Jewish Journal

JDL’s Questionable Future

by Mike Levy

Posted on Nov. 7, 2002 at 7:00 pm

JDL leader Irv Rubin during a 1998 protest in Cicero, Ill. Rubin is in critical condition at L.A. County-USC Medical Center. Photo by Tim Boyle

JDL leader Irv Rubin during a 1998 protest in Cicero, Ill. Rubin is in critical condition at L.A. County-USC Medical Center. Photo by Tim Boyle

Kelly Rubin will turn 13 on Nov. 20. His bar mitzvah, already postponed to December, is now on hold as his father, Irv Rubin, lies in critical condition at L.A. County-USC Medical Center.

Prison and hospital officials say that Rubin, the leader of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), attempted to commit suicide early Monday morning, Nov. 4, using a razor blade to cut his throat before jumping or falling over a railing, landing on his head 18 feet below. But Rubin's family and friends question whether the injuries were self-inflicted or if there were others involved.

U.S. Marshals spokesman William Woolsey reported Rubin in "serious to grave condition" following surgery at L.A. County-USC Medical Center. Rubin's lawyers, Peter Morris and Bryan Altman, were initially told that he had died in the attempt, and later reported their client was "brain-dead." Family members told The Journal late Tuesday that tests showed some brain activity, and that Rubin was breathing with the aid of a respirator. As of Wednesday afternoon he is in critical condition.

Rubin's organization, the JDL, also now lies in limbo. On the morning of the injury, Rubin was scheduled appear in court to hear evidence on his alleged attempt to blow up King Fahd mosque in Culver City and an office of Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Dist. 48), the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, for which he was incarcerated since his arrest on Dec. 11, 2001. The court was also going to hear whether Rubin could split from co-defendant Earl Krugel.

Now, as Krugel's defense attorney Mark Werksman put it, "If Irv is dead, it's a one-defendant trial." Yet in some ways, the trial may be the most secure thing in the JDL's future. (Monday's hearing has been postponed until Dec. 2, and the trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 21, according to prosecutors.)

Rubin joined the JDL in the 1970s after the group's founder, the late Meir Kahane had moved to Israel in 1971 and founded the now-banned political party Kach. Rubin took over leadership of the far-right organization in 1985. Since that time, the JDL has made headlines, linked to activities ranging from the disruption of diplomatic parties to protest the treatment of Soviet Jewry, to the murder of Alex Odeh, director of the American-Arab Anti-Defamation Committee. Rubin was never convicted of any of the violence to which he is often linked.

Krugel, the man often identified as Rubin's "lieutenant," remains in jail, awaiting a once-more postponed trial. His possible leadership of the organization was not a topic of conversation among JDL supporters, and may be tainted by the legal motions brought by Rubin's lawyers to separate the defendants' trial, owing in part to Krugel's use of "racial epithets" in government-taped conversations. Rubin's attorneys also believed that the two had separate defensive strategies. Rubin, who appeared on only three of 11 tape-recorded conversations with an FBI informant, claimed he was never a part of the bombing conspiracy, while Krugel's lawyer is likely to argue entrapment.

Supporters of the JDL immediately began questioning the cause of Rubin's injuries. The U.S. Marshals, who have physical custody of Rubin, describe his injuries as self-inflicted. However, with attorneys preparing to argue that the government held a long-standing bias against Rubin, and with Rubin's controversial and antagonistic history, it was not long before his supporters began claiming that someone had tried to kill the JDL leader. Callers to the JDL office on Monday afternoon heard the recorded voice of spokesman Brett Stone saying, "It is difficult to believe that Irv Rubin would commit suicide."

Rubin's son, Ari, who was initially told that his father had died, told The Journal "This would never have happened if my dad had been given his constitutional rights to bail. The whole thing is fishy. He would never do what they said he did..... I blame the authorities." By Monday evening, followers of the Meir Kahane movement, from which JDL was born, began disseminating, via e-mail, a "Statement Regarding Irv Rubin" which read, in part, "We reject the reports that Rubin took his own life ... it is outrageous to assume Irv would have committed suicide before the long-awaited court appearance."

Morris claimed that his client was in good spirits on the day of his apparent suicide attempt. "Irv was looking forward to the trial because he and we anticipate[d] his acquittal," Morris said, although he, Altman and Rubin's wife, Shelley, had all previously described Rubin's extreme weight loss and difficult conditions while in prison.

Mainstream Jewish organizations expressed sympathy for the family but declined to defend Rubin or the JDL.

"As human beings we extend our condolences to his family and the people who love him. As an organization, we continue to denounce the ideology and the actions of the JDL," said Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). One point of agreement between the ADL and JDL: "We would like to see the matter come to trial."

Fern Sidman was a JDL leader in New York in the 1980s before leaving the group to work with Kahane as a researcher. Now managing editor of the Kahane-affiliated Judean Voice News, Sidman remains in close contact with the Rubin family. Though Sidman said, "Many, many people are praying for him" in New York, few were actually members of the JDL, and she knew of no one in the organization who might take on Rubin's leadership role should he die or remain hospitalized. "Irv is not an easy person to replace."

With Rubin attached to a respirator, the fate of the JDL now depends as much on doctors as on lawyers. Because when asked who besides his client's family might even comment about Rubin, Morris said simply, "There's no one else."

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