Jewish Defense League
Jewish Defense League logo
|Type||Far-right, Jewish extremism, Neo-Zionism, Anti-Arabism|
|Headquarters||New York City
The Jewish Defense League (JDL) is a Jewish far-right religious-political organization in the United States, whose stated goal is to "protect Jews from antisemitism by whatever means necessary". While the group asserts that it "unequivocally condemns terrorism" and states that it has a "strict no-tolerance policy against terrorism and other felonious acts", it was classified as "a right wing extremist group" by the FBI in 2001 and is considered a radical organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to the FBI, the JDL has been involved in plotting and executing acts of terrorism within the United States.
Founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York City in 1968, the JDL's self-described purpose was to protect Jews from local manifestations of antisemitism. Its criticism of the Soviet Union increased support for the group, transforming it from a "vigilante club" into an organization with a stated membership numbering over 15,000 at one point. The group took to bombing Arab and Soviet properties in the United States, and targeting various alleged "enemies of the Jewish people", ranging from Arab-American political activists to neo-Nazis, for assassination. A number of JDL members have been linked to violent, and sometimes deadly, attacks in the United States and in other countries, including the murder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee regional director Alex Odeh in 1985, the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994, and a plot to assassinate Congressman Darrell Issa in 2001. The National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism's database of identified terrorist organizations, which is compiled by official contractors and consultants to the United States government and is supported by the Department of Homeland Security, identifies the JDL as a "former terrorist organization". The JDL's website states that it rejects terrorism. Several JDL members and leaders died violent deaths, including Kahane himself, who was assassinated by an Arab-American gunman.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the JDL consists only of "thugs and hooligans". The group's founder, Meir Kahane, "preached a radical form of Jewish nationalism which reflected racism, violence and political extremism," attitudes that were replicated by Irv Rubin, the successor to Kahane.
Terrorism and other illegal activities
In the U.S.
In a 2004 congressional testimony, John S. Pistole, Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) described the JDL as "a known violent extremist Jewish organization." FBI statistics show that, from 1980 through 1985, there were 18 officially classified terrorist attacks in the U.S. committed by Jews; 15 of those by members of the JDL. According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,
In a 1986 study of domestic terrorism, the Department of Energy concluded: "For more than a decade, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) has been one of the most active terrorist groups in the United States. [...] Since 1968, JDL operations have killed 7 persons and wounded at least 22. Thirty-nine percent of the targets were connected with the Soviet Union; 9 percent were Palestinian; 8 percent were Lebanese; 6 percent, Egyptian; 4 percent, French, Iranian, and Iraqi; 1 percent, Polish and German; and 23 percent were not connected with any states. Sixty-two percent of all JDL actions are directed against property; 30 percent against businesses; 4 percent against academics and academic institutions; and 2 percent against religious targets." (Department of Energy, Terrorism in the United States and the Potential Threat to Nuclear Facilities, R-3351-DOE, January 1986, pp. 11–16)
In its report, Terrorism 2000/2001, the FBI referred to the JDL as a "violent extremist Jewish organization" and stated that the FBI was responsible for thwarting at least one of its terrorist acts. The National Consortium for the Study of Terror and Responses to Terrorism states that, during the JDL's first two decades of activity, it was an "active terrorist organization." The JDL was specifically referenced by the FBI's Executive Assistant Director Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence, John S. Pistole, in his formal report before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.
Initially, the League was connected to a series of violent attacks against the Soviet Union's interests in the United States, protesting that country's repression of Soviet Jews, who were often jailed and refused exit visas. The JDL decided that violence was necessary to draw attention to their plight, reasoning that Moscow would respond to the strain on Soviet–US relations by allowing more emigration to Israel. In 1970, according to Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, agents of the Soviet KGB forged and sent threatening letters to Arab missions claiming to be from the JDL to discredit it. They also were ordered to bomb a target in the "Negro section of New York" and blame it on the JDL. One bomb attack, on January 8, 1971, outside of the Soviet cultural center in Washington, D.C., was followed by a phone call, including the JDL slogan "Never again"; a JDL spokesperson denied the group's involvement in the bombing, but refused to condemn it. In 1972, two JDL members were arrested and convicted of bomb possession and burglary in an attempt to blow up the Long Island residence of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. In 1972, a smoke bomb was planted in the Manhattan office of music impresario Sol Hurok, who organized Soviet performers' U.S. tours. Iris Kones, a Jewish secretary from Long Island, died of smoke inhalation, and Hurok and 12 others were injured and hospitalized. Jerome Zeller of the JDL was indicted for the bombing and Kahane later admitted his part in the attack. JDL activities were condemned by Moscow refuseniks who felt that the group's actions were making it less likely that the Soviet Union would relax restrictions on Jewish emigration. On April 6, 1976, six prominent refuseniks – including Alexander Lerner, Anatoly Shcharansky, and Iosif Begun – condemned the JDL's anti-Soviet activities as terrorist acts, stating that their "actions constitute a danger for Soviet Jews [...] as they might be used by the [Soviet] authorities as a pretext for new repressions and for instigating anti-Semitic hostilities." During the 1980s, past-JDL member Victor Vancier (who later founded the Jewish Task Force), and two other former JDL members were arrested in connection with six incidents: a 1984 firebombing of an automobile at a Soviet diplomatic residence, the 1985 and 1986 pipe bombings of rival JDL members' cars, the 1986 firebombing at a hall where the Soviet State Symphony Orchestra was performing, and two 1986 detonations of tear gas grenades to protest performances by Soviet dance troupes. In a 1984 interview, the JDL leader Meir Kahane admitted that the JDL "bombed the Russian mission in New York, the Russian cultural mission here [Washington] in 1971, the Soviet trade offices."
The attacks, which caused minor diplomatic crisis in relations between the U.S. and the USSR, prompted the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to infiltrate the group and one undercover officer discovered a chain of weapon caches across Brooklyn, containing "enough shotguns and rifles to arm a small militia." In 1975, JDL leader Meir Kahane was accused of conspiracy to kidnap a Soviet diplomat, bomb the Iraqi embassy in Washington, and ship arms abroad from Israel. A hearing was held to revoke Kahane's probation for a 1971 incendiary device-making incident. He was found guilty of violating probation and served a one-year prison sentence.
In the 1970's a popular television show, Bridget Loves Bernie, was cancelled by the network because protests by the Jewish community that began with letter writing evolved into physical threats from the League. Meredith Baxter, the female lead, said, "We had bomb threats on the show. Some guys from the Jewish Defense League came to my house to say they wanted to talk with me about changing the show." In 1973 threatening phone calls made to the home of Ralph Riskin, one of the producers, resulted in the arrest of Robert S. Manning,  described as a member of the Jewish Defense League. Manning was later indicted on separate murder charges, and fought extradition to the U.S. from Israel, where he had moved.
On December 31, 1975, 15 members of the League seized the office of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in protest for Pope Paul VI's policy of support of Palestinian rights. The incident was over after one hour, as the activists left the place after being ordered to do so by the local police, and no arrests were made. On October 26, 1981, after two firebombs damaged the Egyptian tourist office at Rockefeller Center, JDL Chairman Meir Kahane said at a press conference: "I'm not going to say that the JDL bombed that office. There are laws against that in this country. But I'm not going to say I mourn for it either." The next day, after an anonymous caller claimed responsibility on behalf of the JDL, the group's spokesman later denied his group's involvement, but said, "we support the act." JDL members had often been suspected of involvement in attacks against neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and antisemites. On March 16, 1978, Irv Rubin, chairman of the JDL, said about the planned American Nazi Party march in Skokie, Illinois: "We are offering $500, that I have in my hand, to any member of the community [...] who kills, maims or seriously injures a member of the American Nazi party." Rubin was charged with solicitation of murder but was acquitted in 1981.
On October 11, 1985, Alex Odeh, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), was killed in a mail bombing at his office in Santa Ana, California. Shortly before his killing, Odeh had appeared on the television show Nightline, where he engaged in a tense dialogue with a representative from the Jewish Defense League. Irv Rubin immediately made several controversial public statements in reaction to the incident: "I have no tears for Mr. Odeh. He got exactly what he deserved. [...] My tears were used up crying for Leon Klinghoffer." The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee both condemned the murder. Four weeks after Odeh's death, FBI spokesperson Lane Bonner stated the FBI attributed the bombing and two others to the JDL. In February 1986, the FBI classified the bombing that killed Alex Odeh as a terrorist act. Rubin denied JDL involvement: "What the FBI is doing is simple. [...] Some character calls up a news agency or whatever and uses the phrase Never Again [...] and on that assumption they can go and slander a whole group. That's tragic." In 1987, Floyd Clarke, then assistant director of the FBI, wrote in an internal memo that key suspects had fled to Israel and were living in the West Bank urban settlement of Kiryat Arba. In 1988, the FBI arrested Rochelle Manning as a suspect in the bombing, and also charged her husband, Robert Steven Manning, whom they considered a prime suspect in the attack; both were members of the JDL. Rochelle's jury deadlocked, and after the mistrial, she left for Israel to join her husband. Robert Manning was extradited from Israel to the U.S. in 1993. He was subsequently found guilty of involvement in the killing of the secretary of computer firm ProWest, Patricia Wilkerson, in another, unrelated mail bomb blast. In addition, he and other JDL members were also suspected in a string of other violent attacks through 1985, including the bombing of Boston ADC office that seriously injured two police officers, the bomb killing of suspected Nazi war criminal Tscherim Soobzokov in Paterson, New Jersey, and a bombing in Long Island that maimed a passerby. William Ross, another JDL member, was also found guilty for his participation in the bombing that killed Wilkerson. Rochelle Manning was re-indicted for her alleged involvement, and was detained in Israel, pending extradition, when she died of a heart attack in 1994.
When Ruthless Records recording artist and former N.W.A member Dr. Dre sought to work instead with Death Row Records, Ruthless Records executives, Mike Klein and Jerry Heller were fearful of possible physical intimidation from Death Row Entertainment executives including chief executive officer Suge Knight and requested security assistance from the violent JDL. The FBI launched a money laundering investigation, on the presumption that the JDL was extorting money from Ruthless Records and several rap artists, including Tupac Shakur and Eazy-E. Heller has speculated that the FBI did not investigate these threats because of the song "Fuck Tha Police". Heller said, "It was no secret that in the aftermath of the Suge Knight shake down incident where Eazy was forced to sign over Dr. Dre, Michel'le and The D.O.C., that Ruthless was protected by Israeli trained/connected security forces." The FBI documents refer to the JDL death threats and extortion scheme but do not make a direct connection between the group and the 1996 murder of Tupac Shakur.
On December 12, 2001, JDL leader Irv Rubin and JDL member Earl Krugel were charged with planning a series of bomb attacks against the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, California, and the San Clemente office of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa, in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Rubin, who also was charged with unlawful possession of an automatic firearm, claimed that he was innocent. On November 4, 2002, at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, Rubin slit his throat with a safety razor and jumped out of a third story window. Rubin's suicide would be contested by his widow and the JDL, particularly after his co-defendant pleaded guilty to the charges and implicated Rubin in the plot. On February 4, 2003, Krugel pleaded guilty to conspiracy and weapons charges stemming from the plot, and was expected to serve up to 20 years in prison. The core of the evidence against Krugel and Rubin was in a number of conversations taped by an informant, Danny Gillis, who was hired by the men to plant the bombs but who turned to the FBI instead. According to one tape, Krugel thought the attacks would serve as "a wakeup call" to Arabs. Krugel was subsequently murdered in prison by a fellow inmate in 2005.
Outside the U.S.
Kahane immigrated to Israel from the United States in September 1971, where he initiated protests advocating the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian territories. In 1972 JDL leaflets were distributed around Hebron, calling for the mayor to stand trial for the 1929 Hebron massacre.
Kahane nominally lead the JDL until April 1974. In 1971 he founded a new political party in Israel, which ran in the 1973 elections under the name "The League List". The party won 12,811 votes (0.82%), just 2,857 (0.18%) short of the electoral threshold at the time (1%) for winning a seat. Following the elections, the party's name was changed to Kach, taken from the Irgun motto "Rak Kach" ("Only thus"). Kach failed to gain any Knesset seats in the 1977 and 1980 elections as well. In the 1984 elections the party won 25,907 votes (1.2%), passing the electoral threshold for the first time, and winning one seat, which was duly taken by Kahane.
Kahane's popularity grew, with polls showing that Kach would have likely received three to four seats in the coming November 1988 elections, and some forecasting as many as twelve seats, possibly making Kach the third largest party. However, after the Knesset passed an amendment to the Elections Law, Kach was disqualified from running in the 1988 elections by the Central Elections Committee, on the grounds of incitement to racism and negation of the democratic character of the State.
On 5 November 1990, Kahane was assassinated after making a speech in New York. The prime suspect, El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian-born American citizen, was subsequently acquitted of murder, but convicted on gun possession charges. The Kach party subsequently split in two, with Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane (Meir Kahane's son) leading a breakaway faction, Kahane Chai. Both parties were banned from participating in the 1992 elections on the basis that they were followers of the original Kach. Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane and his wife Talya were shot and killed by Palestinian terrorists on December 31, 2000.
On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli member of Kach, who in his youth was a JDL activist, opened fire on Muslims kneeling in prayer at the revered Cave of the Patriarchs mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron, killing 29 worshippers and injuring 125 before he ran out of ammunition and was himself killed. The attack set off riots and protests throughout the West Bank and 19 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces within 48 hours of the massacre. On its website, the JDL described the massacre as a "preventative measure against yet another Arab attack on Jews" and noted that they "do not consider his assault to qualify under the label of terrorism". Furthermore, they noted that "we teach that violence is never a good solution but is unfortunately sometimes necessary as a last resort when innocent lives are threatened; we therefore view Dr. Goldstein as a martyr in Judaism's protracted struggle against Arab terrorism. And we are not ashamed to say that Goldstein was a charter member of the Jewish Defense League." In a similar attack nearly twelve years earlier, on April 11, 1982, an American-born JDL member and immigrant to Israel, Allan H. Goodman, opened fire with his military-issue rifle at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the sacred Temple Mount in Jerusalem, killing one Palestinian Arab and injuring four others. The 1982 shooting sparked an Arab riot in which another Palestinian was shot dead by the police. In 1983, Goodman was sentenced by an Israeli court to life in prison (which usually means 25 years in Israel); he was released after serving 15 1/2 years on the condition of returning to the United States.
In 1995, when the Toronto residence of the Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel was the target of an arson attack, a group calling itself the "Jewish Armed Resistance Movement" claimed responsibility; according to the Toronto Sun, the group had ties to the JDL and to Kahane Chai. The leader of the Toronto wing of the Jewish Defense League, Meir Halevi, denied involvement in the attack, although, just five days later, Halevi was caught trying to break into Zündel's property, where he was apprehended by police. Later the same month Zündel was the recipient of a parcel bomb that was detonated by the Toronto police bomb squad. In 2011, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had launched an investigation against at least nine members of the JDL in regards to an anonymous tip that the JDL was plotting to bomb the Palestine House in Mississauga.
In 2002, in France, attackers from Betar and Ligue de Défense Juive (LDJ) violently assaulted Jewish demonstrators from Peace Now, journalists, police officers (one of whom was stabbed), and Arab bystanders. At least two of the suspects in the 2010 murder of a French Muslim Saïd Bourarach appeared to have ties to the French chapter of the JDL. In 2011, Israeli daily Haaretz reported members of the "French branch of Jewish terror group coming to Israel 'to defend settlements'." In 2013, a French Arab man was critically injured in a "revenge attack" by LDJ, sparking calls for further attacks against the Jews and a condemnation of the militant group by the French Jewry umbrella group CRIF; as of 2013, there have been least 115 violent incidents were attributed to LDJ "soldiers" since the group's registration in France in 2001, including many vigilante reprisals to antisemitic attacks. Earlier that year, two LDJ members were sentenced for an attack at a pro-Palestinian bookstore that injured two people and a LDJ propaganda video called for "five cops for every Jew, 10 Arabs for each rabbi."
In June 2014 two LDJ supporters were sentenced to prison in France for targeting the car of Jonathan Moadab, the Jewish co-founder of the blog "Cercle des Volontaires (Circle of Volunteers)", with a home-made bomb in September 2012.
In October 2015 around 100 people brandishing JDL flags, and Israeli flags and letting off flares attacked the Agence France Presse building in Paris. Around 12 of them, armed with batons, assaulted David Perrotin, a leading French journalist. All were linked to the Jewish Defense League (JDL).
According to the organization's official list of Chairmen or Highest Ranking Directors:
- 1968–1971 – Rabbi Meir Kahane, International Chairman. Assassinated in 1990 by Islamic militant El Sayyid Nosair, who was later convicted in Terrorism Conspiracy.
- 1971–1973 – David Fisch, a religious Columbia University student, who later wrote articles for Jewish magazines and the book Jews for Nothing.
- 1974–1976 – Russel Kelner, originally from Philadelphia. Formerly a U.S. Army lieutenant trained in counter-guerrilla warfare, he moved to New York City to direct the JDL's paramilitary summer camp JeDeL located in Wawarsing, New York, and later to run the national office as chairman.
- 1976–1978 – Bonnie Pechter.
- 1979–1981 – Brett Becker, originally from South Florida, came to New York City to become chairman.
- 1981–1983 – Meir Jolovitz, originally from Arizona, also came to New York City.
- 1983–1984 – Fern Sidman, Administrative Director.
- 1985–2002 – Irv Rubin, International Chairman. Arrested on terrorism charges; died in jail awaiting trial.
- 2002–present – Shelley Rubin, Administrative Director (2002–2006); Chairman/CEO (2006–present).
After Rubin's death in prison in November 2002, Bill Maniaci was appointed interim chairman by Shelley Rubin. Two years later, the Jewish Defense League became mired in a state of upheaval over legal control of the organization. In October 2004, Maniaci rejected Shelley Rubin's call for him to resign; as a result, Maniaci was stripped of his title and membership. At that point, the JDL split into two separate factions, each vying for legal control of the associated "intellectual property." The two operated as separate organizations with the same name while a lengthy legal battle ensued. In April 2005, the original domain name of the organization, jdl.org, was suspended by Network Solutions due to allegations of infringement; the organization went back online soon thereafter at domain name jewishdefenseleague.org. In April 2006, news of a settlement was announced in which signatories agreed to not object to "Shelley Rubin's titles of permanent chairman and CEO of JDL." The agreement also confirmed that "the name 'Jewish Defense League,' the acronym 'JDL,' and the 'Fist and Star' logo are the exclusive intellectual property of JDL." (Opponents of both groups claim that these are Kahanist symbols and not the exclusive property of JDL. At this time, however, the logo is no longer in general use by the Kahanist groups.) The agreement also states: "Domain names registered on behalf of JDL, including but not limited to jdl.org and jewishdefenseleague.org, are owned and operated by JDL." Meanwhile, the opposing group formed B'nai Elim, which is the latest of many JDL splinter groups to have formed over the years (previous splinter groups included the Jewish Direct Action and the United Jewish Underground that have been active during the 1980s).
The JDL upholds five fundamental principles
- "LOVE OF JEWRY, one Jewish people, indivisible and united, from which flows the love for and the feeling of pain of all Jews."
- "DIGNITY AND PRIDE, pride in and knowledge of Jewish tradition, faith, culture, land, history, strength, pain and peoplehood."
- "IRON, the need to both move to help Jews everywhere and to change the Jewish image through sacrifice and all necessary means—even strength, force and violence."
- "DISCIPLINE AND UNITY, the knowledge that he (or she) can and will do whatever must be done, and the unity and strength of willpower to bring this into reality."
- "FAITH IN THE INDESTRUCTIBILITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE, faith in the greatness and indestructibility of the Jewish people, our religion and our Land of Israel."
The JDL encourages, per its principle of the "Love of Jewry," that "...in the end...the Jew can look to no one but another Jew for help and that the true solution to the Jewish problem is the liquidation of the Exile and the return of all Jews to Eretz Yisroel – the land of Israel." The JDL elaborates on this fundamental principle by insisting upon an "immediate need to place Judaism over any other 'ism' and ideology and...use of the yardstick: 'Is it good for Jews?'" The JDL argues that, outside of Jews, there are historically no people corresponding to the Palestinian ethnicity. Writing on its official website, the JDL claims: "[T]he first mention of a 'Palestinian people' dates from the aftermath of the 1967 war, when the local Arabic-speaking communities ... were retrospectively endowed with a contrived 'nationhood' ... taken from Jewish history ..." and that "[c]learly, since Roman times 'Palestinian' had meant Jews until the Arab's recent adoption of this identity in order to claim it as their land." On this basis, the JDL argues that "Zionism [should be] under no obligation to accommodate a separate 'Palestinian' claim, there being no historical evidence or witness for any such Arab category," and it considers Palestinian claims to be "Arab usurpation" of proper Jewish title.
Relations with other groups
In 1971, Kahane aligned the JDL with the Italian-American Civil Rights League, created the previous year by the Italian American mob boss Joseph Colombo, head of the Colombo crime family. In 2011, the Canadian JDL organized a "support rally" for the English Defence League (EDL) featuring a live speech, via Skype, by EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. The event was denounced and condemned by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) leader Bernie Farber and general counsel Benjamin Shinewald. The rally, held at the Toronto Zionist Centre, attracted a counter-protest organized by Anti-Racist Action (ARA) resulting in four ARA members being arrested. The JDL Canada has also organized rallies in support of right-wing Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin and Dutch politician and well-known Islam critic Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom, and announced its support for the increasingly anti-Islamic Freedom Party of Austria.
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