Cousin Of Extremist Rabbi Charged With Driving Car Into Pro-Palestinian Protesters

An image shows Reuven Kahane.
An image shows Reuven Kahane. Columbia University Apartheid Divest

Real estate developer Reuven Kahane, whose cousin founded a notorious group deemed a “violent extremist” organization by the FBI, was arrested in New York City on Tuesday after he allegedly drove his car into a group of pro-Palestinian protesters, injuring a 55-year-old woman.

Kahane, 57, was charged with second-degree assault, a New York City Police Department spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost. Police said the Upper East Side real estate developer was driving his car near the corner of Park Avenue and 72nd Street on Tuesday morning when he got into a dispute with a group of about 25 pro-Palestinian protesters who were marching nearby. As the protesters began to disperse, Kahane allegedly drove his car into the crowd, striking Maryellen Novak, who was taken to a hospital to be treated for minor injuries. The incident was first reported on X (formerly Twitter) by Talia Jane, an independent journalist in New York City.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Kahane told HuffPost, in reference to the protest, “I was driving home from dropping off my daughter at school, and live within seven blocks of the location.” He declined to comment further on the incident.

Referring to his relative Meir Kahane, a rabbi who founded the extremist Jewish Defense League, he said, “My cousin passed away more than three decades ago and should have no influence in this story.”

Novak and another protester, 63-year-old John Rozendaal, were arrested on charges of criminal mischief. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that it would decline to prosecute Novak and Rozendaal.

Reuven Kahane’s attorneys, Sara Shulevitz and Mindy Meyer, told HuffPost that their client pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree assault during an arraignment Wednesday morning. His next court appearance is set for June 25.

“The facts will show our client is not guilty,” Shulevitz said. “Our client is a law-abiding citizen and we look forward to representing him in court.”

Online court records described Kahane’s charge as second-degree assault with intent to cause physical injury to another person, with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. The records also indicated that Kahane had been released from custody on his own recognizance.

The pro-Palestinian protesters had been picketing outside the residence of a Columbia University trustee. This came during weekslong demonstrations from students, faculty and alumni demanding that the Ivy League school divest its endowment funds from companies and weapons manufacturers that have business with Israel’s government amid that country’s ongoing siege of Gaza, which has killed around 35,000 Palestinians, 24,000 of whom were women and children.

According to a statement from Columbia University Apartheid Divest, or CUAD — the group that organized Tuesday’s demonstration — Kahane initially drove up to the protesters in his car and asked for a flyer. When one of the protesters handed him a flyer, Kahane grabbed the protester’s arm, the statement said. Kahane then “parked in front of the picketers until we started leaving, then circled the block to drive into our peaceful demonstration,” the statement continued. “One member of CUAD’s de-escalation team was struck and has since been hospitalized.”

CUAD added that an NYPD commanding officer on the scene, Neil Zuber, “immediately arrested and started screaming at one of the picketers who was next to the car. Kahane, on the other hand, received calm and friendly treatment. The person who was hit was arrested and handcuffed to the bed while in the hospital.” The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment on this allegation.

Kahane is the cousin once removed of Meir Kahane, whose Jewish Defense League was designated a “right-wing terror group” and a “violent extremist” organization by the FBI. Meir Kahane was killed in New York City by an Egyptian American man in 1990; the killer was acquitted of murder but would go on to participate in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. He was later convicted on federal charges related to the rabbi’s death.

A 1990 Los Angeles Times article on the assassination of Meir Kahane quoted Reuven Kahane, then 23, as saying: “This is the final sacrifice. … He’s been receiving threats since day one.” According to genealogical records, Meir Kahane’s father, Charles Kahane, and Reuven Kahane’s grandfather, Levi (or Levy) Yitzchak Kahane, were brothers. Charles and Levi Kahane’s father was Nachman Kahane, who like many in the family was a rabbi.

Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League, which calls for the forcible ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Muslims from the “Jewish-inherited soil” of Israel, has been connected to multiple bombings and other acts of terror. Meir Kahane often called Arabs “dogs” and was part of a mob in Israel that chanted, “Kill the Arabs!” before attempting to lynch two Arabs. He was convicted in the U.S. of making a bomb and formed the Kach political party in Israel, which both Israel and the U.S. later designated a terrorist organization. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Meir Kahane “consistently preached a radical form of Jewish nationalism which reflected racism, violence and political extremism.”

A few years after Kahane’s death, a JDL member massacred 29 Palestinian Muslims who were praying in a West Bank mosque. The JDL defended the massacre, saying the shooter “took a preventative measure against yet another Arab attack on Jews.”

Reuven Kahane told HuffPost, “My political view is that every death is a tragedy.” He added separately, “When I lived in Israel, I had 60 Arab workers, many in management positions.”

Tuesday was not Kahane’s first encounter with pro-Palestinian protesters. On his LinkedIn page, Kahane posted a photo showing a man with his face obscured, and wearing a wristband with the Israeli flag, at a pro-Palestinian protest at Hunter College on Monday. Monday also marked Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. The photo’s caption read, “On Yom HaShoah-1000 Hamas protestors at Hunter College.”

Separately on LinkedIn, Kahane posted excerpts of an archived Anti-Defamation League article about the Jewish Defense League. The ADL article criticized Meir Kahane for what it said was his “gross distortion of the position of Jews in America,” namely that “American Jews were living in a fiercely hostile society, facing much the same dangers as the Jews in Nazi Germany or those in Israel surrounded by 100-million Arab enemies.” The article further quoted Meir Kahane as saying antisemitism was “exploding” in America, and that American Jews should be afraid.

Reuven Kahane captioned the excerpts: “The report the ADL submitted about Rabbi Meir Kahane, the JDL and Anti - Semitism 30+ years ago. The ADL( bless their heart) ‘tracks’ Anti - Semitism. Jewish students around America should implore the ADL to reread the report and try a different ‘track.’”

“I posted this as a sign of the times, not indicting or endorsing either organization,” Reuven Kahane told HuffPost of the LinkedIn post, referring to the ADL and JDL.

Separately, Kahane reposted a historical photo, said to be taken at Columbia University, showing early 20th century protesters with signs saying “Why not peace with Hitler?” and “Europe for Europeans, America for Americans.” Kahane wrote, “Columbia University- two generations ago.”

Columbia’s president, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, recently called in the NYPD for a second time to clear student protesters from Columbia. The first time, police arrested students who were participating in an encampment calling for the university to divest from “companies and institutions that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine.” The second time Shafik called police in, students had occupied Hamilton Hall, which they had renamed “Hind’s Hall” after a 6-year-old Palestinian girl, Hind Rajab, who was killed in Gaza earlier this year.

The Columbia encampment set off a wave of other encampments at universities across the country, where pro-Palestinian students have been the target of vitriol and violence by pro-Israeli counterprotesters.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, a group of pro-Israeli counterprotesters attacked students at an encampment with “knives, bats, wooden planks, pepper spray and bear mace,” according to a report in the London Review of Books. Video footage also showed the counterprotesters shooting fireworks into the encampment and beating pro-Palestinian students while they lay prone on the ground. One video captured a pro-Israeli demonstrator calling for a “second Nakba,” a reference to the mass expulsion and killing of Palestinians from their lands during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. At least 25 UCLA students were hospitalized after the attack.