On November 5, 1990, the Marriott East Side hotel conference room in New York City was packed with Rabbi Meir Kahane’s supporters. The Brooklyn-born Kahane possessed an international law degree but was better known to his followers for his poignant, powerful oratory and, to those less sympathetic, as an infamous rabble-rouser.
In 1968, Kahane founded the militant Jewish Defense League (JDL) in response to virulent anti-Semitism directed against vulnerable inner-city Jews. Kahane envisioned the Jewish nation as mighty defenders, not victims, and he adopted the slogan of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters: “Never again,” as in “Never again will Jews stand by as their brothers cry for help.”
In Israel, Kahane established the controversial “Kach” party. One plank of its platform called for the forced removal of Arabs from within Israel’s borders and the annexation of all territories gained in 1968. He pointed out that “since 1948, every Arab country, including Syria, Algeria, Morocco, Tripoli, Iraq, and Yemen, has pressured out or forcibly removed their Jews; therefore, why shouldn’t Israel, likewise, remove Arabs?” Kahane was jailed repeatedly for his incendiary ideas. He was elected to the Knesset in 1984, but, despite growing popularity, was banned from further elections. As a result of his extreme views, Kahane and the JDL were identified as one of America’s most dangerous extremist groups and were placed on an American government watch list.
On that fateful November evening at the Marriott hotel, El-Sayid Nosair, bearded and with a kippah on his head, blended into the crowd. As Kahane finished speaking, Nosair rushed toward the stage and fired a single, fatal shot. As Kahane collapsed, he raised one finger towards heaven, silently reciting the Shema. Nosair botched his getaway and was taken into custody.
Although the majority of New York law enforcement believed Nosair to be a lone assassin, some, like then federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani, warned that Nosair was part of a larger conspiracy.
A search of Nosair’s New Jersey apartment revealed his handwritten diary, which called for “jihad against the enemies of Islam” by “destroying the structure of their civilized pillars, their high world buildings which they are proud of.” Investigators also found instructions on bomb-making, cartridges for high-powered assault rifles, and a collection of false driver’s licenses and passports. At the time, however, investigators dismissed as absurd the idea of a terrorist conspiracy.
Prosecutors working on the case knew they couldn’t depend on a jury to be overly sympathetic to the murdered Kahane, whose hostility towards Arabs was legendary. Still, they were stunned when the Manhattan jury acquitted Nosair of murder and convicted him, instead, of assault and illegal weapons possession, for which he was sentenced to 22 years in prison at Attica, N.Y.
In prison, jailers regularly waved through Nosair’s visitors. During these meetings, Muslim militants led by “the Blind Sheik,” Omar Ahmad Abdul Rahman, planned attacks on New York City’s bridges, tunnels, and landmarks. In early 1993, accomplice Ramzi Yusuf (uncle of Khalid Mohammed, Al Qaeda mastermind of the 9/11 attacks) slipped into the country. Nosair then told his wife: “What will happen in New York, G-d willing, will be because of my prayers.”
In February of 1993, a rented Ryder van packed with explosives was detonated in the basement parking lot of the World Trade Center, leaving six dead and a thousand injured. A piece of the Ryder van imprinted with a serial number incriminated Nosair’s friend, Mohammed Salameh. Investigators painstakingly uncovered the wide-ranging international terrorist conspiracy that they had denied in 1990. More than a dozen terrorists, including “the Blind Sheik” and Nosair, were identified.
During the ensuing trial, authorities acknowledged that, “the attack on Rabbi Kahane did not occur in a vacuum. It was a small, albeit brutal, step in a terrorist campaign which comprehended not only assassinations of individuals but the mass destruction of political, social and economic assets of the ‘infidel’ West, of which the United States was deemed the leader.” The prosecution continued: “The crimes are not random, disconnected acts of unthinking brutality. They are, instead, all parts of the same very real battle the defendants and their co-conspirators still see themselves fighting.” Nosair and Rahman were sentenced to life in prison.
Before his death, and before any terrorism occurred inside America’s borders, Rabbi Kahane published a disturbing article in the Feb 12, 1987, edition of USA Today: “One of the great problems with Americans is that-being decent people-they assume that everyone else is equally decent. They assume that all cultures are similar in concepts and values. But that is simply not so. It is not decency and goodness or gentleness that impresses the Middle East but strength. Because of this, the U.S. is looked on as a paper tiger-with all the accompanying contempt.”
In the article, Kahane noted that in the Talmud it says: “If one comes to slay you, slay him first.” He concluded: “One doesn’t deal with terrorists, one doesn’t bargain with terrorists, one kills terrorists.”
In life, Kahane’s ideas were often disturbing, perhaps shocking; yet, in death, their truth is frightening. His murder and the subsequent lack of justice or proper investigation led to a tragedy beyond our wildest expectation. No longer innocent, we need to draw on some of Kahane’s strength to say “Never again.”