JERUSALEM — Lecturer Alouph Hareven was trying to impress his audience with the need to avoid stereotypes and with the fact that not all Arabs are terrorists.
Hareven, associate director of Jerusalem's Van Leer Foundation, a social research center, emphasized that of more than 700,000 Arabs who live within Israel's pre-1967 borders and who are citizens of Israel, "99.9% have never done anything against the security of the state."
"That's impossible!" a schoolteacher in her 40s interjected. "It's against everything that I feel."
That incident occurred during part of a Ministry of Education program to arm teachers against the anti-Arab message of right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane. It mirrored both the progress and the problems of Israel's effort to cope with the politically controversial Kahane.
The ministry's program is part of a multifaceted national campaign to isolate and discredit Kahane, a campaign that its critics call belated and that Kahane calls unfair. But the government's effort makes it clear that the Israeli Establishment now takes seriously what it used to dismiss as the "fluke" of Kahane's political rise.
Already the campaign has all but removed Kahane's name from the Israeli news media, limited his personal contact with Israeli voters and cast doubt on his political future. His support in opinion polls has tumbled by more than half in the last four months.
At the same time, however, the schoolteacher's revealing remark shows that the parallel battle to counter the appeal of Kahane's anti-Arab message--known here as the battle against "Kahanism"--will be more difficult to win.
"Kahane himself is what I've described as a self-limiting disease," Hareven said in an interview. "What is important is that he has set a certain standard that has influenced the whole right-wing spectrum in Israel."
Kahane's Kach Party won representation in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, in July, 1984, with 1.2% of the vote. For a year, the party rose consistently in the opinion polls. Its approval rating reached a peak last August, when 11% of those questioned said they would vote for it.
Along the way, the American-born rabbi stirred mostly young Jewish audiences with his taunts against "Arab dogs," while simultaneously proposing legislation that would outlaw sexual relations between Jews and Arabs, segregate schools and beaches and strip Israel's Arab citizens of the right to hold government jobs and to live in Jerusalem.
If new elections were held, the August poll suggested, Kahane's party would emerge as the third largest in the Knesset and would have the kind of political leverage that could lend some credence to his boast that one day he will be defense minister or even prime minister.
But now, after what Kahane described in an interview as a "pathological" official campaign against him, the polls show Kach getting only 4% or 5% of the vote.
Those in the forefront of the anti-Kahane movement are encouraged by this decline, but they caution that it would be unwise to read too much into the figures. In the past, Israeli political polls have proved to be notoriously poor guides to voting patterns.
"I would very much like to think that it was our activity that did it, but I can't say that for certain," Yitzhak Navon, a former president of Israel who is now minister of education, said in an interview. "Maybe it helped a little bit, but I'm not sure."
In large part, Navon and others said, the decline is probably a result of a calmer national atmosphere.
The August poll was taken immediately after the slaying of two Jewish schoolteachers in northern Israel, allegedly by three Arab youths from the occupied West Bank. The killings followed several other terrorist deaths, and the poll reflected an outburst of fear and anger that provided fertile ground for Kahane's message.
Summer's Tension Eased
Although terrorist attacks continue, the pace has slowed, and the tension of the summer had eased by the time of the latest polls.
Not surprisingly, Kahane dismisses the most recent surveys as insignificant.
"We have 10 seats (of the 120 in the Knesset) in our pocket, and they know it," he said, referring to the Israeli political Establishment. "If they didn't . . . they wouldn't be as obsessed with us as they are."
Despite such a show of confidence, Kahane is clearly on the defensive. Most threatening to his political future has been a series of steps taken by his colleagues in the Knesset.
First, they took the unprecedented step of limiting his parliamentary immunity and freedom of movement. Then, at the end of July, they enacted a law banning racist parties from taking part in national elections. Under consideration is a bill that would make racial incitement a felony.
Blocking a 2nd Term
These steps have sorely limited Kahane's political activity and, unless he can find some way around them, they will bar him from a second term in the Knesset.