It is, of course, wrong to speak ill of the dead—but there are exceptions. For many Jews, the life and times of Rabbi Meir Kahane were not a cause for celebration. Indeed, the bitterness which he aroused in many seemed to feed his need to achieve a self-perpetuating urge to self-destruction. Shortly after Kahane’s murder last year, Faber published the British edition of Robert I. Friedman’s The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane—From FBI Informant to Knesset Member. While it is a racy and often poorly-written work, Friedman has clearly dug deep into Kahane’s murky past and dredged up some long-buried details.
Kahane, it appears, was a clever failure at most things he tried and suffered from delusions of grandeur. A con man in many areas of his life. In 1963, he removed his kipa and entered the intelligence-gathering world as Michael King with a friend from Betar. While his wife and four children in Queens believed that he was involved in serious government business in Washington during the week, he actually spent most of his time living life to the full with a succession of women. Kahane was adept at deceiving people. Over Shabbat, he was the pious puritan, a Jewish patriarchal figure. During the week, he exuded a sexual charisma and chased “shiksas” in singles bars whilst establishing a series of right-wing front organizations to report on liberals and leftists often for the FBI. As Michael King, he co-authored a book entitled The Jewish Stake in Vietnam and was vociferous in attacking Jewish liberals for their opposition to the war. As Meir Kahane, he defined the war as a milchemet mitzva—an obligatory war and even lobbied his cheder students to enlist to fight in Vietnam.
In 1966, Kahane’s philandering lead him to proposing marriage to Estelle Donna Evans with whom he was conducting an affair. Two days before the marriage, Kahane wrote to Evans and told her that he was already married. He still did not reveal his true identity to her. A few hours afterwards, the distraught woman threw herself off the Queensboro Bridge and died later on the operating table. She was also found to be pregnant. Kahane later told close friends that Evans had killed herself because she had terminal, cancer. In the 1980s, Kahane publicly denied that he had even had an affair with Evans.
In the early 1970s, when Kahane had achieved notoriety as head of the Jewish Defence League, two New York Times correspondents unearthed the story when they followed through an advertisement for the Estelle Donna Evans Foundation which often appeared in JDL publications.
Kahane explained to the reporters that she had worked as a secretary for one of his think tanks and had died tragically. Her wealthy parents had given the money. In fact, Kahane had solicited $200,000 from donors and claimed that it was going to help Israel’s poor. The reality was that it actually financed the JDL. The reporters soon located Evans’s parents who confirmed from photographs that Rabbi Meir Kahane and their late daughter’s fiance, Michael King, were one and the same.
The reporters confronted Kahane after he had taped a television show. He begged one of the reporters, Mike Kaufman, not to reveal details “as one Jew to another”. The details of the affair were spiked by Abe Rosenthal, the managing editor of the Times—according to one of the reporters because such publicity “would generate anti-Semitism”. Another senior executive of the New York Times told the author in 1990 that they believed that the private lives of public figures should be left alone.
The author, Robert I. Friedman, however, castigates the Times for their stand.
If America’s paper of record had published all it knew about Kahane, a self-righteous, orthodox rabbi who constantly moralized about personal relationships, then perhaps he and the JDL would have been destroyed. The New York Times‘s skittishness, however, let Kahane dodge what almost certainly would have been a barrage of criticism.
Richard Severo, the other reporter who uncovered the story, further commented: “We could have changed the history of Israel. I wonder how many of his orthodox supporters would have continued to follow him . . if they knew the man was a charlatan.”
The rest is unfortunately history. Kahane was able to fund his activities in Israel and the United States from a variety of sources. They included leading figures in the Syrian Jewish community, numerous orthodox rabbis and even the popular comedian Jackie Mason who exhibits a concerted contempt for Jews of liberal views.
Whether Kach, Kahane’s movement in Israel, will survive is an open question. Its new head is Rabbi Avraham Toledano and he was endorsed by Kahane’s long-suffering widow. The election, however, was challenged by Kahane’s son Binyamin who intends to overturn Kach’s disqualification from running for the Knesset. He has formed a splinter group, “Kahane Chai” (Kahane Lives!). In death, the spirit of Kahane lives but hopefully many will return his slogan and call out “Never Again”.
Jewish Quarterly Summer 1991