I wrote this years ago, but it floated back up — in light of Trump’s recent theatrics:
The ‘Alta Zachyn’ man makes his way around the neighborhood most mornings looking for old and used things to be bought and resold. He makes his way with a horse and wagon or small three-wheel van singing: “Give me your old rags. I’ll give you a good price. Furniture, clothes, anything old.”
I was surprised to hear the ‘Alta Zachin’ man in Jerusalem that evening. He was usually an early bird. Things had already quieted down and we were putting Dana to bed. Dana was a frisky five year old who kept pulling at the shutters and pressing her eyes against the slits: “I want to see the man that’s yelling!”
Certain that this was a ploy fomented by Dana to get us to let her stay up longer, we herded her off to bed saying: “He’ll come by again in the morning; we’ll see him then.”
The voice had the raspiness but not the melody of the ragman, and was not winding its way through the hilly streets of Shelly’.s neighborhood. The voice settled in the nearby shopping center, getting louder and louder until it reached a hysterical, hypnotic cry. The words were harsh and unclear until Dana climbed out of her bed to throw open her bedroom window.
“The crazy man! The crazy man! What’s he yelling — that crazy man?!” Dana wanted us to tell her.
It was, I realized, Kahana: peddling his racist tirade just a few meters away from the house I was staying in as an overnight guest.
Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League, moved from Brooklyn to a powerful position on the far-right fringes of Israeli politics. To some people, the Orthodox rabbi’s slogan of “Never Again” meant that Jews would fight before enduring any threat; that the Holocaust would never be repeated. To his others, he was a charlatan and a racist.
Kahana was shouting out his condemnations like a shopping list, naming his targeted victims one by one: “Tira, Taibeh, Uhm El Fahm.” These were the Arab villages that Kahana was ear-marking for destruction.
Kahana would change his script for different audiences, but never his tone: “I am not a racist; I just think the land is not big enough for both of us. They should leave on their own accord, but if they won’t? So let me handle them!” Once he pronounced: “The only good Arab is a dead Arab.” When challenged he argued: “I never said “the only good Arab is a dead Arab — because a dead Arab stinks!”
Kahana was a different kind of ragman, selling old and worn-out ideas, peddling hate. And yet he was elected to the Knesset in 1984 where he was a growing political force. In October 1988, the Israeli Central Election Committee banned the party ruling it violated a 1985 law — aimed specifically at Rabbi Kahane — because of its “Nazi-like,” “racist,” and “undemocratic positions.”
Dana was five but already a critical thinker. She knew a crazy man when she saw him. And now Trump peddles hate with the same entrepreneurial gusto with which he launched his business empire. Those of us who will vote in this election won’t be five year-olds, so let us hope and pray, that despite our age — we might still be critical thinkers.
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