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Leader's Militancy Led to Denunciation as a Fanatic

Supporters saw Rubin as a courageous if unpolished leader while mainstream Jews criticized him as being on the fringe.

November 05, 2002|Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

Irv Rubin once offered a $500 reward to anyone who killed a member of the American Nazi Party. He proudly brawled with Ku Klux Klansmen on television, and publicly celebrated the murder of a prominent Arab American.

The militant chairman of the Jewish Defense League spent a lifetime waging a belligerent crusade against those he perceived as anti-Semitic. His tactics and means led him to be denounced as a hatemonger himself.

Over the years, Rubin, 56, was arrested more than 40 times, by his own account, most recently for allegedly conspiring to bomb a Culver City mosque and the office of an Arab American congressman from San Diego County.

His extreme views are reflected in the JDL's slogans: "For every Jew a .22" and "Keep Jews alive with a .45."

But this volatile man fought a solitary cause since he took the helm of the JDL in 1985.

Mainstream Jewish leaders roundly denounced Rubin as a fanatic, a thug and a hooligan.

The JDL, whose membership has dwindled to the point where may it now number only a few dozen, has been branded a hate group by organizations within and outside the Jewish community.

"We consider him on the fringe," said Sue Stengel, Western States counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights group. "He has made it his business to be an agitator ... I think to the detriment of the general Jewish community."

Rubin had long maintained that he fought for a righteous cause, even if his methods were unconventional and frowned upon by others.

When Rubin succeeded JDL founder Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was later gunned down in New York, he said that he would press forward with the organization's original mandate "to eliminate any threat to Jewish people" with a forceful, two-pronged attack on anti-Semitism.

"Priority 1 will be to teach every Jew or sympathetic Gentile self-defense," Rubin said in 1985. "Priority No. 2 is that wherever the neo-Nazis rear their heads, we will be there to confront them, eyeball to eyeball. The day of the submissive Jew must be eliminated."

To his few supporters, Rubin was a courageous if unpolished figure who cared deeply about the security of Jews in the United States and Israel. They point out that Rubin flew to Israel immediately after the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and served in the civilian defense corps. He also ran an unsuccessful campaign for state Assembly in 1982.

On Monday, Rubin's wife of 21 years, Shelley, struggled over news that her husband had been described as brain dead.

"He was a fighter," she said. "He wouldn't give up. And he was a good father and good husband. So he wouldn't do what they said he did."

Officials said Rubin attempted suicide while in federal custody awaiting trial on charges that he and JDL associate Earl Krugel plotted the bombing of the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles and a field office of U.S. Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista), who is of Arab descent.

A federal grand jury indicted the two JDL leaders in January.

Rubin's lawyers called the charges overblown and said that he was the target of a vendetta by government lawyers who have failed to win convictions against him in other criminal cases, including the unsolved 1985 bombing death in Santa Ana of Alex Odeh, West Coast director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Rubin, who was named as a suspect in that case but never charged, denied involvement, even as he welcomed Odeh's killing.

FBI Extortion Probe

Arguing government bias, Rubin's lawyers also cited a three-year FBI probe into unsubstantiated allegations that the JDL participated in a scheme to extort money from the late rap stars Tupac Shakur and Eazy-E through death threats. Rubin's lawyers asked prosecutors to turn over records of the FBI inquiry.

Separately, Rubin's attorneys had asked that his Nov. 12 trial be severed from Krugel's for fear that racist comments by his friend caught on tape by investigators would prejudice jurors against him.

The roots of Rubin's crusade trace back to his childhood in Montreal, Canada. It was there that Rubin first experienced anti-Semitism, according to a biography on the JDL Web site.

The biography says that hotel owners and other businesspeople hung signs reading "No Dogs or Jews Allowed" on their doors and schoolchildren taunted him because he was Jewish.

Rubin's family settled in Los Angeles when he was 15. Rubin attended Granada Hills High School, where he was president of the Republican Club before graduating in the early 1960s.

He eventually became a U.S. citizen and enlisted in the Air Force, serving four years and earning the rank of sergeant.

Meir Kahane Lecture

Then, in 1971, Rubin heard Kahane speak at Cal State Northridge. The young man was enthralled with Kahane's message of Jewish resistance and the JDL motto: "Never Again," a reference to the Holocaust.

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