The Jewish Defense League (JDL) is a radical organization that preaches a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism. Its late founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane, claimed that Jews face fierce anti-Semitism domestically and abroad and must protect themselves by any means necessary. The JDL's position with regard to Israel is denial of any Palestinian claims to land and the calling for the removal of all Arabs from the "Jewish-inherited soil." The group has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad, and has engaged in intense harassment of foreign diplomats, Muslims, Jewish scholars and community leaders, and officials.
In Its Own Words
"To turn the other cheek is not a Jewish concept. Do not listen to the soothing anesthesia of the establishment. They walk in the paths of those whose timidity helped bury our brothers and sisters less than thirty years ago." —Rabbi Meir Kahane, Jewish Defense League founder
"[I]n the end — with few exceptions — the Jew can look to no one but another Jew for help and … 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."— Jewish Defense League's "Five Principles"
"It was the lack of discipline and Jewish unity that led continually to the destruction of the Jewish people. It is Jewish unity and self-discipline that will lead to the triumph of the Jewish people." — Jewish Defense League's "Five Principles"
The Jewish Defense League was founded in 1968 by Rabbi Meir Kahane (born Martin Kahane). Its inception was part of the white backlash surrounding the New York City teachers' union strikes of 1968. The strikes brought to the surface racial tension between the predominantly Jewish teachers union, and black residents who were seeking greater control over their neighborhood schools. This, coupled with black demands for more civil service jobs, stirred the already hostile racial climate in Manhattan's neighborhoods and led working-class Jews in the outer boroughs to join the JDL. Kahane, who then wrote for The Jewish Weekly, an Orthodox periodical, flooded the tabloids with stories of blacks and Puerto Ricans terrorizing Jews in Manhattan. He dispatched JDL units to "patrol" predominantly Jewish areas, which ultimately led to an ethnic polarization of neighborhoods.
By 1970, however, the JDL had changed its primary cause to the plight of Soviet Jews. From that point on, the main objective of the JDL was to terrorize Soviet establishments in the U.S. to influence the communist nation to change its anti-Semitic policies — specifically, its ban on emigration to Israel. The terrorism become so severe that President Richard Nixon feared JDL activity would threaten the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) II negotiations with the Soviet Union. In 1970 alone, the JDL committed five acts of terrorism, taking over the East Park Synagogue in Manhattan twice, in May and in November, to protest the Soviet U.N. Mission across the street. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, JDL members did everything from pouring blood over the head of a Soviet diplomat at a reception in Washington, D.C., to planting a smoke bomb in a Carnegie Hall performance of a Soviet orchestra. With each incident, the JDL claimed responsibility by phoning in its official slogan, in reference to the Holocaust, "Never again!"
Members of the Jewish community in Moscow, however, made clear that they did not appreciate the JDL's efforts in the U.S., which were made allegedly on their behalf. In a New York Times article headlined "Anti-Soviet Violence Here Upsets Jews in Moscow," Soviet Jews publicly made their case against the JDL. "A number of Jewish activists refused permission to emigrate … feel that [anti-Soviet] harassment in New York hurts their cause and may give Soviet authorities an excuse to become even more intransigent," the newspaper reported.
Though Soviets were their main victims, the JDL has targeted anyone it considers a threat to the survival of radical Jewish nationalism. This includes U.S. and foreign diplomats, domestic radical-right organizations, Arab and Muslim activists, journalists and scholars, and Jewish community members who are simply not "Jewish enough." In 1975, six JDL members forced their way into the office of the executive vice president of the San Francisco Jewish Welfare Foundation and assaulted four staff members, including one who had been crippled from time spent in a concentration camp. The break-in was to protest the "slow response" of the federation to community needs of Jews in San Francisco.
The following year, JDL members began targeting diplomats of all nations who had voted for a U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism. Three members were charged with invading and vandalizing the Mexican consulate in Philadelphia, and were later convicted of obstructing foreign officials and their duties, damaging property of a foreign government, and conspiracy.
The JDL also pitted its radical agenda against that of Nazis. In 1981, 20 members of the JDL took over the offices of the American Civil Liberties Union in Atlanta to protest its representation of neo-Nazis in court. Later that year, eight members attacked National Socialist Party of America leader Harold Covington with steel pipes as he approached NBC studios in New York, which led Covington to state, later that evening on the "Tomorrow" show, that "all Jews should be gassed." Earlier that year, the JDL had terrorized Boleslavs Maikovskis, an accused Nazi war criminal. A representative from the JDL took responsibility for throwing four gasoline firebombs into the Latvian ex-Nazi's home in Mineola, N.Y.
The JDL has experienced waves of internal strife throughout its years of operation, first of all with Kahane's emigration to Israel in 1971. Kahane's successor, David Fisch, was a Columbia University student who could not maintain unity in the early years. Kahane returned to the U.S. in 1974 to name Russel Kelner international chairman. Kelner was a former U.S. Army lieutenant, trained in guerilla warfare and ready to direct the JDL's paramilitary camp. In 1990, an Egyptian-born Islamic extremist, El Sayyid Nosair, assassinated Kahane during a Zionist conference in New York City, again throwing the group into disarray.
The JDL got some unwelcome international attention in 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, a JDL member, massacred 29 Palestinian Muslims kneeling in prayer at a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron. The JDL's website justifies Goldstein's mass murder by saying "Goldstein took a preventative measure against yet another Arab attack on Jews."
In 2002, then-JDL Chairman Irv Rubin was jailed while awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy in planning bomb attacks against the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Calif., and on the office of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa. Rubin slit his throat with a prison-issued safety razor, and fell or jumped off a balcony, sustaining injuries that led to his death several days later. Rubin's co-defendant in the case, Earl Krugel, met a similar fate in 2005 in a Phoenix prison when another inmate, reportedly, swung a bag containing a cinderblock into the back of Krugel's head, killing him. Krugel was murdered less than two months after being sentenced as part of a plea bargain.
In 2003, the Rubin family filed a wrongful death suit, citing allegedly suspicious circumstances. Upon the death of Rubin, Shelley Rubin, Irv's widow, named Bill Maniaci temporary leader of the JDL. In 2004, Rubin called for Maniaci to resign. When he refused, he was stripped of his title and membership, taking a large portion of the organization with him. After a lengthy legal battle over the JDL's intellectual property and website, Shelley Rubin won the title of permanent chairman and CEO of the JDL.
In 2009, never-before-seen FBI documents concerning Rubin's alleged confession and details about his death were published by the online news site TheEnterpriseReport.com.
The FBI deemed the league a right-wing terrorist group in their report "Terrorism 2000/2001," but its domestic influence has waned in the years since, and today the JDL has no active chapters in the U.S. The JDL continues to wield steady membership through its website and blog, which distort news stories in order to vilify politicians, academics, and community leaders as "anti-Semitic." One such attack was entitled "Carter the Jew Hater," and attacked the former president's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The JDL today has chapters in Eastern Europe, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Russia, and the United Kingdom.