Obama Administration Meddles in Israel's Affairs, Claims that Commenoration of Rabbi Meir Kahane Would Hinder "Peace Process"

by Rebecca Anna Stoil and Tova Lazarofff, JPost

Any commemoration in the Knesset of the anniversary of Rabbi Meir Kahane's assassination would be harmful to the peace process, the US Embassy told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.

The American comments came after the Post obtained a series of e-mails in which an embassy official told Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin's office that the possibility of such a ceremony was "something that Senator [George] Mitchell and his team are following with concern."

Following a Post report describing Rivlin's denial that he had allowed MK Michael Ben-Ari to commemorate Kahane in the Knesset plenum, the US administration contacted Rivlin's office to keep abreast of further developments.

In an exchange of e-mails between the Knesset Speaker's office and American officials, Second Secretary Mike Pearlstein cited stories in which he "read that Speaker Rivlin would decide whether such an event could take place in the Knesset."

The embassy, he said, "would like to know if the Speaker has made a decision and, if so, what is the decision. If no decision has been made, we would like to know when he plans to decide."

Additionally, Pearlstein added, "this is something that Senator Mitchell and his team are following with some concern."

The likelihood of such a ceremony taking place was also the subject of a flurry of internal embassy e-mails, in which US officials scrambled to find out where and when a commemoration of the assassinated far-right-wing rabbi would occur.

The American-born Kahane was murdered in New York 19 years ago by an Egyptian-American who was later proved to be a member of the same al-Qaida cell that carried out the first terror attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

Kahane, who was a prominent right-wing activist for years, was elected to the Knesset in 1984, when his party, Kach, gained a lone seat. Four years later, he was ousted when Kach was declared a racist party, and its members were barred from running for Knesset.

"We are all aware of Rabbi Meir Kahane's history," US Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer told the Post. "I think that plainly speaks for itself, that obviously he has a controversial history.

"We are of course concerned with trying to get everyone back to the negotiating table. To stir up controversy at the same time that we are trying to get people back to the table it is not productive of that effort. It is only natural that Senator [George] Mitchell would be paying attention to that and the US government as well."

Rivlin's office responded to Pearlstein's e-mail and phone call by emphasizing that "the Speaker of the Knesset has no intention of approving the holding of any official memorial event in the Knesset for former Member of Knesset, Rabbi Meir Kahane.

"There is certainly no plan to hold any such event in the Knesset Plenum, or to allow a more limited private event within the Knesset building that would focus on the philosophy and legacy of Kahane or of the Kach movement, which was declared illegal many years ago."

Rivlin's office did, however, warn that "the above applies to events in the Knesset building that the Speaker can oversee. Clearly, the Speaker has no way of preventing any parliamentary stunt by a Knesset Member during the plenary debates in an attempt to commemorate the late Rabbi Kahane."

Ben-Ari appealed Rivlin's decision against a memorial event to the House Committee, which is responsible for ruling on issues of Knesset procedure.

The committee heard Ben-Ari's case on Wednesday, and committee chairman Yariv Levine, a freshman Likud MK, expressed discomfort with Rivlin's decision not to allow Ben-Ari to speak on the 19th anniversary of Kahane's assassination.

Levine was appointed by committee members to serve as a go-between between Rivlin and Ben-Ari, and to that end met with the Knesset speaker later Wednesday.

In the meeting, Rivlin told Levine that he had not changed his mind regarding any commemoration of Kahane's legacy from the plenum podium, but did say that he would respect the decision of the House Committee should they vote to overrule him.

Following the revelations of the American correspondence with Rivlin's office on the subject, Ben-Ari responded indignantly.

"I was elected to the Knesset by citizens of the independent State of Israel. The flagrant involvement of Mitchell has crossed a red line and it testifies to the bowed head of the Knesset Speaker that is turning the Knesset into a dishrag," he railed.

"It is amazing to see how members of the American administration are trying to become involved in the Knesset's daily order of business," he added.

Earlier this week, Ben-Ari's office confirmed that the outspoken lawmaker's application for an American visa had been delayed, ostensibly due to an outstanding criminal file dating back to the period surrounding the 2005 disengagement.

The trip to the United States would have been Ben-Ari's first visit outside of Israel. His spokesman, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said that although Ben-Ari does not leave the country as a matter of principle, the trip in question was to be an exception "to encourage aliya and strengthen the connection between American Jewish communities and Israel."

But after Ben-Ari submitted his visa application - a routine process for many Israelis, which included a statement regarding any criminal files against him - his office was told that his request was delayed.

Ben-Gvir stressed that Ben-Ari had never been charged with anything, but that the police file was being kept open indefinitely.

Ben-Ari's case seems to differ from those of a number of other right-wing political figures, including former MK Benny Elon, who were granted visas despite similar legal situations.

Ben-Ari's office emphasized that his case had reached the highest levels of the Foreign Ministry, which was "taking care of the issue," and trying to convince the State Department to allow the MK to carry out the visit as planned.

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