In a review of Shaul Magid’s recently released biography, Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical, J.J. Kimche admits to having had high hopes for this study of the militant rabbi. He had anticipated a “serious, balanced, and rigorous consideration [of] Kahane’s work,” which would serve as a corrective to other biographies that have downplayed Kahane’s intellectual contributions and “focused largely on his political and personal activities.” Kimche found instead that Magid’s book reveals a good deal more about the author’s own preconceptions about race than its subject.
Despite its title and self-description, surprisingly little of this work is about Meir Kahane. The first hundred pages (of a 200-page book) focus largely on political and sociocultural stirrings within the United States during the 1960s, especially within the radical elements of the black and Jewish communities. Though Magid draws interesting parallels between the rhetoric and actions of Kahane and those of the Black Panthers and Jewish socialists, the reader is left wondering why such marginalia occupy fully half of this biography.
The merits of the book are eclipsed by Magid’s obsession with race. Magid accepts contemporary racial theories as gospel truth and employs them to analyze Kahane, Zionism, and American Jewish history. In perhaps the most revealing line of the book, he states that “we live in a white-supremacist (or, I would add, in Israel, a Judeo-supremacist) society.” Statements of this kind exemplify Magid’s methodological axiology: America is fundamentally racist, Israel is fundamentally racist, Kahane is obviously a racist, and American-centric racial theories are the most useful paradigms for analyzing both Kahane’s ideas and the conflict in the Middle East. It is a pity that Magid never pauses to interrogate these questionable assumptions.
Such axioms are especially surprising considering how little of Kahane’s writing revolves around race.