Earl Krugel, a Jewish Defense League activist convicted of plotting Southern California bombings against local mosques, Muslim-American organizations and an Arab-American congressman, died in federal prison on November 4th. He was murdered while exercising by a fellow inmate who smashed his skull with a concrete block. While there is talk that he was murdered by a white supremacist prisoner, Krugel certainly could’ve been targeted by a Muslim prisoner as well. The government has begun a murder investigation.
While Meir Kahane founded the JDL in New York in 1968, Irv Rubin brought the group to the west coast some time after. Two of his intimates were the brothers, Earl and Barry Krugel. Someone has started an Earl Krugel website in order to frame him as a Jewish hero and martyr. But make no mistake, these were bad hombres.
In 1985, Alex Odeh, Southern California director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee was assassinated by a bomb. Almost immediately, attention focused on Irv Rubin and his cohorts in the JDL. Though charges were never filed and no one has ever been convicted for the crime, the FBI has worked on the case for 20 years under the assumption that it was JDL-inspired and executed.
I have a personal connection to all this. In 1985, I was regional director for New Jewish Agenda in Los Angeles. NJA was a deeply controversial organization for some Jews because it advocated positions on two issues that were anathema to many: a two state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and gay and lesbian rights. You’ll have to remember that in those days for an Israeli or American Jew to even talk to a Palestinian, let alone advocate Palestinian rights (as NJA did) had a distinct aura of taboo.
Alex Odeh was murdered in October, 1985. The local NJA chapter took out an ad in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal mourning Alex’s death and calling for Jews to commit themselves to the ideals for reconciliation he represented. After his death, Agenda held a December, 1985 Hanukah party and invited Alex’s brother, Sami, to join us in lighting candles. Though I was not there, it was a lovely gathering as shown in a Los Angeles Times article about the event written by Kathleen Hendrix. NJA wasn’t the only courageous group, because it took enormous bravery for Sami to come to our event. Jews had just murdered his brother, yet he felt it important to reach out to a Jewish group to say that there was a just resolution of the conflict available to both sides. Also, his fellow Arab-Americans probably suspected him as well for joining with “the enemy.” Just as Jews suspected those who embraced Palestinians, the latter suspected their own who embraced Jews. I had enormous respect for Sami’s symbolic gesture.
After Agenda ran the ad memorializing Alex, I received a threatening phone message on my office answering machine saying (I don’t remember everything he said but I’ll always remember this phrase): “Odeh was just a fuckin’ dead sand nigger. Watch yourselves.”
I was of two minds about the message. 1985 was still before the age of widespread terror. It was still hard to believe that a Jew would commit murder for a Jewish cause. And in those days (and up to today), the Left deeply mistrusted the FBI. But I resolved in light of Alex’s murder that anyone who could leave such a message was capable of causing me great harm. I called an attorney who was a local chapter member and asked his advice regarding what I should do. I then decided to call the FBI. They came to my office (I later got in trouble with the national organization because I allowed the FBI into our office, which we shared with another “controversial” Nicaraguan cultural group), listened to the tape and immediately said: “That’s Earl. I’d know that voice anywhere.”
That was my personal brush with Jewish terror (aside from the rock in the face I suffered at a 1979 Israeli rally calling for negotiations with the PLO). I’m not aware of any JDL attacks on Jews they disagreed with politically. Perhaps they did observe a few restraints upon their murderous behavior. But I didn’t want to take a chance. In case anything did happen to me, I wanted the FBI to know. And in case, they did prosecute the JDL at a later date, I also wanted them to know.
In 2003, Krugel was convicted of plotting with Rubin to bomb the headquarters of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the King Fahd mosque and the offices of Orange County Arab-American congressman, Darrell Issa. At a court hearing during Krugel’s trial, Salam Al-Mayayati, executive director of MPAC, spoke of Krugel, his crime and Alex Odeh.
“I want to thank the court for giving me the opportunity on behalf of the Muslim American community to address you. I would like to appeal…for Earl Krugel to receive the maximum sentence for his crime to harm me, my institution, a mosque and a congressman’s office. Mr. Krugel should be treated like any terrorist, even though there is no mention of this term in the charges against him. My family and my community have had to live with the fear of being targets of terrorism since the day the FBI informed us of this plot…We appreciate the FBI’s diligence in foiling this plot and will continue to work closely with them to prevent terrorism and to ensure that conflicts rooted in the Middle East do not spill over to our neighborhoods in America. To this day, we are living under the shadow of terror as a result of Mr. Krugel’s actions. For justice to be served, we strongly urge you to consider that the same punishment be levied against him as anyone who plans to target synagogues or churches or any other American houses of worship and their leaders.
“The fear we suffer from today is similar to that felt by the family of Alex Odeh, whose murder from 20 years ago remains an open investigation for the FBI. In October 1985, Alex Odeh was killed by a bomb at the offices of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Orange County. I do not know the terms of the plea agreement with Mr. Krugel. I only hope that he has cooperated in providing information that will help apprehend the culprits of Alex’s assassination. Because Alex’s killers remain at large, we continue to live under the threat of terrorism, and we ask you, your honor, to ensure that criminal elements who plan to do harm to any American are put away for good to keep our…houses of worship safe …Regardless of what Earl Krugel attempted to do to us, his nefarious plan did not ruin our relations with the Jewish or Christian community. It has actually strengthened it, as is evident by the solidarity of Jewish and Christian leaders with me today. A crime of this magnitude…should receive the maximum punishment allotted by the statute to deter Krugel and those like him from doing more harm to our country.”
The Los Angeles Jewish Journal (the same publication which ran the Agenda memorial ad in 1985) reported on Krugel’s 2003 conviction providing the fullest background information on Alex Odeh’s alleged murderers which I’ve seen online. The article also candidly assesses the resonance of the JDL message today:
The sentencing marked the official denouement to the best-known public faces of the JDL, whose mantra called for Jews to defend themselves by any means necessary. The aborted anti-Arab terrorist plot was something of a last gasp for JDL leaders trying to reassert their relevance. The group and its adherents have virtually vanished from the American scene, although its ideological descendants continue to play a role in the body politic of Israel.
At one point, the government voided the plea agreement, because prosecutors decided Krugel was not cooperating enough. Although the government’s reasons for backing out of the deal and the response from Krugel’s defense were filed under seal, the government was plainly dissatisfied with the extent of Krugel’s cooperation in helping solve the 20-year-old murder of Arab American activist Alex Odeh and other unsolved crimes. Associates of the JDL have been suspects in the Odeh killing almost from the start. And Krugel’s assistance apparently yielded little, if any, new information. In the end, prosecutors argued for a stern calculation of his sentence.
After his lack of candor and rear-guard action to protect his co-JDL conspirators, it took great chutzpah for Krugel to express contrition, call himself a “new man,” and appeal for the judge’s mercy:
“I regret joining a criminal conspiracy for the burden and shame it has brought to me and my family,” he said, “and for the burden it has brought to the government and the court.”
Krugel added: “This was carried too far. It became a plan for violent protest and not civic protest. Violence only begets violence.” After “much soul-searching” in prison, he concluded, he had come to realize there are “good Arabs and bad Arabs just like there are good and bad Jews.”
Here is the background to Alex’s murder:
According to Robert Friedman’s 1992 book, The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane : From FBI Informant to Knesset Member, three of the named individuals, Andy Green, Robert Manning and Keith Fuchs — all former JDL members, actually surfaced as suspects within hours of the Odeh attack.
Green reportedly immigrated to Israel from New York City in 1975, where he met JDL founder Kahane. He then joined a West Bank settlement, and changed his name to Baruch Ben Yosef. In 1983 he moved back to his hometown, where he ran the office for Kach, another group Kahane started.
At one point, Green partnered with Manning in a private investigation firm. Manning, who hailed from Los Angeles, was convicted of a bomb attack against a Palestinian in 1973. He reportedly became Kahane’s chief bombmaker. Prior to the Odeh killing, federal authorities claimed the pair carried out a number of bombings, mostly directed towards former Nazis and their collaborators.
Fuchs, another New Yorker, had also traveled to Israel. In 1983, he was convicted of shooting at a passing Arab-owned car in the West Bank. Israeli authorities eventually pulled him out of jail and put him on a plane back to New York. Today, Fuchs and Green are reportedly back in Israel. Meanwhile, Manning was extradited from Israel to California, where he was tried and convicted of a fatal letter-bomb attack that arose out of a business dispute. He is now serving a life sentence in state prison.
In case anyone believes that these bombings were a few isolated incidents, the Muslim Public Affairs Council states on its website:
The JDL has been responsible for at least 40 terrorist acts in the United States since its inception in 1968, according to the FBI.
Though Earl Krugel was undoubtedly a murderous, racist thug, I don’t rejoice in his death. The federal prison system, it seems to me, has a lot to answer for. That he should’ve been murdered only three days after arriving at the Phoenix federal prison speaks volumes about the government’s negligence and culpability. This man clearly was marked by many inmate groups (most notably the White Supremacists and Muslims). Why couldn’t they have protected him? He deserved punishment for his crimes, but not a slab in the prison morgue.