Jews must stand by Jews &mdash including the marginalized JDL

A deafening silence overcame the Jewish community this month after Jewish Defense League member Earl Krugel was murdered in an Arizona prison.

The 62-year old Navy veteran and former dental technician — three days into a 20-year federal sentence — was exercising when another inmate came up behind him and hit him over the head with a concrete block, killing him instantly.

Why a loose cement block was just hanging around the exercise yard is still unknown. Authorities have been fairly tightlipped so far, but the investigation has reportedly focused on a white supremacist inmate.

Despite all the questions surrounding the case, not one Jewish group other than the JDL has called for an investigation. And they reacted in exactly the same manner after former JDL chairman Irv Rubin’s alleged suicide.

The truth is the American Jewish community has long been wary of associating itself with the JDL, which it sees as an obstacle to its own comfortable existence as non-threatening Jews. While Jews have shown concern in the past over the fate of Jewish prisoners housed with neo-Nazis and such, when it comes to the JDL, it seems that some Jewish lives are deemed more important than others.

But perhaps the JDL’s reputation as hardcore extremists is off the mark. Richard Rosenthal was a New York police officer who went undercover to investigate the JDL in 1970 and he wrote a book about the experience, “Rookie Cop.” The picture Rosenthal paints of the JDL hardly demonstrates the ruthless and criminally skilled organization so often portrayed by its opponents. If anything, JDL members were beset by mishaps, petty infighting and a lack of experience. Such internecine squabbling continues today with a split within the JDL that shows no sign of letting up, even after Krugel’s death.

Beyond all the accusations of extremism, it appears the JDL’s real crime has always been standing up unequivocally for the Jewish people. They are Jews who refuse to be victims. They believe in armed self-defense as the best means of combating anti-Semitism. For this they are shunned by the mainstream Jewish community to this day.

Indeed, there is such a strong prejudice among Jews against displays of strength that those who stray from the party line are immediately ostracized. This is why if one dares mention the JDL in Jewish company, they are sure to be met with either immediate dismissal or a barrage of animosity.

The Anti-Defamation League has been particularly strident in its denunciation of the JDL, going so far as to commend the FBI for arresting Irv Rubin. From the ADL Web site: “For more than a quarter of a century, [the] ADL has been monitoring the contemptible activities of the JDL and its leadership.”

Rabbi Myra Soifer of Temple Sinai synagogue in Reno (where the JDL recently held a conference) told the Reno Gazette-Journal: “There is nothing about the JDL I think as acceptable … I think, in the end, they are harmful to Jews and Jewish survival.”

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said of the JDL: “They’re extremists. They really have been marginalized. None of the credible [Jewish] groups would have anything to do with these people.”

Some have simply written off Rubin and Krugel’s deaths as the deserved end to lives of controversy. But the point isn’t whether Krugel and Rubin were the “terrorists” they’ve been labeled, but rather that prominent Jews in federal custody have a curious habit of dying under mysterious circumstances. In a time when liberal organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International devote an inordinate amount of energy to standing up for the rights of Islamic terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, one would think that Jewish “extremists” would garner as much concern. But the overriding attitude has been one of silence, dismissal and even contempt.

If there’s anything the JDL can teach the Jewish community, it’s the principle that Jews must stand up for other Jews. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel, whose deaths are being largely disregarded because of their unpopular politics.

Perhaps it’s time to right that wrong.

Cinnamon Stillwell is a Bay Area-based columnist for and Israel National News and she can be reached at [email protected].