Jail Incident Is Not Fatal to Chairman of Jewish Defense League

New York Times/November 6, 2002
By Charlie LeDuff

Los Angeles -- The details of the plight of Irving David Rubin, the chairman of the Jewish Defense League, are as murky, violent and extreme as the details of his life. In fact, it is unclear if Mr. Rubin, who is listed in critical condition at an area hospital, is actually brain dead as some reports have stated.

"He is very much alive," said William Woolsey, a spokesman for the United States marshal. "He's not dead. He's on life support."

This much is clear: Mr. Rubin, 57, who had been in jail awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to bomb a Los Angeles-area mosque and the office of a California representative, was taken to the Los Angeles County-U.S.C. Medical Center on Monday morning with a slit throat and blunt head trauma after he fell from the third-tier walkway at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

The authorities said that as the inmates were lining up for breakfast call at 5:30 a.m., Mr. Rubin slit his throat with a jail-issued safety razor, ran a few feet and then dived head-first over a railing. He fell 18 feet and landed on his head. Considering Mr. Rubin's past statements - he once offered $1,000 for the ears of neo-Nazis and has referred to Muslims as filth and swine - some supporters wonder whether it was a suicide attempt or a jailhouse hit.

"There is no indication that these were anything other than a series of self-inflicted injuries," said Matthew McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Agents have thoroughly reviewed telephone calls placed to and from the jail and interviewed eyewitnesses, Mr. McLaughlin said.

According to federal authorities, the closest person to Mr. Rubin was 15 feet away when, without word, he cut his throat and leapt.

But people who knew Mr. Rubin well said that, although he was increasingly depressed, it is unimaginable that he, a devout Jew, would kill himself, counter to Talmudic law.

"It's just counterintuitive and inconsistent with the man I know," said Bryan Altman, his lawyer. "It is inconsistent with our discussions and his beliefs. We were looking forward to fighting these allegations and winning."

The life of Irving Rubin was filled with fists and fury. It began in his childhood streets of Montreal when another child called him a dirty Jew, according to his autobiography. Instead of accepting the insult, his mother told him to fight.

The family moved to the San Fernando Valley in 1960, and his radicalism came to flower a decade later when he heard a speech by Meir David Kahane, the radical rabbi and founder of the J.D.L.

Rabbi Kahane's credo, "Never again," struck a chord with Mr. Rubin. Within months he was the organization's West Coast coordinator. He took over as chairman in 1985. Rabbi Kahane was later shot to death in New York.

By his own count, Mr. Rubin was arrested more than 40 times but never convicted of a felony. He is credited with coining the phrases "For every Jew a .22" and "Keep Jews alive with a .45."

In 1972, he was charged with attempted murder after being accused of firing shots into the home of a neo-Nazi he had fought with before a television appearance. He went to Israel in 1973 and fought in the Yom Kippur war. In 1978, his name became notorious when he held up five $100 bills at a Nazi rally in Skokie, Ill., promising them to anyone who killed a Nazi Party member.

"And if they bring us the ears, we'll make it $1,000," he said, according to court papers. He was charged with solicitation of murder, but eventually was acquitted.

?? The 1985 bombing death in Santa Ana of Alex Odeh, the West Coast director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, remains unsolved. Mr. Rubin was named as a suspect in that case but was never indicted, though he publicly applauded the killing.

In 1989, a rift between the East Coast and West Coast factions of Kahane's organization bubbled over when Mr. Rubin and Mordechai Levy, leader of the Jewish Defense Organization, nearly came to blows at a Los Angeles news conference. Mr. Levy went to jail later that year for shooting at, but missing, Mr. Rubin, who was trying to have Mr. Levy subpoenaed in a slander suit.

Mr. Rubin's organization, symbolized by the Star of David and a fist, is considered by many to be a hate group with a small fanatical following.

"We follow Jewish extremists the way we follow other extremists," said Myrna Sheinbaum of the Anti-Defamation League. "They do not represent the mainstream Jewish community. They're an extremist fringe element."

Mr. Rubin was scheduled to go to trial in January with Earl Krugel, a J.D.L. associate, accused of plotting to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles and the office of Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, who is of Lebanese descent.

Muslim leaders today were philosophical about the fall of Irving Rubin. Amin Refaat, assistant director of the King Fahd Mosque said, "God tried, convicted and sentenced him."

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