The assassination of militant Jewish activist Meir Kahane threatens to perpetuate the cycle of violence that has held Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in thrall for the past month. In the immediate aftermath of Rabbi Kahane's murder in New York, two elderly Palestinians were shot dead in a remote West Bank village. Palestinian eyewitnesses said that the assailant was a Jewish settler.
A spokesman for Kahane's extremist Kach movement said, ``There is no doubt that there will be acts of revenge. I have no doubt that the Arabs will deserve it.''
Kahane, a former member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), was shot as he was delivering a speech Monday night at a downtown New York hotel. His assailant was shot by police and apprehended as he tried to escape in a taxicab. Two bystanders were also injured in the incident.
Police were on high alert throughout Jerusalem to protect Arab workers traveling to Israel from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Kach activists were placed under close supervision to prevent reprisals following reports that Kahane's assassin was an Arab.
Zahi Hanegbi, a right-wing Likud member of the Israeli Knesset, yesterday condemned the killing, saying it ``lays bare the fanaticism of Arab terrorism.''
``No justification whatsoever can be found for assassination and particularly not for assassination on grounds of political views, however despicable those views might be,'' says Yossi Sarid, a member of the left-wing Citizens Rights Movement.
The Brooklyn-born Kahane was founder of the militant Jewish Defense League, which was organized to combat anti-Semitism and which won plaudits for helping elderly New York Jews defend themselves against physical attacks.
After emigrating to Israel in 1971, he founded the Kach movement, which was dedicated to the expulsion of the 750,000 Arabs living inside Israel and the 1.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, the two territories which have been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
``Give me the strength to take care of them once and for all,'' he told backers during his last Knesset campaign.
Under Kahane's plan, Arabs would be paid to emigrate. Those who chose to remain behind were to be classified as alien residents. Those who accepted neither alternative would be forcibly expelled.
Kahane based his views on the Torah, or Jewish scripture, which he said demanded that Jews live separate from the world.
``Arabs will bring into the state all the hate and eventually all the violence and blood of the intifadah [Palestinian uprising],'' Kahane told supporters at an August rally held to drum up support for a referendum to expel Arabs and annex the territories.
``Kahane tried to say that the Jewish people is a people alone and that our protection comes only from God - not from George Bush but from the burning bush,'' says Yael Schecter, a Kach activist in Jerusalem.
``The tragedy is that there is no one else. There's no leader. There's no one who cried out like Rabbi Kahane.''
In the aftermath of Monday's shooting Kach supporters pledged that Kahane's ideas would live on.
``Whoever thinks that today Rabbi Kahane and the Kach movement have been destroyed has made a great mistake,'' said the Kach spokesman.
``He's going to be more effective as a martyr than as a has-been leader,'' says a prominent Israeli journalist. ``The martyr now becomes the rallying point for the movement.''
Kahane's radical, fringe politics - he referred to Arabs as ``dogs'' - won the enmity of Jews as well as Arabs. In October 1988, the Kach party was banned after the Knesset ruled that it's racist views and Nazi-style tactics violated the country's 1985 electoral law.
The Kach movement draws most of its support from Sephardic Jews who have come to Israel from Arab countries. Although the movement never had mass appeal, its strength usually swelled in the aftermath of attacks on Jews by Arabs inside Israel.
Following incidents like last month's stabbing deaths of three Israelis in Jerusalem, Kach activists were quickly on the scene, inciting violence against Arabs and left-wing Israelis.
``He is a person who could manipulate hatred in a very effective way,'' the Israeli journalist says of Kahane.
Kahane was driven by fears that Jews would become victims of another Holocaust. His ``Museum of the Potential Holocaust'' in Jerusalem is filled with publications from anti-Semitic hate groups threatening the extermination of Jews. He made the slogan ``Never Again'' his trademark.
Kahane was hated by Palestinians, but few believe that his death will bring an end to what they see as a strain of racist politics still prevalent on the political right in Israel.
``The real threat is not limited to Kahane at all,'' says Palestinian economist Ibrahim Matar. ``It lies in the present right-wing government, whether Likud, Moledet or Tehiya. They are all very close to Kahane's ideas.''
Palestinians said that Kahane had been consumed by the very fires of hatred that he himself had kindled.
Several Arab members of the Knesset said they would not observe a minute's silence declared by the parliament for Kahane yesterday afternoon.
The death of Kahane and the shooting of the two West Bank Palestinians are the lastest episodes in a round of violence that began with last month's bloody confrontation between Palestinian and Israeli police on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
``It's a wider phenomenon than just Kahane getting killed,'' says a prominent Israeli journalist.