Right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the militant Jewish Defense League, was stripped of most of his parliamentary privileges Monday for refusing to take an oath of allegiance that could cause him to lose his U.S. citizenship.
Speaker Shlomo Hillel, in an unprecedented order, banned Kahane from the floor of the Knesset (Parliament) until he agrees to take the oath of office, a declaration of loyalty to the state of Israel that is required of all Knesset members.
As he did when he was elected to the Knesset in 1984, Kahane took the oath but amended it to include a verse from the biblical Book of Psalms that pledges adherence to God's law. Hillel said this addition made the oath null and void.
Kahane, who immediately filed a petition with the Israeli Supreme Court seeking to overturn Hillel's order, said afterward that he amended the oath to conform with his conscience.
"The essential issue here," Kahane said, "is that I have agreed to accept the laws of Israel unless they go against my conscience. . . . The issue raised is basic. Does Judaism stand above the laws of the Knesset? Is it possible to accept Knesset law only? . . . Only in a fascist or a Communist state are laws accepted without question."
Although Kahane maintained that his objections to the prescribed Knesset oath stem from religious conviction, critics charged that the Brooklyn-born rabbi is merely trying to protect himself from the possibility of future attempts to strip him of his U.S. citizenship.
Effect on Court Decision
Kahane, 54, last year won a court decision in the United States to retain his U.S. citizenship, which the State Department had sought to revoke on the grounds that he was a member of a foreign government.
Kahane argued that he did not mean to give up his U.S. citizenship in accepting Israeli citizenship, which is automatically granted to Jews under Israel's Law of Return. U.S. courts accepted this argument, but legal experts said they might take a different view if Kahane formally pledges his allegiance to a foreign state, as Hillel's order requires him to do.
The Speaker's order deprives Kahane of the right to vote or participate in Knesset debates but does not take away his parliamentary immunity. He will also be allowed to continue using his Knesset office even though he is barred from the floor of the Knesset, officials said.
The action against Kahane was the latest in a series of legal setbacks suffered by the leader of the ultra-nationalist Kach Party, who advocates an openly racist policy toward Arabs.
A political pariah in Israel, Kahane is the only Knesset member barred by law from entering Arab villages. There are moves under way to prevent him from running in the next parliamentary elections by banning "racist" parties.
Kahane advocates the forced expulsion of all Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and has proposed South African-type legislation to segregate schools and beaches and to outlaw sexual activity between Arabs and Jews.
Hillel's move against Kahane followed a legal opinion issued by Atty. Gen. Yosef Harish, who ruled that the militant rabbi must take the same oath of allegiance as every other Knesset member.
Plans to Appeal
Kahane said he will appeal the ruling, but several legal experts said they expect him to lose.
"Kahane now has two options: to refuse to take the oath and stop being a Knesset member, or to take the oath and lose his U.S. citizenship," said Knesset member Elazar Granot of the leftist Mapam Party.
Kahane, who holds the Kach Party's sole seat in the Knesset, still receives most of his financial support from the United States, and loss of citizenship would make it more difficult for him to maintain ties with his extremist Jewish Defense League supporters there.