Washington D.C.- Palestinian rights advocates have sounded the alarm over US plans to remove a violent far-right Israeli group from Washington’s ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’ (FTO) list, warning that such a move could embolden supporters by Kahane Chai.
A US official has confirmed that the State Department has informed Congress of its intention to delist the organization, originally known as “Kach”, because it considers it lapsed.
Yet while critics acknowledge that the group – founded by US-born ultranationalist Israeli politician Meir Kahane – has been officially inactive, they say adherents who espouse its ideology still operate in the United States and Israel.
Prior to establishing Kach in Israel, Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in the United States, a radical pro-Israel organization linked to several violent attacks on American soil, including the assassination of Palestinian organizer American Alex Odeh in California in 1985.
“Kach and Kahane Chai have split into various groups and political parties that continue to espouse, inspire and perpetrate acts of violence against Palestinian civilians,” said William Lafi Youmans, associate professor at George Washington University. , who is working on a documentary about the assassination. from Odeh.
“Rather than removing the designation, the State Department should have updated and expanded it. Simply removing these groups from the list will be seen as the United States continuing its light-hearted approach to right-wing violence. against the Palestinians,” he told Al Jazeera.
Odeh, who was regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights group, was killed in a bombing as he opened his office in Santa Ana, a city of Orange County.
No one has been convicted for the attack, but the ADC and Arab-American groups have long accused Kahane’s JDL of being behind the assassination. Numerous media reports have also linked the group to the murder.
Over the years, advocates have urged Washington to extradite JDL members residing in Israel and illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory who had been identified by law enforcement as possible suspects in the assassination of Odeh.
Kahane, who was elected to the Israeli Knesset in 1984 on a platform that openly advocated the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland, was killed in New York in 1990. But long after his death, his supporters continued to carry out violent attacks.
In 1994, an American-born member of the JDL and Kach shot dead dozens of worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. And in 2001, JDL leaders plotted to blow up a mosque in California, as well as the office of Lebanese-American Congressman Darrell Issa.
Kach has been banned in Israel, but rights advocates say the group’s supporters still operate under different far-right organizations in the country – and some of its adherents have held public office.
The US official told Al Jazeera in a statement that the State Department is ‘required to review FTO designations every five years to determine whether a designation should be revoked’ under the Immigration and Nationality Act. (INA).
In addition to Kahane Chai, the official said the State Department has notified Congress of its intention to delist another group it believes is missing, the Shura Mujahideen Council in the vicinity of Jerusalem ( MSC), which was active in Gaza and Egypt’s Sanai Peninsula.
The official said Kahane Chai has not been linked to a “terrorist attack” since 2005, while MSC has not claimed responsibility for an attack since 2013. They also noted that the groups will remain under the less powerful label of terrorist Specially Designated Global (SDGT), which will maintain restrictions on their financial activities in the United States.
The United States added Kahane Chai to the FTO list in 1997. As a national American group, the JDL is separate from Chai, but supporters claim that the two are part of the same Kahanist movement.
“FTO dismissals also do not impact prior law enforcement actions related to the groups’ past terrorist activities while the groups were designated,” the official said. “Revoking the FTO designations ensures that our terrorism sanctions remain current and credible and do not reflect any change in policy with respect to the past activities of any of these organizations.”
Abed Ayoub, ADC’s legal director, said Kach’s removal from the US ‘terrorist’ list was ‘shocking’ and an indication that President Joe Biden’s administration is moving further to the right than that of his predecessor Donald. Trump.
“Not only does this pose a threat to Palestinians in the homeland, but it also poses a threat to Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans here in the United States,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.
He compared Odeh’s assassination to the murder of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last week, noting that they were both American and Palestinian citizens, and that their deaths were not taken seriously by the US government.
Ayoub added that Kahane Chai’s delisting will be “felt in November” during crucial midterm elections, in which Arab and Muslim Americans could play a decisive role in some races.
“The US government as a whole has failed to take action and hold those responsible” for Odeh’s assassination accountable, he said. “The [US] The State Department sides with the terrorists for the murder of an American citizen.