December 24, 2015
Well, I”ll be damned. The mainstream media has finally discovered the Jewish Defense League. And only a decade or two too late. But why nitpick? Any old fool can condemn a terrorist group while it’s actively threatening and murdering people, but CNN didn”t get where it is today (the basement) by being rash and foolhardy (you know, like nearly going on air with the false announcement of a president’s death). Like a cobra with Down syndrome, CNN knows that the best time to strike is when the target is dead and motionless.
Because of my own history with the JDL (CliffsNotes version: The group tried to kill me), some of my friends understandably thought I”d cheer the clips they emailed me of CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield lecturing a Donald Trump supporter about how Jews are supposedly just as bad as Muslims when it comes to terrorism in the U.S.:
You know what? I”m going to tell ya something. There’s a guy named John Pistole, who just recently was running the TSA. Uh, real venerable guy. He, before that, was with the FBI. He was an executive assistant director for counterterror and counterintelligence and he sat before Congress in 2004 and he testified”and this is to your point about there are no Jews coming to hurt Americans”he testified about, from a period of 1980 to 1985, there were 18 terrorist attacks in the United States committed by Jews. Fifteen of them by members of the Jewish Defense League. The head of the Jewish Defense League was in jail awaiting trial on charges of trying to bomb a mosque in Culver City, trying to bomb Darrell Issa’s office, an Arab-American. What are you talking about?! There have been Jewish terrorist attacks! Should we therefore ask no Jews to please apply for a visa?… I”m telling you that there have been that many terrorist attacks committed by Jews and no one’s suggesting for a minute that all Jews should be wiped out of this country from visiting. It’s the same thing.
Banfield left out the anticlimactic coda. In December 2001, JDL forzitser Irv Rubin was arrested, along with his right-hand man Earl Krugel, for plotting to blow up Muslim targets in Southern California in retaliation for 9/11. He died in L.A. County lockup awaiting trial, and Krugel was murdered by a fellow inmate after pleading guilty to the charges. By 2005, Rubin and Krugel were dead, and the JDL existed in name only. JDL violence (in the U.S.) went the way of New Coke, the rotary phone, and Gallagher.
Frankly, I find CNN’s sudden “discovery” of JDL terrorism offensive and disingenuous. During the years that the group was terrorizing people like me, mainstream news organizations were dead silent. CNN especially. Prior to the December 2001 arrests, CNN.com didn”t feature one single story about JDL “terrorism.” In fact, when mentioned at all, the JDL was described only as an “activist group,” and the JDL website (the one that contained a death warrant calling for my violent demise) was routinely featured as a “related site” link in stories about the Middle East.
Now that the JDL in the U.S. is no longer a threat, all of a sudden JDL terrorism matters, but only as a weapon to be wielded against critics of Islamic extremism. This is cowardly and cynical. The fact is, as long as the JDL was attacking the “right” victims (real or perceived white racists and anti-Semites), the media turned a blind eye. Hell, worse than a blind eye. Rubin was a popular talk-show guest, his “terrorism” conveniently forgotten. Then”KABC talk show host Larry Elder even attended the man’s funeral, telling the L.A. Times, “I thought of him as a courageous champion for what he believed in. I thought of him as a hothead who often led with his mouth, but not someone who would kill people” (ironically, Elder would end up becoming my business partner during my years as a GOP organizer, never knowing that he was working with a man Rubin had indeed tried to kill).
Mainstream left and right ignored JDL violence because Rubin was going after the “white fringe”: Holocaust deniers, white nationalists, people with strong anti-Jewish views, and people like me, who were not deniers, racists, or anti-Semites, but who were tarred as such by the press. In July 1984, when the JDL firebombed the warehouse and library of the Holocaust revisionist/denial publishing house the Institute for Historical Review, the silence from the media moved Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian John Toland to pen a letter condemning the blackout:
When I learned of the torching of the office-warehouse of the Institute for Historical Review I was shocked. And when I heard no condemnation of this act of terrorism on television and read no protests in the editorial pages of our leading newspapers or from the halls of academia, I was dismayed and incensed. Where are those defenders of democracy who over the years have so vigorously protested the burning of books by Hitler? Are they only summer soldiers of democracy, selective in their outrage? I call on all true believers in democracy to join me in public denunciation of the recent burning of books in Torrance, California.
Alexander Cockburn expressed similar sentiments in his March 20, 1989, “Beat the Devil” column in The Nation. Slamming Western intellectuals for their hypocrisy in championing Salman Rushdie while turning a blind eye to the persecution of those who “blaspheme” Western orthodoxies, Cockburn wrote: “The outfit in the United States that does publish material belittling generally accepted accounts of the Nazi extermination of the Jews is called the Institute for Historical Review. I don”t recall much fuss when its offices in Torrance, California, were firebombed in July 1984. Perhaps this is what [Norman] Mailer meant by “sophistication” in handling such heterodox opinion.”