Archives and Manuscripts Blog Post 2, Meir Kahane’s Playboy Debut

Toward the end of my summer learning Yiddish at YIVO, I was able to spend some time with a friend researching Meir Kahane, co-founder of the Jewish Defense League, in the YIVO archive. They had plenty of material surrounding him and I was tasked by my friend with going through a folder that centered around mainstream media coverage of the controversial rabbi, with a particular focus on an incident with the JDL my friend has been researching. In the course of this I came upon a published interview with Playboy Magazine from October 1972 with Meir Kahane.

Reading through the interview in 2019 is remarkable. In it, Kahane in no uncertain terms advocates for violent resistance to fascism. When the interviewer attempts to make a comparison between the JDL and the American Nazi Party, saying that due to Kahane’s belief in political violence the only difference in their lines of logic is that Kahane “thinks that they’re wrong” and that the JDL is “right” to which Kahane replied “I can’t put it any better than that.” Considering the national conversation around political violence and defense against fascism, Kahane’s words and how they’ve been preserved makes me curious as to how similar figure and materials from our own moment may be preserved and who will or won’t be doing said preservation.

In 2019 there are no Meir Kahanes, at least not in America. There may be people similar to him politically, but there are none who publicly would be able to advocate and share these sorts of beliefs with the same national platform that he was able to. What does this change show in how anti-fascist and political speech is expressed today, and how has the Overton window shifted since 1972? These materials were collected by YIVO likely due to Meir Kahane’s strong impact on Jewish life in America. I must wonder regarding current activists and antifascists today what sort of collections will be formed in the future and what will they be comprised of? Who will collect them and how will they be looked at?

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