Did Irv Rubin attempt to commit suicide or did somebody try to murder him

LOS ANGELES — Irv Rubin, the national chairman of the Jewish Defense League, lived his life surrounded by controversy.

So it's not surprising that his apparent suicide attempt this week in a Los Angeles jail is surrounded by controversy as well.

There were conflicting reports of Rubin's condition after he apparently slit his throat with a jail-issued safety razor around 5 a.m. local time on Monday, and then jumped or fell over a railing and plummeted some 18 feet to the concrete floor below.

There also are questions about whether Rubin committed suicide; his family and some Jewish extremists are demanding investigations into the situation.

Rubin was arrested in December and has been held in federal detention since then.

Rubin was to have appeared Monday for a status conference on the case. He and an associate, Earl Krugel, face charges that they planned last year to blow up the King Fahd mosque near Los Angeles and the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-San Clemente.), a descendant of Lebanese Christian immigrants.

Rubin and Krugel claim they were set up on the bombing charges by an FBI informant.

According to prison authorities, Rubin, 57, underwent surgery at a nearby hospital but has not regained consciousness.

Rubin's wife, Shelley, and his son Ari originally said that Rubin had died at the hospital, but his attorney, Peter Morris, later stated that Rubin "is on life support and his prognosis is dire. He is brain dead. I don't know if there is any indication that that can change in a positive way."

Both Rubin's wife and some of his ideological supporters rejected the suicide scenario and suggested that the JDL leader might have been the target of federal authorities.

Shelley Rubin said her husband had been in good spirits when she visited him Sunday and that he would never have violated Jewish law by taking his own life. She asked for a full murder investigation of the case.

But Mark Werksman, Krugel's defense attorney, said that Rubin had been despondent for months, had lost 40 pounds and that the pressure of the upcoming trial weighed heavily on him.

The tall, burly Rubin grew up in Montreal and once recalled that his mother told him to go out and fight a kid who had called him a "dirty Jew."

At age 16, Rubin and his family moved to Los Angeles, and five years later he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Discharged, he proudly served as a page at the 1964 Republican convention in San Francisco, which nominated Barry Goldwater as its presidential candidate.

Rubin's life took another turn when he heard a speech by Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1971 and was enthralled by the rabbi's calls for Jewish self-defense.

Rubin joined Kahane's JDL and soon participated in protests on behalf of Soviet Jews. Soon he fought with neo-Nazis, and just as quickly was arrested — the first of more than 40 acknowledged arrests — for the attempted murder of a Nazi he had confronted in a Hollywood television studio.

After Kahane moved to Israel, where he founded the Kach Party — which is now on the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations — Rubin moved up in the JDL ranks and became national chairman in 1985, a rather grandiose title for a small but vocal organization, which soon split in two.

Over the past decades, the JDL has struck out against the perceived "softness" in the Israeli government and American Jewish organizations as much as against neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites. The JDL's Web site hailed the assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as well as Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Arabs praying in a Hebron mosque in 1994.

The JDL's violent views were reflected in the slogans "For every Jew a .22" and "Keep Jews alive with a .45."

The Anti-Defamation League has compiled a 21-page dossier listing the JDL's violent acts in Israel and the United States between 1969 and 1995.

Whether it was middle age or a change in tactics, in the last few years Rubin seemed to have become less aggressive, at least in public, and has appeared in three-piece suits at forums hosted by synagogues.

Rubin's alleged suicide attempt came one day short of the 12th anniversary of Kahane's assassination in New York.

A statement from the Kahane Movement declared, "Everybody knows that Irv Rubin was arrested so that America could show that they are not exclusively targeting radical Islamics. Jewish terrorists had to be found, created and fabricated."

The movement also called "upon the Israeli government to demand a commission of inquiry from the American authorities to investigate the false charges brought against Rubin and to investigate his mysterious death.''

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent