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- The False Prophet
I reviewed this book in the Saudi English press in 1991, and at the time felt it was one of the scariest books I had ever read. I rejoice that Robert Friedman had the courage the research and write this biography of Meir Kahane, a maniacally Zionist Jew from America with a severe Messianic complex. Meir Kahane was assassinated, yet the legacy he left behind is staggering. While many have shared his fascist feelings of hatred towards other groups that go well beyond Arabs to include Blacks, neo-Nazis and more, none have been so "successful" as he in harnessing that hatred. This book is proof that terrorism in its starkest form can thrive anywhere and with anyone.
Kahane's life story is one of utter disrespect for laws. He recognized only his own. When he was fifteen, he was arrested for having led an attack on British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, a man who had been turning away Jewish refugee ships from Palestine, presumably in accordance with approved quotas. As a boy in America, Meir was known as "Martin." His father was born in the village of Safed in Palestine and his mother came from Russia. Scruples did not much fit into the story of either parent. Kahane's mother exhausted her family when she was a girl by her disregard for community morals. When Charles, Meir's father, first came to the States, he roomed with Bernard Bergman, who would later become one of the richest and most powerful Orthodox Jewish men in the world. Friendman writes, [Bergman] made his fortune from a national conglomerate of Medicaid nursing homes, where infirm patients were left unattended to soak in their own urine. The New York Daily news characterized the homes as warehouses where the aged were dumped to die."
Charles was a compulsive liar. he told friends he had a college degree in forestry though he hadn't. he also bragged of his mail-order degree from a Midwestern college was actually from Columbia University, where he claimed to have studied three nights a week for several yeras. This compulsive, self-deluding lying were traits Kahane shared with his father.
Yet the same father was a tyrant, who screamed at and humiliated Kahane constantly. By junior high school, Kahane had a severe stuttering problem which plagued him all the rest of his life.
By the mid 1930's, Charles Kahane had become one of the Irgun's key operatives, raising money to purchase weapons which he helped smuggle to Palestine. This was partly as a result of his own relatives having suffered attacks from Palestinians. The books does not go into the takeover of Palestine, assuming a certain degree of knowledge on the reader's part.
As a young man, Kahane joined Betar, an arms smuggling ring, at his father's encouragement. After his arrest for attacking the British foreign minister, he received a suspended sentence. Friendman writes, "This was the first of what was to be a long, unbroken string of light or suspended sentences Kahane would receive from sympathetic Jewish judges in American and Israel."
The study of his personality reveals chasms of hypocrisy and a seemingly calculated schizophrenia, not to mention failure to develop according to society's norms. he was a bad Talmud scholar and his teachers used to yell at him. He flunked his only attempt to pass the New York State bar exam. Like leaders in all kinds of religious extremist movements, he preached a very moral, ultra-strict orthodoxy and yet himself led a very hedonistic life. Children loved him, but he neglected his own.
In 1963 he took on a Gentile alias—that of Michael King—and begana research and intelligence gathering business with Joseph Churba, a friend and fellow member of Betar. As Michael King, he infiltrated domestic extremist groups for the FBI. Friendman speculates that the alliance with Churba was a cornerstone in Kahane's life, for by 1963, Churba had already forged links with the CIA and Israeli intelligence. Churba went on to become a Middle East specialist for air force intelligence and a foreign affairs adviser to Ronald Reagan. He maintained a close relationship with the Bush administration. The FBI used Churba and Kahane for one exploit after another. Later, ironically, the FBI would be obstructed in its own investigation of Kahane's terrorist underground by Israeli intelligence, which itselfemployed Kahane in the late 60s and early 70s to violently publicize the plight of the Soviet Jews.
Kahane would blossom into a subversive so disruptive that Nixon and Kissenger accused him of attempting to sabotage detente with the Soviet Union.
The Jewish Defense League was born out of the racial turmoil involving Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. The enemy for the JDL, in those days, was primarily seen to be the Blacks, whom Kahane claimed victimized poor Jews. Friedman writes, "With a Torah in one hand a a gun in the other, Kahane set up a weapons and martial arts training camp in the Catskills Mountains in New York state.[. . .] A handful of his elite bodyguards, known as chayas (animals), were trained in munitions and sharpshooting by former officers of the Irgun and Stern Gang."
The JDL quickly passed from confrontingBlack militants to bombing Soviet and Arab embassies, and beating and bombing Soviet and Arab diplomats in Europe and America. In the early years, the FBI (setting extremist groups against each other) used to send the JDL leaders extemporized reports about the Panthers' alleged anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist activities. Kahane promptly regurgitated the FBI's "facts" in his Jewish Press column. The JDL made Black-Jewish relations a major issue in political campaigns, and Mayor John Lindsay of New York City was targeted for defeat because Kahane found him too sympathetic towards African Americans.
Kahane was a sick, pathetic coward. Friedman proves over and over that he was the kind of guy to incite crowds to murder and genocide (he became increasingly vehement over the years) and yet never participated—rather like Hitler.
Interestingly his targets were Arabs, alleged Nazis, and Russians.
Amihai "Giddy" Paglin, once the chief operations' officer for the Irgun, was one of Kahane's terror recruits. He was well-known for his cold-blooded hanging of two British sergeants in Palestine, executions which hastened the British departure. While the JDL was covertly firebombing Christian churches and bookshops in occupied Jerusalem, staging violent demonstrations against a sect of Black American Hebrews who had settled in Dimona, it promised its patrons that it was a nonviolent educational organization.
The lack of scruples—even of sides—is shocking. PLO targets all over Europe were attacked while university students in Tel Aviv were preyed on, using extortion, to finance these operations. Kahane believed in anything at all that would raise funds for his causes, which was all about getting rid of undesirables. The methods for money raising inevitably included extortion and killing. One of his friends was a mobster boss.
In the 80s, Kahane was elected to the Knesset. Many other members were shocked by his proposals, so similar to those experienced by Jews in WWII Germany. He was the man who made public views that previously could only be aired in private: mainly that Arabs had to be transferred out of Palestine altogether, voluntarily or at gunpoint. The proposal of genocide in solving the "Arab" problem became an accepted debate.
Kahane not only was for extermination of Arabs, he also called for the liquidation of Jews who views he found pernicious. I admire Robert Friedman as well as Faber and Faber for making this book available to the world. It was difficult to read, but it explains a lot about the underbelly of the political terrain through much of the twentieth century. The signs of madness are the same no matter what the person wishes to call himself; it is up to us to recognize those signs, as Friedman has done.