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Leader’s Militancy Led to Denunciation as a Fanatic

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rubin hooked up with Kahane and within months was appointed the JDL’s West Coast coordinator. In succeeding Kahane as national chairman, Rubin proved himself an enthusiastic leader who was able to consistently draw media attention with his outrageous comments, televised brawls and repeated run-ins with law enforcement.

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Even before he assumed the mantle, Rubin showed a penchant for militancy.

He was charged with attempted murder in 1972 after shots were fired into the home of a local neo-Nazi with whom he fought before a television interview. Charges were later dismissed for lack of evidence. Six years later, he was charged with solicitation of murder after offering $500 during a news conference to anyone who killed or injured a member of the American Nazi Party. He was later acquitted.

After the 1999 shooting by a white supremacist at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, thousands of people came together to speak out against violence. Rubin showed up, too, interrupting Gov. Gray Davis’ speech with shouts against gun control and in favor of armed self-defense.

Membership Dwindled

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Those who monitor extremism say that the influence of the JDL waned dramatically since he took command and that the organization, which initially garnered some mainstream support for its championing of the rights of Soviet Jews, suffered from his excesses.

“If he would have extended his energy on more positive pursuits, he might have really accomplished something,” said David Lehrer, former West Coast director of the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s unfortunate that it came to this.”

Ironically, Rubin and his organization are lumped into the same camp as the very hate groups he fought.

The JDL fist-and-star logo appears on the Web site of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, right next to other hate graphics belonging to the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan.

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“A lot of what he did was media sideshow antics -- getting into tussles with white supremacists, " said Brian Levin, director of the San Bernardino center. “He never was accepted by any of the mainstream civil rights, anti-hate or Jewish organizations. They all categorically disowned any association with him and rightly so. He’s an extremist.”


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