Rabin assassination inquiry leads to US

Search widens: American groups accused of funding extremist Israeli factions and of exporting activists to the Jewish state
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New York

The investigation into the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin may quickly extend across the Atlantic to New York, home to a small, ultra-zealous group of right-wing Jewish extremists.

Attention will focus on members of Kach, the militant nationalist group founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was shot in Manhattan in 1990. Closely related to Kach, banned in Israel last year, is another group named Kahane Chai, or "Kahane Lives".

Israel's security services have already identified Eyal, the extremist group based inside the country, to which the self-confessed assassin, Yigal Amir, belonged, as an offshoot of Kach and Kahane Chai.

For several months before Rabin's assassination, the Israeli Prime Minister had been the target of inflamed rhetoric in New York against his peace policy and especially the agreement to return control of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

Most notable was the virtual Jewish fatwa against Rabin uttered last June by a radical rabbi in Brooklyn, Abraham Hecht. He told followers: "According to Jewish law ... any one person who wilfully, consciously, intentionally hands over human bodies or human property or the human wealth of the Jewish people to an alien people is guilty of the sin for which the penalty is death".

Not even since Rabin's death, which has left most New York Jews united in mourning, have his detractors shown remorse.

Last Sunday, the day after the assassination, Zionist militants gathered in Brooklyn to mark the fifth anniversary of Kahane's death and openly praised Amir, passing out buttons labelling him a hero.

At the meeting, Mike Guzofsky, the leader of the New York Kach cell, told one journalist: "Rabin was bad for Jews. He is over and he's gone. Rabin was assassinated by a Jew and the Arabs are sad. That should give you some kind of idea what kind of Jew Rabin was." At the gathering, small girls handed out leaflets showing Rabin in Nazi uniform.

It has long been supposed that supporters of Kach and Kahane Chai in New York have been active in funnelling funding to extremist counterparts in Israel. Last February, President Bill Clinton moved to freeze the assets of Kach in attempt to end the cash flow.

By some estimates, the ultra-nationalist factions opposed to peace in Israel have received about 70 per cent of their funding from supporters in the US.

The US has also exported some of the extremists themselves to Israel. The activities of groups like Kach in New York last came under the microscope in February 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born doctor and Kach supporter, entered a mosque in Hebron and massacred 29 Muslims at prayer. After that, Rabin called Goldstein a "foreign implant, an errant seed". The former Israeli president, Chaim Herzog, went further, declaring: "The US is a breeding ground for extremists".

Kenneth Jacobson, director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, warned against exaggerating the role of extremists in the city. "The suggestion that this assassination was some kind of import from the United States, I think, is too simplistic," he said. "Clearly there are divisions on the peace process among Jews in America just as in Israel itself."

David Harris, of the American Jewish Committee, offered the same warning. "It is true that a disproportionate number of the American Jews in Israel are involved in opposition to the peace process. But it is a flagrant stereotype to suggest that all are extremists".

nLondon - Rabin told Britain's chief rabbi in one of the last letters he wrote before he was assassinated that tolerance and compromise were needed to combat extremism and achieve peace, Reuter reports. Dr Jonathan Sacks said yesterday he did not receive the letter, which arrived in the diplomatic pouch at the Israeli Embassy, until he returned to London after attending Rabin's funeral. "We are a democratic nation and all voices are heard," Rabin wrote to Dr Sacks, a personal friend and a supporter of the Middle East peace process. "But even within the democratic framework . . .the call for violence, the use of undemocratic means to destabilise our system and our way of life, cannot and should not be permitted. Compromise and tolerance are essential - if peace is to be achieved."