Israel curbs actions of anti-Arab Kahane as his popularity rises

After months of debate, Israel's parliament has moved to curb the actions of Meir Kahane, an ultranationalist member who has vowed to drive all Arabs from Israel.

But some Israelis and Palestinians fear that moves to limit Rabbi Kahane will not end what they say may be a growing acceptance of some of his militant ideas.

''As the economy gets worse, and more people are out of work, some people are going to start looking at the Arabs working in Israel and say, 'You know, maybe Kahane is right.' He has a clean, simple answer when all of Israel's problems look pretty messy,'' said an American-born Israeli who is studying racism in societies.

When Kahane's party, Kach, won a seat in the July elections, most Israelis considered it to be a fluke. But Arabs on the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip seem almost obsessed with Kahane.

''The real danger remains,'' said Ibrahim Matar, a Palestinian leftist in east Jerusalem. ''There is still the rise of the Kahanes, and what happens from here will depend on how (Prime Minister Shimon) Peres will deal with the present government. If Peres's economic policies fail, his peace initiatives fail, then there will be a greater move to the right.''

Sentiment for taking action against Kahane seemed to grow in the Knesset after he praised the missile attack last October on an Arab passenger bus believed to have been carried out by an Israeli Jew.

Tuesday's vote was taken with an eye toward keeping Kahane out of Arab villages. Shortly after the elections, Kahane made a much-publicized visit to the Arab village of Umm el Fahm, where he said he intended to open an emigration bureau for Israeli Arabs. Police blocked Kahane's entrance, but not before villagers rioted.

After the Umm el Fahm incident, some critics of Kahane argued that steps taken to limit his immunity from prosecution would endanger the freedom of other , less controversial Knesset members.

''Not all of those 36 who voted against our motion were friends and colleagues of Kahane,'' said Yossi Sarid, Knesset member for the left-leaning Shinui Party who co-sponsored the bill to limit Kahane's freedom of movement. ''They felt they had to vote against limiting him on the basis of preserving democracy.''

The day after the Knesset voted that Kahane would be treated like any other citizen if he entered Arab villages or places where Arabs work, he headed straight for Taibe. Police stopped him before he reached the Arab village, on the grounds that his visit could disturb the peace. The Kach Party claimed both the Knesset vote and the next day's action against its leader as a victory.

''The vote added another two seats (in the Knesset) for Rabbi Kahane,'' said Gad Sevzetman, Kach spokesman. ''The people like him, the people see him as their leader.'' Recent opinion polls in Israel have indicated that Kach might claim as many as two more seats if elections were held tomorrow.

Knesset member Sarid said he and other members will push for further action against Kahane.

Recently, the Ministry of Justice drafted an anti-racism bill that the Knesset is expected to consider soon. That bill would prohibit a list of candidates from participating in Knesset elections ''if one of its implicit or explicit aims negates Israel's existence, security, or democratic nature, of if the list supports racial incitement, or if there is reasonable a basis to assume that it may serve as a cover for illegal activities.''

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