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Comic book draws on radical rabbi Meir Kahane's life

Graphic novel recalls life and religious teachings of Meir Kahane, founder of the banned militant group Kach, who was assassinated in 1988.

Followers pray at the grave of the late Meir Kahane, founder of the militant group Kach, which was banned in Israel for being racist and is considered a terrorist organisation by the US.
Followers pray at the grave of the late Meir Kahane, founder of the militant group Kach, which was banned in Israel for being racist and is considered a terrorist organisation by the US.

JERUSALEM // The teachings of an ultra-nationalist rabbi whose anti-Arab message has inspired violence against both Palestinians and moderate Israelis have been transformed into a comic book that targets young Jewish audiences.

Miracle Man recalls the life and religious teachings of Meir Kahane, an American-born Jew who served in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and founded the militant group Kach. In 1988, the group was banned in Israel for being "racist" and "undemocratic". It is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States government.

Released on Tuesday to mark the 20th anniversary of Kahane's assassination by an Egyptian gunman in New York City, the comic book depicts a series of right-wing religious-political images that Israeli and Palestinian human-rights activists fear are becoming more widely accepted in Israel.

"That this is being distributed openly says something about the political context in Israel, which is drifting towards racism and extremism," said George Giacaman, a Palestinian democracy advocate and professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

One image in Miracle Man shows the blue-and-white Israeli flag flying over the Dome of the Rock, a sacred Islamic site that has become a symbol of competing claims over East Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians. In the 1980s, a plot by radical Jewish sympathisers of Kahane to blow up the shrine was foiled by Israeli security.

Another image depicts the expulsion of non-Jews from Israel. It shows a man in traditional Arab clothing, followed by a robed monk, a black man holding a basketball and another person wearing a shirt emblazoned with a peace sign, walking in a single-file line out of the country. "He [Kahane] called for the removal of goyim [non-Jews] from the Land of Israel," said the English translation of the picture's Hebrew caption.

Levi Chazen, director of English communications at Haraayon Hayehudi, a religious school in Jerusalem, which produced and marketed the comic, mainly to children, said yesterday that the group had sold about 200 copies, at 50 shekels (Dh50) each, since releasing the comic.

The school says it disavows the Kach movement but shares the beliefs espoused by Kahane, even expelling non-Jews if they do not meet certain conditions.

Kach, as well as its splinter organisation, Kahane Chai, has advocated the expulsion of non-Jews from lands that make up the land of biblical Israel - territory that extends far beyond the country's internationally recognised borders. Mainstream Israeli politicians, such as the outspoken foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also have advocated strategies of ridding Israel of its large minority of Arab citizens.

"If they accept the conditions, that this is a Jewish state, for example, and if they have absolutely no political rights here, they can stay," said Mr Chazen.

He said he was opposed to violence, and added: "Everything that Kahane said was in the Bible, so if somebody wants to call him racist, they would have to call the Bible racist."

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the executive director of the Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights, expressed concern that the comic book was another example of growing intolerance at a national level. He cited as an example a controversial bill passed this month by Israel's cabinet that called for non-Jews to pledge their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.

"As a rabbi, what I find most disturbing is that Kahane's message is saying this is the real Judaism, and that Judaism and democracy don't mix," he said.

"What we're seeing around the country, and especially recently, is that people are saying Kahane was right, and this comic book is another example of that."

On Tuesday, riot police dispersed Arabs who clashed with Kahane supporters who staged a protest in the largely Arab city of Umm al Fahim in northern israel.