred, that Jews are required by God to occupy them, and that the presence of Muslims desecrates the Holy Land.[47] After this attack, members of the Kach Party praised Goldstein's actions, and in the ensuing political turmoil, the Knesset banned Kach in Israel. The Shamgar Commission concluded that Goldstein acted alone.

Yoel Lerner

Main article: Yoel Lerner

In October 1982, Yoel Lerner, a member of Kahane's Kach, attempted to blow up the Dome of the Rock in order to rebuild the Temple Mount site.[48] He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Mark Juergensmeyer identified him as a Jewish religious terrorist, writing that he "yearned for a Jewish society in Israel. He hoped for the restoration of the ancient temple in Jerusalem, the exclusive right of Jews to settle on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the creation of a state based on biblical law."[48] Lerner had previously served a three-year sentence for heading a group that plotted to overthrow the government and establish a state based upon religious law.

Eden Natan-Zada

On August 4, 2005, Eden Natan-Zada, an AWOL Israel Defense Forces soldier, killed four Israeli Arab citizens and wounded several others when he opened fire on a bus in the northern Israeli town of Shfaram. Natan-Zada had recently moved to the settlement of Tapuach, site of a Kahanist yeshiva.[49] He was handcuffed by Israeli police but then lynched by a mob.

Alleged Kahanist violence

Roadside shootings, stabbings and grenade attacks against Palestinians have been carried out in Jerusalem and the West Bank by individuals or groups suspected of having ties to the former Kach group. Aliases such as "The Committee for the Safety of the Roads",[50] "The Sword of David" and "The Repression of Traitors" have been used. The US government claims that these are all aliases of "Kach".[51] In 2002, a Kahanist group known as "Revenge of the Toddlers" claimed responsibility for a bombing attack at Tzur Baher, an East Jerusalem secondary school for Arab boys, that wounded seven. The group also claimed responsibility for the 2003 bombing of a Palestinian school in Jaba that injured 20 and was also thought to be linked to the 2002 Zil Elementary school bombing.[52][53]

Non-Jewish support

James David Manning, chief pastor of ATLAH World Missionary Church, has endorsed aspects of Kahane's ideology.[54]


  1. ^ "God's Law: an Interview with Rabbi Meir Kahane". Archived from the original on February 19, 2009. Retrieved 2012-12-18.: "Any non-Jew, including the Arabs, can have the status of a foreign resident in Israel if he accepts the law of the Halacha. I don’t differentiate between Arabs and non-Arabs. The only difference I make is between Jews and non-Jews. If a non-Jew wants to live here, he must agree to be a foreign resident, be he Arab or not. He does not have and cannot have national rights in Israel. He can have civil rights, social rights, but he cannot be a citizen; he won’t have the right to vote. Again, whether he’s Arab or not."
  2. ^ a b "U.S. Dept. of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2004. April 2005" (PDF).
  3. ^ a b "Country Reports on Terrorism 2004" (PDF). State.gov.
  4. ^ a b "US set to remove Kahane's 'Kach' group from foreign terrorism blacklist". www.timesofisrael.com.
  5. ^ Aaron Kelman (27 January 2013). "Arab town doesn't love anti-Arab party". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  6. ^ Raphael Ahren (18 February 2015). "The extremist who could bring Kahanism back to the Knesset". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Israel moves sharply to right as Netanyahu forms new coalition". BBC. 21 December 2022.
  8. ^ "Netanyahu's hard-line new government takes office in Israel". BBC News. 2022-12-29. Retrieved 2022-12-29.
  9. ^ a b "Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs". www.mfa.gov.il. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  10. ^ "12 Years Since the Assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane". Arutz Sheva. 23 October 2002. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d "Why Racist Rabbi Meir Kahane Is Roiling Israeli Politics 30 Years After His Death". Haaretz. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  12. ^ "I Grew Up the Son of an Islamic Jihadist". Time. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  13. ^ Auerbach, Jerold S. (2009). Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-7425-6617-0.
  14. ^ "Terrorism - In the Spotlight: Kach and Kahane Chai". 2006-11-22. Archived from the original on 2006-11-22. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  15. ^ "U.S. Treasury - Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI)". 2010-02-03. Archived from the original on 2010-02-03. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  16. ^ "Otzma Yehudit". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  17. ^ Gur, Haviv Rettig. "Kahane lives? What does Itamar Ben Gvir, backed by Netanyahu, really stand for?". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  18. ^ staff, T. O. I. (17 March 2019). "High Court bars far-right party leader Ben Ari from running in elections". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  19. ^ Sauvage, Grégoire (15 May 2021). "Itamar Ben Gvir, the ultra-nationalist accused of stirring up violence in Jerusalem". France 24.
  20. ^ Magid, Jacob. "US blasts 'abhorrent' celebration of Kahane after prospective minister attends". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  21. ^ Asher, Abe (4 May 2020). (Re-)Making the State: Religious Zionism, Religious Violence, and Israel in the 21st Century (Report).
  22. ^ Maimonides. Mishne Torah, Laws of Kings, Ch. 6.
  23. ^ Kahane, Meir (1987). Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews. L. Stuart. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-8184-0438-2. All Arabs who are prepared to accept the State of Israel as the exclusive state of the Jewish people and of no one else, will be allowed to remain in the land with the status of 'resident stranger,' as per Jewish laws. They will be granted personal rights but no national ones. They will have general economic, social, cultural, and religious freedom but will not be citizens of the Jewish State and will have nothing to say in its future in any way. Accepting this status, they are welcome to remain and are entitled to all the respect and decency that Judaism demands we grant to all humans who are resident strangers in our land and who bow to its laws and concepts.
  24. ^ "God's Law: an Interview with Rabbi Meir Kahane". Archived from the original on February 19, 2009. Retrieved 2012-12-18.: "The southern boundary goes up to El Arish, which takes in all of northern Sinai, including Yamit. To the east, the frontier runs along the western part of the East Bank of the Jordan river, hence part of what is now Jordan. Eretz Yisrael also includes part of Lebanon, and certain parts of Syria, and part of Iraq, all the way to the Tigris river."
  25. ^ [1]: "I am committed to Judaism and real Jewish values, and every word in this book – disagreeable as it may be to most – is Judaism."
  26. ^ Special: Meir Kahane's widow regrets Rabin murder Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine (Heb: מיוחד: אלמנתו של מאיר כהנא מסתייגת מרצח רבין), Channel 10 (Israel), November 20, 2010
  27. ^ Roth-Rowland, Natasha (2019-02-24). "Israel's fascist sideshow takes center stage". +972 Magazine. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  28. ^ IMEU. "Fact Sheet: Meir Kahane & The Extremist Kahanist Movement | IMEU". imeu.org. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  29. ^ "It's Official Now: Fascism Is Us". Haaretz. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  30. ^ Sprinzak, Ehud (July 1985). "Kach and Meir Kahane: The Emergence of Jewish Quasi-Fascism I: Origins and Development". Patterns of Prejudice. 19 (3): 15–21. doi:10.1080/0031322X.1985.9969820.
  31. ^ Heschel, Susannah (June 2022). "Meir Kahane and Race as Incarnational Theology". Journal of Religious Ethics. 50 (2): 293–302. doi:10.1111/jore.12398. S2CID 251513046.
  32. ^ Hall, Carla (11 September 1984). "The Message of Meir Kahane". Washington Post.
  33. ^ Quevillon, Timothy Riggio (May 2020). From Palestine to Howard Beach and Houston: Meir Kahane, Moshe Cahana, and the Anti-Colonialism of American Civil Rights Struggles (Thesis). hdl:10657/6759. ProQuest 2470632803.[page needed]
  34. ^ Lyons, Matthew N. (July 2008). "Two Ways of Looking at Fascism". Socialism and Democracy. 22 (2): 121–156. doi:10.1080/08854300802083331. S2CID 143314237.
  35. ^ Murphy, Dean E. (19 December 2000). "Terror Label No Hindrance To Anti-Arab Jewish Group". The New York Times.
  36. ^ UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (27 April 2001). Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the use of the Internet for purposes of incitement to racial hatred, racist propaganda and xenophobia, and on ways of promoting international cooperation in this area (Report). p. 5.
  37. ^ Juergensmeyer 2003, p. 10.
  38. ^ Juergensmeyer 2003, p. 53.
  39. ^ Juergensmeyer 2003, p. 8.
  40. ^ Arych Kizel in Yediot Aharonot, 1 March 1994.
  41. ^ Brekke, Torkel (2006). The Ethics of War in Asian Civilizations: A Comparative Perspective. Routledge. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-134-29152-6.
  42. ^ Wilson, Rodney (August 2007). "Review Article: Islam and Terrorism". British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 34 (2): 203–213. doi:10.1080/13530190701427933. S2CID 144867169.
  43. ^ Haberman, Clyde (1 March 1994). "WEST BANK MASSACRE: The Overview; Rabin Urges the Palestinians To Put Aside Anger and Talk". The New York Times.
  44. ^ Cowell, Alan (2 March 1994). "WEST BANK MASSACRE; In 'Tragic Error,' Soldiers Kill a Settler". The New York Times.
  45. ^ Ibrahim, Youssef M. (6 March 1994). "The World; Palestinians See a People's Hatred in a Killer's Deed". The New York Times.
  46. ^ Juergensmeyer 2003, p. 52.
  47. ^ Juergensmeyer 2003, pp. 51–52.
  48. ^ a b Juergensmeyer 2003, p. 45.
  49. ^ Wilson, Scott (5 August 2005). "Jewish Settler Kills Four Israeli Arabs In Attack on Bus". The Washington Post.
  50. ^ "MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base". 2007-08-27. Archived from the original on 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  51. ^ "Background Information on Foreign Terrorist Organizations". 2011-08-15. Archived from the original on 2011-08-15. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  52. ^ Cordesman, Anthony H. (2005). The Israeli-Palestinian War: Escalating to Nowhere. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-275-98758-9.
  53. ^ Myre, Greg (10 April 2003). "Israelis Kill Five Palestinians in Gaza Strip". The New York Times.
  54. ^ Yonah, Tamar (December 21, 2009). "Audio: Reverend Manning Talks About American Black-Jewish Relations". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved December 13, 2010.