When I was a child, my friends used to be afraid of many things. Darkness would bring monsters, boogie men and strange creatures that would attack them in the night. They used to insist that their parents keep a light on, the door open or in some extreme cases, sit with them until they fell asleep. It was childish, ridiculous and cute.
I was a bit more pragmatic. I wasn’t sure if these boogie men and monsters existed, but just in case, I put a small plastic baseball bat near my bed. If any monster was going to visit me, I was going to bop it on the nose. In my childish mind, this solved the problem and I slept well at night.
Today, I’m the same pragmatist. I don’t believe in the imminent dangers of the world’s boogie man. I don’t believe radical Islam is hiding behind every street corner and in every dark alley there is a bearded turbaned man waiting to cut my head off. To live like that would be horrific.
The truth is that the media blows things way out of proportion, it sells advertising. So a singular attack in France that kills four people becomes world-wide news with wall to wall coverage on major networks.
Terrorists have won. We have changed our lives, our way of living and our way of thinking. That is why, it came as a great surprise to me, that some Jews in Montreal decided to create a chapter of the radically violent Jewish Defence League.
When I heard that the JDL was planning on setting up shop in Montreal, I immediately spoke out against it. The past few weeks have felt like I’ve returned to my childhood.
I didn’t oppose the JDL because I had any problems with Jews defending Jews, by gosh, my whole life has been devoted to the notion that Jews must stand up, be tough and fight against any imminent threat, even if it requires a physical response. I don’t shy away from violence, when violence is appropriate and I fully respect those brave souls who put their lives and physical being in jeopardy to stand in defense of Jews.
My issue with the Jewish Defense League stems from a deeper understanding of their philosophy. I’ve had extensive talks with former members of the JDL. I was friends with Irv Rubin, the late long time chairman of the group. We had long conversations about the philosophy of the group and I hosted plenty of radio shows (Irv was a former Montrealer and visited family in the city occasionally) where Irv would come on to comment about one thing or another. It is possible that my show was the last show (or nearly last) that Irv appeared on as he was arrested just a few weeks after a visit to Montreal and died in prison just months later.
While the JDL’s cause, in the 60s, was noble, the JDL today is a pale shade of what it once was. Rabbi Meir Kahane’s philosophy of using a “Jewish brain with a Jewish fist” was pushed to the wayside as the leadership of the group realized that once their mission of getting the Soviet Jewish agenda to the front of the Jewish agenda had disappeared, there wasn’t much left for them to do. So smart violence suddenly became violence for the sake of publicity.
Irv would appear on various talk shows and start physical fights with Jew haters. A simple Youtube search will show Irv on the Wally George Show attacking former KKK Grand Wizard Tom Metzger or on Jerry Springer attacking neo Nazis and KKK members or even on Geraldo Rivera’s show brawling with Jew haters. These tactics may have brought the JDL back to the national trailer trash forefront, may have gotten articles written about them, but surely they cheapened the message that Jews are tough and not to be messed with.
But to understand the JDL, we have to understand their history. The group was formed to fight for the release of Soviet Jews. In the late 1960s and early 70s they would attack Soviet performers and diplomats in New York City with their battle cry ‘Never Again!’ . They would demand the release of Soviet Jews after every attack, during every arrest and were so successful in driving the Soviets crazy that in 1970, the Soviet Government newspaper Izvestia protested the repeated attacks and demanded better US protection. JDL founder Rabbi Meir Kahane admitted in the 1980s that the JDL was responsible for bombing the Russian cultural mission and the Soviet trade offices in Washington in the 1970s.
In 1972, Jerome Zeller, an American JDL member was indicted on charges of planting a bomb at impresario Saul Hurok’s Manhattan office. Hurkok was one of the many New York Jews that were bringing in Russian performers in a effort to ease the tension of the Cold War. Hurkok’s Jewish secretary, Iris Kones, 27, was killed and Hurkok and 12 others were wounded in the attack.
Zeller ran to Israel, who at the time did not extradite Jews to stand trial in other countries. He served in the Yom Kippur War and then disappeared into the Settler’s movement of the 1980s.
In October 1985, Alex Odeah, 37, the regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Santa Ana California, appeared on ABC’s Nightline and called Yasser Arafat a “man of peace”. The next day a letter bomb exploded in his office killing him and his secretary. The Jewish Defense League issued a statement praising the bombing but denied they were involved.
The FBI narrowed down suspects to JDL members Robert and Rochelle Manning. The Mannings were also suspected of planting a house bomb that killed suspected Nazi war criminal Tscherim Soobzokov in New Jersey, the thwarted bombing of the Boston American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee offices, where two policemen were severely injured, the bombing of suspected Nazi Elmars Sprogis’ house in Long Island where an innocent pedestrian lost a leg and a fire at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee office in Washington DC, which was labelled arson.
Robert and Rochelle Manning lived in freedom in Israel until 1991, when the Israeli Government, bowing to American pressure, agreed to extradite them. Robert Manning was extradited to the States and stood trial for the letter bomb murder of secretary Patricia Wilkerson. He was found guilty in 1993 of complicity in the Wilkerson murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1994, Rochelle Manning died of a heart attack in Israeli prison while she awaited extradition.
When I pointed this out to Jewish Montrealers who welcomed the JDL to town, I was told it was ‘ancient history’. Then I pointed out that in December 2001 the late Earl Krugel pleaded guilty to, along with the late JDL Chairman Irv Rubin, plotting to bomb the office of Congressman Darrell Issa in Los Angeles. Both men were arrested, both men died in prison.
In 1994, all Kahane groups including the JDL were banned in Israel. The United States has, in the past, listed the JDL as a ‘terrorist organization’ and the FBI considers it a ‘former terrorist organization’. In Canada, the JDL is legal.
So that said, is the Canadian JDL any different than the American mother group? It is a question that remains to be seen. In Toronto, the JDL claims to cooperate with the police and work in conjunction will law enforcement.
Yet in 2011, at least nine members of the Canadian branch of the JDL were investigated by the RCMP for an alleged plot to blow up the Palestine House in Mississauga Ontario. Canadian JDL head Meir Weinstein confirmed that members of his group were under RCMP investigation, but denied JDL involvement. No charges were laid.
If the 100 or so Jews that showed up at the JDL meeting on Monday night were hoping for salvation, they may have opened the door to a vipers den that will be extremely hard to close.
I don’t believe the JDL is needed in Montreal. I don’t believe Montreal has the problems that other major metropolises have and I don’t believe we are headed in that direction.
Expressing that opinion early this week got me called mentally ill, and that may be true, if you define mental illness as ‘a pragmatic look at the pros and cons of engaging a historically radical, one time terrorist group, to ensure the security of our community’.
I have no ill wishes for the JDL and will welcome them with open arms if the situation in Montreal ever warrants it. But for now, I wish they would stay in Toronto and do what they do best, over there.