Rabbi Meir Kahane debuts as a comic book hero

Twenty years after his assassination, supporters are using a kid-friendly medium to spread the Kach leader's ideas.

By MICHAEL GRUBB / THE MEDIA LINE
November 1, 2010 17:16
3 minute read.
kahane posters 248.88

kahane posters 248.88. (photo credit: Rebecca Baskin)

 
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Israeli children who don’t find enough inspiration from the exploits of Spiderman can now turn to Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded and led the Jewish Defense League and Kach movements before his assassination in 1990 and now stars as the hero of his own comic book.

“Miracle Man,” a 50-page book printed on glossy paper and hardbound, making it more like a graphic novel than a traditional comic, tells the life story of the rabbi in a format designed for older children. The story is told through a school project that young Meir David is assigned to write about. He meets with various people— fictional friends and relatives as well as real-life figures like the Kahane acolyte Baruch Marzel – who knew Kahane personally or were helped by him.

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“The idea is to teach the younger generation about Rabbi Kahane. It’s for those who never had the chance to meet him,” Levi Chaden, English director of the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea, Miracle Man’s publisher, told The Media Line. “Everyone loves comics. It’s an easy and fun way to understand his ideas, for kids and adults.”

Kahane’s Kach Party captured one Knesset seat in the 1984 elections before it was banned as racist, and its successor movement Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives) plays a marginal role in Israeli politics today. Nevertheless, his supporters remained determined to spread his philosophy of violence and hostility to Arabs. Some elements of his philosophy have entered mainstream political discourse.

At least one member of Israel’s Knesset, Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union Party, openly identifies as a Kahane supporter and recent initiatives by the government to require a loyalty oath of new citizens reflect a new assertiveness about Israel’s Jewish identity. An event commemorating the 20th anniversary of Kahane’s assassination at Jerusalem’s Ramada Renaissance Hotel drew 500 people. But the first week of sales for Miracle Man amounted to just 100 copies.

“There has been a process of legitimating the extreme right in Israel,” Gideon Rahat, senior lecturer in the department of political science at The Hebrew University, told The Media Line. “Once you have a member of the Knesset who says that the he identifies with Kahane, these ideas become more identified with everyday politics.”



However, Rahat warned against reading too far into the impact of Ben-Ari and other extremists. Democracies in Europe and elsewhere elect lawmakers from the political fringe, but their ability to influence policy and public opinion is usually very limited.

Kahane was an American-born rabbi who began his career in Brooklyn by forming the Jewish Defense League in 1968 with the aim of protecting Jews against street violence at a time when New York City was experiencing a rising level of crime. He turned his sights to the plight of Russian Jewry in the late 1960s with a campaign of harassing visiting Russian diplomats and artists.

He immigrated to Israel in 1971 where his Kach movement openly advocated the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel. He became a member of the Knesset in 1984, but his party was banned from the 1988 elections. After Kahane’s death in 1990, Kahane Chai splintered off from Kach, although it was also barred from politics for being racist. 

“Even though it’s been 20 years since his assassination, his ideas are still alive and kicking in Israeli society today,” Chaden contended.

The comic, written by Na’ama Neiman and illustrated by Dikla Sagiv, and four months in the making, is published by the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea.

Can a comic book reach out to children and influence their view of the world?

Dorit Maya-Gur, an Israeli comic artist that created the hit “Falafel Man” series as well as comics aimed at teaching schoolchildren about the holocaust, said comics can be an effective means of educating kids, but she draws a line at politics.

“If you want the kids, you need to do it in the comic book store,” she said in an interview with The Media Line. “When you get politics in there it changes things, because you are dealing with kids. There is a fine line between education and brainwashing.”

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