For years, Irv Rubin has been getting into people's faces, drowning out their speeches with shouting, picketing their meetings. A tall, beefy man with a voice that carries, he frequently uses a bullhorn to make it carry farther. Often, too, when shouting fails, he shoves and punches.
Rubin, 56, learned his combative ways early, fighting name-callers on the streets of Montreal. Later, he found a home in the radical Jewish Defense League, which he joined a few years after its founding by a New York rabbi, Meir Kahane, in 1968.
Since 1985, Rubin has been national chairman of the JDL, a group whose message has always been militant. Its motto "Never Again" refers to the Holocaust. To prevent another one, Kahane and his followers argued, Jews must be armed and ready to defend themselves by any means necessary. Hence the group's slogans: "For every Jew a .22," and "Keep Jews Alive with a .45."
Now, Rubin finds himself behind bars. He and fellow JDL member Earl Krugel will be arraigned today on charges of plotting to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and a field office of Lebanese American Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista). Both Rubin and Krugel are expected to plead not guilty. Federal authorities, who have tried to connect Rubin with violent attacks in the past, accuse him of conspiring to commit the same sort of terrorist acts for which he has long blamed--and reviled--others.
He was isolated long before his arrest, denounced by Jewish leaders all over the country as representing no one.
Rubin's lawyers declined requests for him to be interviewed at the federal detention center, where he's been held in solitary confinement since his Dec. 11 arrest, and he has been denied bail.
His wife, Shelley, who spoke on his behalf, said that Rubin's belligerent manner helps him reach his objectives--but that her husband of 21 years, the father of her two sons, is a decent, innocent man who drops everything to donate blood and risks crashing his car to rescue stray animals on the freeway.
"He may have a gruff exterior, but people who know Irv know he's a lover, not a fighter," she said, adding, "but on the outside, he's a fighter."
Waging a Fight
on a Shoestring
He does his fighting on a shoestring budget. He lives in a Monrovia condo for which he pays no rent because it's part of a family trust. He doesn't work--except occasionally, serving legal papers. His wife says he sometimes gets paid to give speeches. Mostly though, he and his family live off checks from his wife's mother. Their sons, ages 12 and 20, don't have health insurance. His wife canceled the newspapers he reads to save money after he was arrested. They're asking for donations to pay Rubin's legal fees.
Membership dues and donations to the JDL pay for Rubin's protests, his wife said. A neighbor said he regularly sees Rubin drive home in donated cars, which he then sells.
Still, one way or another, he frequently makes his way around the country--to show up as the lone opening day protester outside the Holy Land Experience, a Christian theme park in Orlando, Fla., run by a Jew bent on converting people to Jesus, or to plant himself outside the compound of the Aryan Nations in Idaho.
In Orlando and other places, leaders of local Jewish organizations say his protests simply draw attention to things best ignored or dealt with more diplomatically.
The fighting words of the JDL set it apart from other Jewish organizations, as has the JDL's view of itself--as the only group with the guts to do whatever it takes to protect Jews. At local Jewish festivals, Rubin and other JDL members often hand out leaflets, urging Jews to support them and not the mainstream Anti-Defamation League, a much older group with a similar abbreviated name.
"The irony is that he's spent half his career harassing other Jews," said David Lehrer, who until recently was the longtime western regional director of the ADL.
In a 1978 news conference, Rubin offered a $500 reward to anyone who "kills, maims or seriously injures" a member of the American Nazi Party--an offer which prompted solicitation of murder charges that were dismissed years later.
On the JDL Web site, he proudly displays video footage of a brawl he got into with Ku Klux Klansmen on the Jerry Springer show. Proudly, too, Rubin says he's lost count of his arrests, which number more than 40.
In 1985, federal authorities named Rubin a suspect in the bombing death of Alex Odeh, regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, in his office in Santa Ana. Rubin was never charged and denied involvement. But he publicly celebrated Odeh's murder, which remains unsolved.
Meanwhile, he's pushed buttons.
After the 1999 shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, thousands came together to speak out against violence. But Rubin, who interrupted Gov. Gray Davis' speech with shouts, had a different message--against gun control and in favor of armed self-defense.