NEW YORK, NOV. 5 -- Rabbi Meir Kahane, controversial founder of the militant Jewish Defense League, was shot and killed after delivering a lecture in a midtown hotel tonight.
The Brooklyn-born Kahane, 58, who emigrated to Israel, was shot in the neck shortly after 9 p.m. by a man who approached him while he was answering questions after a speech to a Jewish group at the midtown Marriott Marquis East Hotel, at Lexington Avenue and 48th Street, witnesses said.
The gunman, whom police identified as El Sayyid Nosair, 35, then fled the second-floor lecture hall with several screaming witnesses chasing him. Reaching the street, he tried to commandeer a taxi at gunpoint but was confronted by Carlos Acosta, a police officer of the U.S. Postal Service.
The two exchanged gunfire and both were wounded, police said. At least one other man was injured, and all were rushed to Bellevue Hospital, where Kahane was pronounced dead at 10:01 p.m. EST.
Police said Nosair had been wounded in the chin and was in critical but stable condition. "We believe he lives in New Jersey," said Chief Joseph Borelli. He said police had recovered a .357 magnum revolver from the scene, adding that Nosair fired at Kahane from fewer than five feet away, hitting him once in the neck. Kahane had been offered police protection during his visit, police said, but he declined.
The wounded bystander, Irving Franklin, was shot in the leg when he tried to stop the assailant from leaving the hotel and was in good condition, police said. Officer Acosta suffered a superficial arm wound.
Kahane was one of the best known and most controversial Jewish militants in New York before he moved to Israel in 1971. His organization's rallying cry, "Never Again," became a searing symbol of Jewish activism, reminding the world of the six million Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust.
Mayor David N. Dinkins called the shooting "an international tragedy that shocks all of us."
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said he disagreed strongly with Kahane's political philosophy. "I nevertheless deeply regret his violent end," he said.
"It was incredible," said Mike Richio, who works in a delicatessen two blocks from the hotel and watched the gun battle. "After the one guy fell on the road, these others kept firing."
The block in front of the Grand Central Post Office across from the hotel was roped off by police and a large pool of blood was visible on the sidewalk. At the time of the shooting, Kahane was speaking to about 60 people attending a meeting of the Zionist Emergency Evacuation Rescue Organization about his controversial position that all Jews should return to Israel to live, according to people who were present.
He had also just said he would run again for the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He was barred from seeking reelection in 1988 after one term when the Israeli Supreme Court banned his anti-Arab party, Kach, on grounds its racist platform violated a 1985 law. The party, whose symbol is a clenched fist inside a Star of David, worked to rid Israel of all Arabs.
A Zionist from his youth in New York, Kahane was the son of a highly respected orthodox Rabbi. A frequent guest in their house, Zev Jabotinsky, founded the Zionist movement's militant right wing.
As a boy, Kahane directed his activity not at Arabs but at the British, who occupied Palestine until Israel was created in 1948.
As international chairman of the militant Jewish Defense League, which he founded in 1968, he became known in the late 1960s and 1970s for antagonism toward those he called the "Jewish Establishment," and for confrontational tactics and sometimes physical attacks on those he viewed as foreign and domestic adversaries of the Jewish people, especially the Soviets. Kahane was arrested on several occasions during anti-Soviet demonstrations.
In 1984, Kahane was elected to the Knesset, and resigned as JDL leader. During a reelection bid four years later, he renounced his U.S. citizenship to comply with an Israeli law that prohibits Knesset members from being foreign citizens, but the party was subsequently barred.
He appeared in court here earlier this year in an attempt to regain his U.S. citizenship.
He claimed that "the liberals, the leftists, the elitists," who he said controlled the American Jewish community, were trying to silence him. He also contended that both the U.S. and Israeli governments were trying to prevent him from airing his ideas.
Under Kahane's plan, Arabs who did not leave Israel voluntarily were to be "put in trucks" and driven to the border.
"I don't hate the Arabs," he said at one appearance in Baltimore in 1985. "I love the Jews." He said he feared the Jews would be overwhelmed by a growing Arab population within the borders of Israel.
Kahane was originally named Martin David Kahane, and began using the first name Meir after ordination as a rabbi.
He attended Jewish religious schools in Brooklyn, and as a teenager joined a Jewish youth organization affiliated with a group connected to those who eventually followed Israel's nationalist Herut party.
Kahane also received a bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College and a law degree from the New York University Law School. He had been a rabbi at two Queens synagogues years ago, and was said to have worked for government agencies and congressional committees here under a pseudonym in the middle 1960s.
In 1971 he was convicted in a New York federal court of conspiring to manufacture explosives and was placed on five years probation.
Special correspondent Laurie Goodstein in New York and staff writer Martin Weil in Washington contributed to this report.