Five mainstream Bay Area Jewish organizations have expressed a resounding approval of state Attorney General John Van de Kamp’s report last month singling out the Jewish Defense League as one of the most active terrorist groups in California.
The San Francisco offices of the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith joined the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma, and the JCRC of the Greater East Bay in condemning the Los Angeles-based Jewish militant organization.
Said AJCongress director Joel Brooks in an interview, “There is no question that the JDL has contributed to an atmosphere of terror; its members have been tried, convicted and sentenced, often to long prison terms, for their active participation in terrorist activities in this country and abroad.”
ALLEGED ACTS OF VIOLENCE
Brooks cited as “the most notorious, egregious example” the January 26, 1972 bombing in New York City of Russian-born impresario Sol Hurok’s office for bringing Soviet cultural groups to the United States on tour. Hurok, who was of Jewish descent, was injured, as were 13 others, and his company’s Jewish receptionist, Iris Kones, later died of smoke inhalation.
A 1982 report prepared by the State Department’s Threat Analysis Unit listed 99 acts it believed were committed by JDL members from 1969 to 1982, ranging from bombing to an airplane hijacking attempt.
They included three in San Francisco, according to the report: In 1978, the JDL allegedly ignited flammable liquid at the entrance to the Egyptian Consulate; a year later, 13 JDL demonstrators reputedly kicked in the front of the gate of the Soviet Consulate during a demonstration; and in 1981, the JDL claimed credit for a bombing at an Iranian bank.
This year, in his annual report to the state legislature, Van de Kamp linked the JDL with the October 1985 bombing of the headquarters of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) in Santa Ana that killed the group’s regional director, Alex Odeh, and wounded eight others. The night before the bombing, Odeh had appeared on television to defend the Palestine Liberation Organization’s role in negotiating an end to the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro.
DENIAL BY JDL DIRECTOR
Reached at his home in Los Angeles, JDL director Irving Rubin denied any connection with, and little remorse over, Odeh’s death. “I’m not sitting shiva (in mourning) for him,” he said, citing the FBI’s recent retraction from its earlier allegation that the JDL was involved.
July 16, the FBI’s assistant executive director, Oliver Revell, told a House subcommittee that his organization now is focusing its investigation into the Odeh murder on unspecified “Jewish extremists.”
“If the FBI has the evidence, they should do something about it instead of simply talking,” Rubin said, adding, “I’m devastated by Van de Kamp’s report, which doesn’t have the decency to mention the FBI’s retraction. To put us in the same league as neo-Nazis, drug dealers, the syndicate and motorcycle gangs is downright obscene.”
TWO OTHER VIOLENCE-PRONE GROUPS NAMED
In his 59-page report, released late last month, the Attorney General named two other violence-prone groups that merit special attention. One is the White American Bastion, known elsewhere as The Order, a clandestine white-supremacy group whose stated goal is to overthrow the U.S. government in a race war funded by robberies and counterfeiting. The other is the Animal Liberation Front, a group dedicated to stopping experimental research on animals.
Most of the report, called Organized Crime in California, deals with such areas as drug trafficking, pornography, gang violence and illegal gambling. The JDL’s activities are listed under a five-page section, Non-Traditional Organized Crime — Terrorist Groups.
Rubin, who was chosen in 1985 by JDL founder Rabbi Meir Kahane as the militant organization’s head, admitted the JDL’s involvement in the New York City bombing but claimed it was “an accident.” In the case of the chieftain of the ADC, who he maintained had close ties to the PLO, the 40-year-old JDL leader asked: “Why would we take an unknown figure like Alex Odeh and make him a martyr? It’s sheer insanity.”
STANDS BY CHARGES REGARDING THE JDL
William Sanderson, chief of the state’s Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence in Sacramento, and coordinator of Van de Kamp’s report, said he stands by the charges involving the JDL, including the original FBI allegations.
“This study covers those groups who were most active in 1985 and who warrant the most attention in the future,” he explained. “I would be hard pressed to identify another Jewish extremist group in California other than the Jewish Defense League.”
The Jewish Defense Organization, a splinter group of the JDL formed in 1982 because it felt that the JDL wasn’t militant enough, has been active in California in the past, Sanderson admitted, but he contended that “lately, they’ve been quiet.”
ATTITUDE OF JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS
Meanwhile, representatives of mainstream Jewish organizations in the Bay Area said they also think the JDL merits close scrutiny, voicing stern opposition to the content and tactics of its activities. “I understand their theme of ‘never again,’ said Robert Jacobvitz, head of the JCRC of the Greater East Bay, “but in case after case, their vigilante actions and their aggressive behavior actually hinder the causes they’re fighting for.”
Jacobvitz cited local instances in which JDL members violently infiltrated Soviet Jewry rallies, causing arrests and a spate of negative, counterproductive publicity. As for domestic concerns, he said, “There is ample protection for Jewish civil liberties under due process.”
Barry Cohen, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League, also decried the JDL’s activities. “We’ve denounced them repeatedly and publicly, and will continue to monitor their activities, just as we would any other extremist group that espouses violence as part of its philosophy,” he said.
Rubin, who characterized organizations such as the ADL and the JCRC as “do-nothing groups,” defended the JDL’s activities. “We are the first line of defense for the Jewish community,” he insisted. “We’re the ones who go into neighborhoods where Jews are maligned, who patrol the streets, and who camp out in synagogues. If the JDL had been around 40 years ago, we would have known how to deal with anti-Semitism.”
The defense organization head added that the 17-year-old JDL, contrary to its popular image, “spends 40 percent of its energies on street demonstrations, 35 percent on securing Jewish homes, 15 percent on education at our evening yeshiva, and 10 percent on martial arts and weaponry training.”
Avowed percentages aside, the director of the AJCommittee, Ernest Weiner, thinks that there is no reason for a Jewish group to use violence even if the actions are defensive. “There is no justification for their behavior whatsoever,” he said. “Regardless of the specifics contained in the Attorney General’s analysis, the very fact that a Jewish group is involved in violent crime is deeply disturbing.”
Tanette Goldberg, chairwoman of San Francisco’s JCRC, took this sentiment a step further. Stating that the Van de Kamp report “just skims the surface, she expressed the hope that “the Attorney General and his staff will be able to substantiate the charges and to arrest and prosecute the terrorists whenever and wherever they may be found.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.