In 1984, Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founding leader of the openly racist Kach party, managed to enter the Knesset aftersecuring some 26,000 votes. Despite his rising political profile, however, the far-right rabbi was not welcomed with open arms in the Israeli parliament – whenever he spoke, all the other 119 members of the Knesset (MKs) would walk out.
MKs were so disturbed by Kahane’s presence in the parliament that in August 1985 they even passed a revision to the Electoral Law which banned parties “inciting racism” – including Kach – from participating in future elections.
The problem was that this amendment also disqualified parties which opposed the existence of the Israeli state as a Jewish state. The second anti-racist law in 1986 was even worse. It exempted discrimination on the grounds of religion resulting in Kahane voting for it and the left in the Knesset voting against it!
However, the MKs’ vocal opposition to Kach had nothing to do with the racist ideology that was guiding the party. They were simply concerned about the damage Kach’s success could inflict on Israel’s image on the international arena– before the Supreme Court’s election ban, polls were predicting that the party could gain up to 12 seats in the 1988 elections.
Nevertheless, even if it was mostly for cosmetic reasons, back then, overt racism was still unacceptable in Israeli politics.
However, much has changed in the last 35 years.
Today, heirs of Kahane are being welcomed in by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What was trefa (forbidden) yesterday, has become kosher today.