From Bombing For Justice 2014
Bombing for Justice: Urban Terrorism in New York City from the 1960s through the 1980s Jeffrey A. Kroessler, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 2014
The New York-born Jewish Defense League (JDL) may also be classified
as an international terrorist organization because they were not
attempting to have an impact on the policies of the United States, but
were acting to affect the internal policies of the Soviet Union. Adopting
the slogan “Never Again,” Orthodox rabbi Meir Kahane founded the
JDL in Brooklyn in 1968, originally to patrol the streets to protect elderly
Jews from muggings and to escort teachers to and from schools in
black neighborhoods. Historian Martha Biondi labels the JDL a “rightwing
vigilante organization” formed “to combat alleged anti-Semitism
by black New Yorkers [and] became notorious for fanning the flames of
black-Jewish division in the city.” Threats against Jewish teachers during
33. Max H. Seigel,
Bombing for Justice 79
the divisive fifty-five-day teachers strike in 1968 provided a further
context for the JDL’s new, muscular tactics.35 But very soon Kahane expanded
the mission to advancing the cause of Jews in the Soviet Union,
who were discriminated against but still refused permission to emigrate
to Israel. In the spring of 1969, the JDL established schools and camps
to train members in firearms and self-defense, and, it turns out, bomb
On April 22, 1971, the organization went on the offensive against Soviet
targets in New York, planting bombs at the Soviet trade office in Manhattan.
Twenty minutes before the explosion, calls were placed to the company, the
AP, and United Press International (UPI): “There have been several time
bombs placed in the offices of Amtorg, at the Soviet freight office, at 355
Lexington Avenue. They will go off in less than 15 minutes. Free all Soviet
Jewish prisoners. Let my people go. Never again.” One bomb exploded in
a stairwell on the nineteenth floor, but police found and disarmed another
on the twentieth floor.37
On May 12, agents of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) division
of the US Justice Department and members of the NYPD raided the
offices of the JDL at 440 West Forty-second Street, arresting Kahane and
six others for conspiracy to make bombs at a JDL summer camp in the
Catskills. Undeterred, only a month later members of the JDL planted fifteen
sticks of dynamite at the Glen Cove estate housing the Soviet Mission
35. Biondi’s use of “right wing” and “alleged anti-Semitism” betrays a certain lack
of objectivity. One must wonder what Sonny Carson would have had to have said
to have the “alleged” removed. Martha Biondi, “‘Brooklyn College Belongs to Us’:
Black Students and the Transformation of Public Higher Education in New York
City,” in Civil Rights in New York City from World War II to Giuliani, ed. Clarence
Taylor (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), 176–77.
36. “Jewish Defense League,” in Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, vol. 2, ed. John
Hartwell Moore (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008), 206–207, accessed
April 9, 2012,
831200235&&docId=GALE|CX2831200235&docType=GALE ; and John Kifner,
“Meir Kahane, 58, Israeli Militant and Jewish Defense League Founder,” New York
Times, November 6, 1990.
37. Martin Arnold, “Bomb Explodes in Midtown Soviet Trading Office,” New
York Times, April 23, 1971.
80 Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement
to the United Nations. Fortunately, the device was found and disarmed
before it could explode.38
In federal court in Brooklyn in July, only two months after their arrest,
Kahane, forty-one-year old Chaim Bieber, and eighteen-year-old Stewart
Cohen, both of Queens, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture explosives;
all charges were dropped against ten others. As part of the deal,
the JDL agreed to surrender explosives and weapons. An anonymous caller
directed police to 197 sticks of dynamite concealed in shrubbery along the
Palisades Interstate Parkway in New Jersey, and Kahane’s attorney, Barry
Slotnick, informed the US Attorney about a cache of blasting caps and
black powder in a locker in the East Side Airlines Terminal. To the surprise
of Kahane and Slotnick, district court judge Jack Weinstein did not impose
a prison term. Kahane received a suspended sentence of five years and was
fined $5,000; his co-defendants received three-year terms, suspended, and
were fined. Addressing the men, Judge Weinstein said, “In this country, at
this time, it is not permissible to substitute the bomb for the book as the
symbol of Jewish manhood.” Outside the courthouse afterward, Kahane
told the press, “Sometimes, there is no other way. I am not against the use
of violence if necessary,” before adding that the JDL would decide for itself
when violence became necessary.39
On September 8, seven individuals were arrested in connection with the
bombing of the Amtorg offices: Chaim Bieber and Stewart Cohen, the men
who pleaded guilty with Kahane to conspiracy charges in July; Eli Schwartz,
age twenty-one; Eileen Garfinkle, age twenty; Sheldon Siegel, age twentyfive;
Jacob Weisel, age twenty-five; and Avraham Hershkovitz, age twentysix.
Hershkovitz was already in a federal penitentiary for lying on a passport
application (he had been stopped at JFK Airport with four handguns and a
grenade in his possession, intending to hijack an Arab airliner in London).40
38. “Explosives Found Near Soviet Estate,” New York Times, June 23, 1971.
39. “Woman Member of J.D.L. Is Declared a Fugitive,” New York Times, May 15,
1971; Emanuel Perlmutter, “Dynamite is Left for Authorities,” New York Times,
July 12, 1971; Emanuel Perlmutter, “Kahane, Facing Jail Term, Vows More Attacks
on Russians,” New York Times, July 13, 1971; and Morris Kaplan, “Kahane Gets 5–
Year Suspended Sentence in Bomb Plot,” New York Times, July 24, 1971.
40. Morris Kaplan, “7 Members of the Jewish Defense League Accused in
Plot to Bomb Soviet Offices,” New York Times, September 9, 1971; and Alan M.
Dershowitz, Harvey A. Silvergate, and Jeanne Baker, “The JDL Murder Case: ‘The
Informer Was Our Own Client,’” The Civil Liberties Review 3 (April/May 1976):
Bombing for Justice 81
Despite the arrests, and despite the presence of a government informer in
their midst, the JDL was not deterred.
On January 26, 1972, their strategy turned lethal. They firebombed the
offices of Hurok Concerts, Inc. and Columbia Artist Management, booking
agencies that represented Russian artists. Iris Kones, a twenty-seven-yearold
secretary in Hurok’s office, died of smoke inhalation. Five young men
were arrested, including Sheldon Siegel, who was in fact already cooperating
with the authorities. Despite the arrests, young JDL members continued
planning acts of terror. On May 23, 1972, ATF agents and members of
the Nassau County Police Department arrested four young men in the Lido
Beach Jewish Center in the act of manufacturing bombs. Mark Binsky, age
seventeen, David Levine, age nineteen, Robert Fine, age twenty-five, and
Erza Gindi, age sixteen, were accused of plotting to bomb the Glen Cove
mansion housing the Soviet Mission to the United Nations; Fine was later
sentenced to three years, and Levine to a year and a day.41
Investigators had zeroed in on Sheldon Siegel based on information
obtained through an illegal FBI wiretap placed in the JDL offices from
October 1970 to July 1971. A search of his car turned up bombs and
wires similar to the device planted at Glen Cove. Siegel’s attorney, Alan
Dershowitz, successfully argued that the police had promised his client
immunity and that therefore he could not be compelled to testify in the
Amtorg case. Dershowitz concluded that “[t]his was not a case where the
constable accidentally bungled. It was a situation in which the government
simply could not have penetrated the JDL—and could not, therefore, have
prevented potentially disastrous consequences—without breaking the law.
Accordingly, it made a calculated and deliberate decision, at the highest
level, to violate the laws—to engage in ‘civil disobedience’ in the interests of
a higher cause.” He concluded that it was right for the government to have
lost this case. “It is one thing for agents of the government, acting under
enormous pressure, to take expedient actions deemed necessary to protect
important values,” he wrote, but “it is quite another thing for courts, reflectively
reviewing that action in the context of criminal prosecution, to lend
an air of constitutional legitimacy to such actions.” Other witnesses refused
41. Eric Pace, “4 Sought in Bombing of Midtown Talent Office,” New York
Times, January 28, 1972; “Prison Sentences Given Two of J.D.L.,” New York Times,
November 4, 1972; and Lester A. Sobel, ed., Political Terrorism (New York: Facts
on File, 1975), 267,
82 Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement
to cooperate, and ultimately the government had to dismiss the case. On
July 14, 1975, the government filed an order ending all proceedings against
all defendants in the fatal Hurok bombing. No one was ever convicted in
that case.42 The JDL essentially vanished from New York after Meir Kahane
moved to Israel in 1971, where he turned his political energies against the
Palestinians. (From Bombing For Justice 2014
Bombing for Justice: Urban Terrorism in New York
City from the 1960s through the 1980s
Jeffrey A. Kroessler
John Jay College of Criminal Justice)