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Jewish Leaders Reject JDL Role in South Bay

September 12, 1985|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Many Jewish leaders in the South Bay, rankled the last four years by the presence of a group that claims the Holocaust never happened, are even more incensed by the recent arrival of a militant Jewish group as a self-proclaimed savior.

"They have made a bad situation into a deplorable situation," said Doug Stone, a spokesman for the the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles' southern region, although he later softened his term to "unfortunate."

"Here we have two radical extremist groups and both have a legal right to establish storefronts. However, we would like it if they both left Torrance."

The newcomer is the Jewish Defense League, a national organization whose demonstrations against anti-Semitism have often erupted into fistfights. Irv Rubin, the league's recently appointed national leader, said it opened an office in Torrance in July because local Jewish leaders have done nothing to force out the Institute for Historical Review, the group that denies the Holocaust.

Ordinance Proposed

Rubin has proposed to the Torrance City Council an ordinance that he said would discourage the institute from remaining in the city and would allow public comment on the group. Acknowledging that the legislative approach is unusual for the militant league, Rubin said: "I want to get away from the image that scares Jews so much."

Bradley Smith, a spokesman for the institute, has denounced the proposed ordinance as "harassment" and "an attempt to suppress free inquiry into the Holocaust by legislation." He added that "the JDL has a history of commiting violent acts against people with whom it disagrees. We don't know exactly what Rubin will do."

The institute--which is essentially a three-person office that distributes books--acknowledges that Jews were held in Nazi concentration camps but claims that few, if any, were systematically put to death. Rather, it says most of them died of hunger or illness. It says the widely accepted belief that 6 million Jews died at Nazi hands is grossly exaggerated.

The group has been the target of several attacks in the past four years, including three firebombings at its former office and warehouse on 237th Street. The most recent attack came on July 4, 1984, when the building was destroyed by a firebomb. The institute opened a new office about a year ago on Cabrillo Avenue. Police say they believe they know who committed the attack, but lack enough evidence for a conviction.

Involvement Denied

Rubin said the league was not involved in any of the bombings, but he applauded them. He accused the institute of being tied to neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites. The institute denies such ties, saying it simply publishes another view of history.

But instead of a confrontation between the league and the institute, Rubin's arrival has prompted a battle of words between his group and South Bay Jewish leaders.

Told that Rubin accused them of "not lifting a finger" against the institute, several Jewish leaders became incensed and met to coordinate a response. No specific action was decided, but some of them spoke out afterward.

"We didn't just sit around and do nothing," said Dr. Jerome Unatin, a Torrance orthopedic surgeon and president of the federation's southern region, which covers the South Bay. Unatin said the group has had speakers, movies and other programs on the Holocaust at various schools and libraries since the institute set up shop. Alluding to the league's violent past, he said: "We explored legal means. We don't agree with any group that advocated breaking the law."

'Equally Unwelcome'

"I have no trouble with the goal of closing the offices of the IHR," said Rabbi David Lieb of reform Temple Beth-El in San Pedro, "but if the JDL is intent on following the same patterns of behavior as in the past, then they are equally unwelcome."

JDL leader Rubin, by his own estimate, has been arrested more than 30 times, mostly on charges of disturbing the peace. The JDL has staged numerous demonstrations that have erupted into fights and, in 1978, Rubin offered a $500 reward for anyone who kills, maims or seriously injures a member of the American Nazi Party.

"The JDL does not speak for the majority of Jews in Torrance, the South Bay, Los Angeles, California or the United States," said Stone, the southern region spokesman. "We view them as an irresponsible organization."

Local Jewish leaders also say it is unfair to say that the institute is only the problem of Torrance-area Jews.

'National Problem'

"It is an accident that it is in Torrance," said Rabbi Lieb. "It seems unfair that what is a national problem should be borne entirely by the local community. To focus on their address is a disservice to all Jews. It is a national problem."

Torrance Mayor Jim Armstrong also squirms about a possible perception that because the institute is based in Torrance, the city condones its actions.

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