December 20, 2001
In the solar system of Jewish life, Irv Rubin is Pluto.
The man accused of conspiring to plant a pipe bomb at a mosque and at the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-48) has long operated at the distant edges of greater Los Angeles' Jewish population that numbers some 600,000.
If you subtract from that number Rubin, his associate Earl L. Krugel and other active members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) here, you end up with 599,975, give or take 20. Nationwide, the JDL has perhaps 200 activists, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
To be honest, no one can say for certain just how many JDL activists prowl the delis of Los Angeles, plotting over half-sour pickles late into the night. The organization has never produced a membership list, it is not a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and in seven years of covering this community I've rarely encountered a soul who doesn't consider these men to be, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, loose cannons.
None of this is to say they're guilty as charged. The strongest witness for the prosecution seems to be an informant with a criminal past of his own. In the current climate, it is fair to raise questions of overzealous FBI even-handedness. Rubin and Krugel deserve the full measure of the civil and legal rights that they are accused of plotting to deny others of. Aren't they fortunate that the Constitution rushes in where the rest of us would prefer to watch what we're stepping on.
Following the arrest, a handful of local Muslim spokespeople used the occasion to gloat. The alleged JDL plot made clear that "Jewish terrorism is just as dangerous as Muslim terrorism," Muslim Public Affairs Council Vice-President Aslam Abdullah told the Los Angeles Times' Teresa Watanabe. Muslims demanded that authorities treat Jews as Muslims have been treated post-Sept. 11: profiling those who "look like Rubin," freezing JDL assets, blocking JDL Web sites. The implication is that their crazies equal our crazies, that the problem of religious fanaticism is shared by Jew, Muslim and Christian, so why devote special attention to Arabs and Islam? Well, here's why:
The reaction of the Jewish community to the JDL arrests was swift and unequivocal condemnation.
The ADL, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Simon Wisenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress, Hadassah, the synagogue movements -- no one hedged, no one displayed any residual support for Rubin's politics or argued for an understanding of his sense of victimhood. Every Jewish leader called for Rubin and Krugel to receive the maximum penalty under the law if found guilty.
The JDL and its founder, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, have been institutionally marginalized in the Jewish world.
In 1988, Israel's Central Election Committee barred Kahane's Kach party from competing in Knesset elections, terming it "racist" and "Nazilike," a ban upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Here in Los Angeles, for years now Rubin has been escorted out of far more Jewish events than he's ever been invited in to.
Sept. 11 was the work of a worldwide terror network supported by millions of dollars and the rhetoric of religious teachers. Dec. 11 was, at worst, two Jews and a pipe bomb.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations implied that Rubin's alleged actions were the result of "an atmosphere of Islamophobia" fanned by mainstream Jewish organizations. The truth is that mainstream Jewish organizations were among the first to separate the actions by relatively few of the world's more than 1 billion Muslims from Islam. And Jewish organizations, like the Progressive Jewish Alliance, have been at the forefront of protecting the civil liberties of Arabs and others following the attacks.
None of this is to say that Jewish extremism doesn't exist. It has a virulent Israeli-based strain, as evidenced by Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir and those nationalist religious teachers for whom the idea of taking all of the land of greater Israel by force necessitates a milchemet mitzvah, or Holy War.
These voices are a minority, though as professor Reuben Firestone has pointed out, the ideas they propound have a way of trickling into mainstream discourse. But Rubin is not a foot soldier of any mass organization, or the vanguard of any movement. He has garnered the spotlight, but gained no sympathy, and as news of his arrest circulated over the weekend, the only question on most Jews' minds was, "What planet is he from?"