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Lieberman May Be Denied U.S. Visa as Former Kach Member

Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar brings the bracing news that the Obama administration is contemplating denying U.S. visas to any Israeli politicians who were members of Kahane Chai.  The party is designated by both the U.S. and Israel as a terrorist organization.  The most prominent individual affected would be Avigdor Lieberman who, Haaretz claims, was a party member briefly after he arrived from his native Moldova:

…The State Department is evaluating…reports that MK Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, was a member of the extreme right group Kach. It appears on a State Department list of terrorist organizations.

If the Obama administration confirms the report that appeared last week in Haaretz, and which was not denied by Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu leader may not be granted a visa to enter the U.S. The close cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on matters of strategy, defense, economics, commerce, tourism and transportation means that ministers charged with relevant portfolios often visit the United States.

A new MK, Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union, confirmed that he had been a member of Kach while it was headed by Meir Kahane and may face similar restrictions.

Clearly, no Israeli government would be willing to include such a person as a senior minister since not only would Lieberman be persona non grata with the U.S. government, he would embarrass the hell out of the government in its relations with others in the international community.

I would like every progressive who doubted whether Obama would make a difference when it comes to his Israel-Palestine policy compared to Bush, to reflect on whether this sort of report could possibly be imagined coming from our former president’s administration.

All of this may explain the Maariv story reported by the Jerusalem Post that Bibi is negotiating with Barak and Livni to form an “exclude Lieberman” coalition.  Though other reports indicate that Bibi is talking with Tzipi, but not Barak, who, at any rate, is likely to sit this coalition out in Opposition.  If Bibi-Tzipi talks proceed, it will be interesting to see what guarantees if any the Likud leader will provide that he is willing to follow the Olmert line in pursuing Syrian peace neogtitionas and talks with the Palestinians as well.   If the guarantees are not ironclad, what use would sitting in a coalition with him be to Kadima?  That smacks of Peresism, a panting after power for the sake of power rather than of advancing any particular political agenda.

My personal hope is that Livni lets Netanyahu stew in his own juice and refuses to join.  This would set up an extreme rightist government beholden to Lieberman and those even farther to his right (if that is indeed possible).  Such an ideologically extreme coalition will have a shorter reign than a more politically balanced one (consider the extremism of Bush-Cheney and how relatively quickly the bloom was off the rose).

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  • C.O. February 15, 2009, 1:39 AM

    Just a technical comment:
    Kach and Kahane Chai are not the same body*. There is no essential difference between them though.

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kach_and_Kahane_Chai

    • Richard Silverstein February 15, 2009, 1:45 AM

      Considering that the Hebrew initials of Kach (K.Ch.) stand for Kahane Chai there certainly is no difference between them.

      But on a different note, there IS a difference between being a member of Kach and being a “Kahanist.” This is the heart of my defense against Rachel Neuwirth’s libel suit against me.

      • C. O. February 15, 2009, 9:39 AM

        Kach and Kahane Chai don’t have the same initials. Kach is כ”ך which is the initials for Kahane laKneset (Kahane to the parliament=כנסת) and Kahane Chai initials (which are not in use) are כ”ח (Kahane Chai means Kahane is alive= חי).

        Chai is spelled with Cheit (ח) and Kenest is spelled with Kaf (כ). The pronunciation is the similar, in this case, in modern Hebrew.

        They are also different bodies historically. Kahane Chai split from Kach after the assassination of Kahane. Lieberman was a member of Kach and not Kahane Chai (I think).

        The ideological differences between them are minor.

        Regarding your different note: it is correct. In the modern Hebrew slang, a Kahanist is a word to anyone who supports a race based policy or ideology.

        To the best of my understanding this ambiguity started after Kach declared as a terror organization. The ideology did not die, but it’s supporters established other organizations with ‘softened’ official ideologies, so they could stay legal.

        • Richard Silverstein February 15, 2009, 4:27 PM

          Thanks for correcting my mistaken assumptions about the initials of the parties & what they stood for. So is Kach or Kahane Chai or both illegal in Israel?

          If you or any other reader discovers material about Kahanism and how it’s defined in a non-political party context it would be helpful. I’m especially interested in how the term is used in political discourse when it’s referring to a specific individual (eg Lieberman) not necessarily a member of Kach or Kahane Chai.

          • C.O. February 16, 2009, 5:07 AM

            Both Kach and Kahane Chai are officially terrorist organizations since the Baruch Goldstein massacre in 1994.

            Regarding Lieberman’s Kahanism – I can think about two examples from the last weeks:

            The first is an interview* with an ultra right Kahanist politician Michael Ben-Ari (number 4 in ‘Haichud Haleumi’) who claims that the parliament and the Israeli politics is full of Kahane’s successors. He mentions Lieberman specifically as someone who used his Kahanist image as a key advantage in his campaign.

            The second example** is Haim Oron the chairman of the social democrat party ‘Meretz’ – who shares very little of the opinions of Ben-Ari – who said that they (Meretz) are concerned about Lieberman’s Kahanism.

            Besides these two examples I made a quick Google search for ‘Lieberman’ and ‘Kahane’ (in Hebrew) and by a quick look at the first results page (first 10 of 124000 results) I found that Lieberman referred as Kahanist by:
            Itamar Ben-Gvir –an ultra right activist
            Haim Yavin – a journalist with a tendency to the left
            Some ultra right religious talkbackist
            Shelly Ychimovic – a Labour parliament member
            Zelli Reshef – one of the founders of ‘Peace Now’
            Gidon Levi – a left journalist

            * http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3665336,00.html (I hope you are ok with Hebrew…)
            ** http://www.politico.co.il/article.asp?rId=873

    • Simcha Shtull February 15, 2009, 8:20 PM

      They are one and the same organization. K’CH is simply the acronym for Kahane Chai.

      • Simcha Shtull February 15, 2009, 8:21 PM

        Woops, missed the historical explanation. thanks, C.O. for that.

  • Lazynative February 15, 2009, 2:14 AM

    IMO, this is a mistake and I speak as someone who has little time for most of mainstream Zionism. Lieberman and the others were elected by due process and as part of a government I don’t think it is appropriate to ban them unless there are strong grounds for doing so. If they are currently members of a banned organisation then it would be understandable but past membership; escpecially if they have left the organisation strikes me as a unecessarily harsh and obstructive. Apart from anything else far worse individuals belonging to equally reprehensible organisations have enjoyed free access to the US, so I don’t see why Lieberman et al. should be excluded.

  • Josh K. February 15, 2009, 4:33 AM

    It seems to me that if the Obama administration follows this policy there is no way they would or could have a dialogue with Hamas.

    I think this is an attempt to appear even-handed without doing something to stop Israel from its destructive and inhumane policies.

  • bar_kochba132 February 15, 2009, 10:12 AM

    I can’t believe the US would ban someone because 30 years ago he belonged to an organization that at the time was NOT considered a terrorist organization. That came later, after Baruch Goldstein’s killing of Arabs in Hevron in the 1990’s. After all, everyone was telling us that Obama’s association with Ayers and his wife, who were terrorists 40 years should reflect badly on Obama.

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2009, 1:09 AM

      everyone was telling us that Obama’s association with Ayers and his wife, who were terrorists 40 years should reflect badly on Obama.

      No, everyone who runs in YOUR rightist circle was telling YOU that Obama’s association with Ayers should reflect badly on him. Outside of this circle, no one said or believed any such thing. THe claims against Obama in this regard were ridiculous. Yet of course you attempt to raise them once again.

      The claims of Lieberman’s involvement in Kach ARE directly relevant because followers of Kahane and Kach murdered Arabs in cold blood. Lieberman to this day calls for killing Arabs and is the public face of such odious incitement. I don’t see that much, if anything has changed except that Lieberman is now a powerful politician.

      • fiddler February 16, 2009, 12:09 PM

        Methinks bar_kochba was being sarcastic about the so-called Ayers connection…

        If it’s true that Kach wasn’t a designated terrorist organisation back then, then he has a point. Nulla poena sine lege. It’s also at the heart of the travesty of justice conducted against Sami al-Arian, although that’s of course a criminal case, where way more legal safeguards (ought to) apply than with a visa procedure.

        That said, there’s no legal right for a foreigner to be issued a visa, and it’s ultimately at the whim of the State Department, right? So that makes it a political, not a legal matter.
        Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir were both members of terrorist organisations, and murdered many more Arabs in cold blood than all Kahanists combined. If they could visit the US, then denying Lieberman a visa would be an egregious double standard, wouldn’t it?

        If Obama takes serious his promise to talk with enemies, then Lieberman should get his visa – and so should Haniyeh and Mashaal.

  • Julie February 15, 2009, 12:39 PM

    With all the debate that has been going on, on this blog about Lieberman since the Isreali election, what I find scarier is not how evil and/or racist Lieberman can be, but more the fact that Isrealis are voting for his party. There will always be a Lieberman, when he leaves or dies, there will be someone to replace him. When all they do is talk in the wind, they are of limited concerns but when people start believing in their ideologies, that should raise alarm bells.

    Israelis seem to be voting more and more to the right, including voting for possible racist parties. It doesn’t bode well for Isreal as a society or the Isreali Arabs and the Palestinians under occupation.

    • ellen February 16, 2009, 5:10 AM

      I don’t know if this has been mentioned here previously –
      In a poll of high schools Lieberman was the easy winner as their choice.
      scary.

  • Russell February 15, 2009, 5:41 PM

    Responding to Lazynative–Neither the US nor Israel had any problem refusing to deal with Hamas when it was “elected by due process and as part of a government” So is what’s good for the goose not good for the gander?

    Josh K. points to a better argument for letting Lieberman spend his ill-gotten shkalim here. Bush was wrong in refusing to recognize Hamas’s legitimate victory. Better that Obama not pursue his evil doctrine: The glee of keeping Yvette out is not worth reinforcing the message that the US only believes in democracy when the guy we like wins.

    • Lazynative February 16, 2009, 6:33 AM

      Not completely comparable since we are talking about a visa admission here and not official state contacts but to address your broader point I don’t agree with either US or Israeli policy of not talking with Hamas it strikes me as absurd especially for the US given that it has dealt with far worse regimes and and states.

      Of course one has to ask why the US and Israel refused to deal with Hamas despite the latter having won an election and insisted instead on seeing the PA and the Fatah admin as the desirable partner for peace. Given that the Al-Aqsa brigrade and other armed groups affililated with Fatah did not respect the Summer 2008 ceasefire and continued to fire rockets into Israel, it seems clear that terrorism isn’t the main reason that motivates this attitude towards Hamas. From the Israeli side it is clear that the unwillingness stems from a recognition that in any negotiation and peace process Hamas will be much more unrelenting in representing the Palestinians than Fatah and will not compromise on control over the West Bank. What the US rationale is, remains unclear.

  • Moje February 16, 2009, 2:01 AM

    Well, Richard! That’s fantastic news! It’s made my day.

    I hope Lieberman plays no part in the new Israeli government. If he does, Israel can no longer refer to Hamas as a terrorist organisation – that time old idiom would ring so true: “Pot calling the kettle black!”

  • ellen February 16, 2009, 5:15 AM

    Why would he be denied a visa *this* time, since he wasn’t last time – when he met with now-Secretary of State Clinton.

    His views were well-known then.

    And to my recollection, little attention was paid in the main-stream press to Hillary meeting with a terrorist {my opinion}. At the very least an avowed racist.

    It’s the old double standard. If he’s a terrorist, he’s OUR terrorist. Just like former NJ Governor taking his Israeli buddy on tours of sensitive security sites.
    Now change Israeli to Arab, and try to imagine the uproar.

  • amir February 16, 2009, 12:17 PM

    I always thought “Kach” was taken from the Irgun slogan “rak kach (רק כך) “. I’m sure Kahane meant it as a play on words. “Rak Kach” means transliterated- the only way, but of course is not an abbreviation like כ”ך is.