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But it’s comedy only when no one gets hurt. A bystander was wounded in New York when a JDL rival fired shots in Rubin‘s direction. And extremists were responsible for two of Israel’s most devastating tragedies.
In 1994, onetime JDL member Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshippers in a Jerusalem mosque, prompting Israel to ban Kahane-inspired groups as illegal terrorist organizations. Extremists fell into further disrepute for their role in the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Rubin‘s JDL, based in Los Angeles, seemed little more than a historical footnote, except when his crew made news by scuffling with skinheads, picketing Jesse Jackson or heckling mainstream Jewish organizations. Or, most notably, when the JDL fell under suspicion in 1985 after a bomb killed Alex Odeh, a Palestinian-American who was west coast director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The murder remains unsolved. In an unrelated case, a jury convicted JDL member Robert Manning in 1994 of complicity in the letter-bombing death of a secretary in Manhattan Beach. The attack was contracted by a fellow JDL supporter over a business dispute with the owner of the firm where the secretary worked. The killing had no connection to JDL causes, but was a potent reminder of a violent strain in the group.
Until the December arrests, JDL’s latter-day coin has mainly been rhetoric, and even that had been toned down. The JDL still opposes relinquishing any territory gained by Israel during past wars, but Krugel talks of expelling only those Arabs who oppose the Israeli government -- a moderation to be sure, though hardly enough to win over Palestinians. The JDL also lobbies t the Burbank City Council from opening its gatherings with a sectarian prayer.
Outside the core of rabble-rousers, there are at least several hundred dues-paying, non-activist members nationwide, according to both the JDL and law enforcement. Some members have reportedly talked of leaving the organization over its alleged resumption of violence, but others perceive a welcome resurgence in the U.S. of an unapologetically combative and confrontational Jewish right wing.
”More Jews were killed in the World Trade Center than in a whole year of fighting in Israel. So Jews aren‘t safe here either,“ said Avi Rosenberg, a Kahane follower who splits time between Israel and Florida. ”God has his ways of waking people up. Israel was burning for a year, and suddenly there is more sympathy for Israel. Everyone in Israel says Kahane was right now. Arabs have to be sent to their own 22 countries. The movement is bigger than ever.“
The Anti-Defamation League argues that the number of Jewish extremists remains minuscule, and that the Israeli government’s crackdown on them has been effective. But critics of Israeli policy say the government itself -- with its policy of assassinating suspected terrorists rather than bringing them to trial, for example -- has adopted a form of state-sponsored intimidation and lawlessness that is difficult to separate from what used to be considered right-wing extremism.
”The idea that Jewish extremism has gone away is an optical illusion, because Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an architect of the occupation of the West Bank, is the government,“ said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, a board member of the Progressive Jewish Alliance in Los Angeles. ”In Israel, you no longer have to be outside the government to be an extremist.“ Moreover, added Beliak, ”The right wing controls the streets in Israel. It takes tremendous courage for the left, or for anyone who would mount a political protest against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, even to express themselves.“
Half a world away, local Jewish leaders prefer to view the alleged bomb plot as disturbing, reprehensible and isolated. ”This is not a vast international conspiracy,“ said David Lehrer, a longtime L.A. Jewish community leader who is well familiar with the JDL road show. ”These are a handful of guys who need a therapist more than anything else. There‘s not much there there. But they’re not to be taken lightly either. Buford Furrow made it very clear that you don‘t need a huge cohort of individuals to wreak havoc.“
Dennis Dockstader contributed to this story.