Wednesday, 13 July 2022 — MintPress News
Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh was murdered outside his California office in October 1985. For decades, law enforcement officials have openly speculated that the perpetrators were members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) – a terrorist group led at the time by the notorious militant Irv Rubin. It is widely alleged that three individuals – Robert Manning, Keith Israel Fuchs and Baruch Ben Yosef (also known as Andy Green) carried out the task.
Yet no one has ever been charged with Odeh’s murder. In part one, we revealed new testimony from “Moshe V”, a California convict and a longtime Rubin associate. V is willing to testify before relevant authorities that Rubin and his henchmen boasted about killing Odeh – evidence that could prove to be the lynchpin of any future trial. But the FBI has failed to question V about this new evidence, and it is far from clear whether it ever will. Speaking with this author, Ben Yosef categorically rejected V’s testimony.
Part two will explore how and why, for years, the U.S. government has refused to act on the evidence it already has.
Congress, Senate, demand answers on Odeh killing
A chorus of calls by U.S. lawmakers to pursue the case have renewed interest in the incident. Last October, on the floor of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D—MI) honored Odeh’s memory and blasted his assassins, saying, “those who support oppressive policies in Palestine have murdered Alex”. In December, Senate Democratic whip and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Richard Durbin authored a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, demanding an update on its investigation into Odeh’s murder.
Citing reporting by this author, Senator Durbin noted that one of the alleged assassins, Robert Manning, is currently incarcerated in the U.S. for another unrelated murder, but that two other suspects, Baruch Ben Yosef and Israel Fuchs, live in separate Israeli settlements south of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. They are renowned in settler circles for having carried out Odeh’s murder, as well as other acts of ideological violence.
If the identities of the long-time suspects are an open secret, why have they never been charged for the crime? And after a lapse of decades, what would it take for murder charges to finally be filed?
To answer these questions, MintPress News tracked down the first law enforcement officer to arrive at the scene of the crime, retired police officials and former FBI supervisors who worked on the case over the decades, and ultimately, a former associate of the men responsible for the murder – a man who claims that he heard a live confession from one of the accused killers.
FBI agents identified murder suspects from the start
In fact, the FBI identified its top suspects as soon as they first learned of the bomb that took Alex Odeh’s life. That is according to Hugh Mooney, a now retired Santa Ana Police Department officer and the first member of law enforcement to arrive at the murder scene.
Mooney’s recollections dovetail with the statements of other law enforcement officials who worked on the Odeh case, including an unnamed officer whose account was first published in 1988 by investigative journalist Robert I. Friedman in The Village Voice.
The FBI’s top suspects in Odeh’s murder have always been, and continue to this day to be Robert Manning, Keith Israel Fuchs and Baruch Ben Yosef.
The three men are all American-born members of the Jewish Defense League and confidantes of the movement’s late founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane. They followed him to Israel and co-founded the failed Kahanist settlement outpost of El-Nakam [Hebrew: God of Vengeance]. Manning, Fuchs and Ben Yosef all had terrorist arrest records prior to the Odeh murder.
“I responded up there to take partial command of the scene,” Mooney told this author in October 2019, recalling the Odeh murder scene from thirty-four years earlier. “We were there kind of wondering what was going on, and then a helicopter landed at a field next door, which was highly unusual,” Mooney recalled. “Turned out to be the FBI and LAPD, and they arrived and told us that they knew what happened and who did it and who the target was.”
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force had been surveilling Kahane and the JDL’s El-Nakam cell – Manning, Fuchs and Ben Yosef – in the months preceding the Odeh murder, during a string of bombings along the East Coast, including one at the ADC’s Boston offices.
When FBI agents observed the suspects boarding a plane bound for Los Angeles, they informed their colleagues in the bureau’s LA office, but the latter failed to pick up suspects’ tail when they arrived at LAX on October 9, 1985, two days before the explosion that killed Alex Odeh. “They missed them at the airport. So they were scrambling everybody looking for them, and then – boom,” Mooney said. “They knew what happened. They missed them again.”
Forensic evidence collected from the scene of the crime in Santa Ana corroborated the FBI’s assertion that Manning, Fuchs and Ben Yosef were the culprits. “Charlie Stumph from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was in a bomb squad, brilliant bomb technician. And he and his people spent two and a half days collecting fragments across 17th Street and throughout the building, and put it back together,” Mooney said.
“The wire signature was identical to the bombs back east,” Mooney explained, “the wire used, both the color, the size and gauge of the wire, the way it was wrapped and tied.”
Mooney believes that the FBI had enough evidence to issue indictments against the suspects after they flew back to New York, and says that his analysis was shared by other law enforcement agents who worked the case on the east coast. “They’re Americans and they killed an American in an American city,” he said.
But the suspects were not arrested. “When they got back to New York, the NYPD especially wanted to arrest them. They’re going to bomb somebody else, or escape, or what. They said just keep the surveillance,” Mooney recalls.
“And they kept their surveillance right up till they walked him on to the plane and back to Israel,” Mooney says. “We were told by the U.S. Attorney that we could not go arrest them.” The District Attorney of the Southern District of New York at that time was future Mayor of New York City and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.
Israel wouldn’t share intelligence with the FBI, only ‘riddles’
Retired FBI agents who worked the case out of the bureau’s New York office confirm that Manning, Fuchs and Ben Yosef were their top suspects in the bombings on both coasts, and lament that the men have yet to be indicted for murder.
Retired Special Agent Kenneth Maxwell, who supervised the FBI’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, confirmed that the bureau suspected the trio of murdering Alex Odeh. “They were prime suspects,” Maxwell told me. “They were being surveilled, to build a case against them.”
Retired NYPD detective and Joint Terrorism Task Force officer Kenneth Engelhardt, who recalls surveilling Manning, Fuchs and Ben Yosef in New York, says that one reason the men were never charged is that the laboratory where they made the bombs was never found. “They had safe houses, that’s where they did their deeds,” Engelhardt told me. “We never took them to a safe house.”
Neil Herman was also among the first agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. He later went on to supervise it, and to ultimately become one of the most highly decorated agents in the bureau’s history. He also recalls investigating the JDL. “From the mid-early 1980s to 1990 there was a massive investigation” into Jewish terrorism and the Kahane movement, Herman told me. “It was a focus of the task force of New York and Newark.”
“The fascination with those three people – Manning, Fuchs and Green [Ben Yosef] – was their interactions and their background training with the Israelis,” Herman said. Ben Yosef, in particular, had received highly specialized training in the Israeli military since 1976, when he served in the now-defunct Shaked commando unit.
“What was their connection? Were they out there on their own, improvising?” he asked. “We were suspicious of Israeli [state] involvement.” “On one hand they were our allies,” Herman added. “But if they had operated as a rogue group, it would be a great embarrassment – and we told them that.”
Herman recalls pressing Israeli officials for intelligence and advance warning on the movements of the Kahanist cell. “We wanted to know as much as we could, what training they received, when they were coming to the U.S., so we would be prepared,” he said. “Getting information from the Israelis was always difficult,” he added; “We tried to go through both avenues, Tel Aviv and Washington.”
Ultimately, Herman says, the FBI realized that their most reliable source of information was in New York, stationed at Israel’s consulate in Manhattan: Israeli police attache to the U.S., Major General Joshua Caspi. “General Caspi was the point person,” Herman said.
Their professional relationship lasted a decade, Herman remembered, recalling that Caspi was “very cooperative, very receptive” regarding other issues, unrelated to the Kahanists. “He helped me in the bureau on many cases,” he said, but “there were extenuating circumstances with that case.” Regarding other unrelated cases, Herman said, Caspi would talk to him “more directly” – but about the Kahanists, Caspi would communicate with him “more in riddles.”
Caspi began his 1984 appointment as police attache to the U.S. after completing two years as deputy chief and then four years as Chief of Police of Israel’s southern region – which then included the two most contested cities in the Holy Land, Jerusalem and Hebron.
In 1980, during Caspi’s tenure, Ben Yosef and Kahane were both jailed for planning to blow up the sacred Dome of the Rock Temple in Jerusalem. Three years later, Fuchs was jailed after carrying out a shooting outside Hebron.
Caspi, now 92, claims that he does not recall working with Herman during his stint in the United States, nor does he remember any American inquiries about the Kahanists suspected of murdering Alex Odeh. “I don’t recall them approaching me,” Caspi told me. “Not at all.”
Caspi suggests that the Israeli official who would have been responsible for communicating with the FBI about the Kahanist case was Yossi Ginosar, then the U.S. attache of Shin Bet, Israel’s FBI equivalent. Ginosar died in 2004, and thus cannot respond to Caspi’s counterclaim.
Herman says he never met with Ginosar.
One suspect jailed for another murder, two remain at large
Even before he and his wife followed Kahane and immigrated to Israel, Robert Manning had set off explosives at multiple targets in Los Angeles with Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel. In 1972, they were arrested for targeting the home of a local Palestinian-American activist, Mohammed Shaath. Shrapnel from the bomb narrowly missed Shaath’s wife and two infant children. Manning avoided jail time by vowing to turn over a new leaf and end his association with the JDL – a pledge he never kept.
Two decades later, Manning’s criminal career finally caught up with him. In 1991, he and his wife Rochelle were arrested at their home in Kiryat Arba for the murder of an LA-area woman, Patricia Wilkerson, in 1980, by sending a bomb to the office of her boss, with whom another JDL member had a financial dispute.
After two years of legal appeals, Israel agreed to deliver the Mannings to the U.S. On the day of his departure, Robert Manning unsuccessfully attempted suicide by swallowing pills. Rochelle Manning died in prison just days before she was supposed to be extradited; a heart attack was ruled to be the cause of her death.
A week after Manning’s sentencing, The Jerusalem Post published a deep-dive profile on Ben Yosef. The longread feature noted that Ben Yosef and Fuchs were agitating for a Jewish takeover of the Dome of the Rock, the holy site that Ben Yosef had previously plotted to blow up, and that the two had both been arrested on weapons charges only weeks previously. It also reported that they and Manning were all suspected of a string of bombings in the U.S., including the one that killed Alex Odeh.
The article would be the last of its kind.
Later that month, a friend and comrade of the El-Nakam bombers – former JDL spokesman Benjamin Baruch Goldstein – murdered 29 Palestinian men and boys at prayer at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque, wounding over a hundred more. It remains to this day the largest mass murder by a single civilian in the history of the State of Israel.
In the wake of Goldstein’s massacre, the Israeli government declared the Kahanist groups Kach and Kahane Chai to be terror organizations. The movement’s top leaders, including Goldstein’s friend Baruch Ben Yosef, were arrested.
The six months of administrative detention Ben Yosef received in 1994 was his second such punishment – a record for a Jewish citizen of the state. At a session of the Israeli parliament to discuss the arrests of the Kahanist leadership in 1994, Israeli police minister Moshe Shahal noted that Ben Yosef and his mentor Meir Kahane had also been sentenced to six months of administrative detention in 1980 for their plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock.
Shahal told this author in 2019 that a quarter-century earlier, when he served as Israel’s police minister, he was unaware that Ben Yosef was also suspected of murder in the U.S. “I heard it,” Shahal said. “Lately, more than the time that I was in position, yes. Lately. I heard. From people who know what’s happening. But not at the time.”
Ben Yosef went on to earn a law degree from Bar Ilan University, and has practiced law in Israeli courts for more than twenty-five years.He has even argued in Israel’s Supreme Court, dozens of times, representing himself and other Kahanists.
Israeli news outlets have selectively but consistently reported for the past quarter-century on Ben Yosef’s career as a far-right activist-attorney. But since the Jerusalem Post’s February 1994 profile on him – titled “Apocalypse Now” – no Israeli news outlets have noted that terrorist-turned-attorney Baruch Ben Yosef and two of his Kahanist comrades are suspected of murder in the United States.
“Bunch of bullshit”: U.S. State Department freezes investigation
In the decade that followed Alex Odeh’s assassination, the FBI failed to charge any of its top suspects. Throughout that time, retired Santa Ana Police Department officer Hugh Mooney continued to attend FBI meetings convened to discuss its investigation into his murder.
At those meetings, Mooney said, he realized that both the Israeli and American governments preferred that the Odeh case murder remain unsolved – permanently. From the FBI officers working on the case, he heard first hand about the bureau’s requests for assistance, and of Israel’s failure to comply with these.
“Contacts with Israel first met with nothing,” Mooney recalled. “[The Israelis] said, ‘No, we don’t have any such people here.’ And so then [FBI agents] call them back and say, ‘Here’s the address, and here’s his birth date, and here’s a photo of him. You might want to go check out that house and see if he’s there.’”
“So then Shin Bet calls back, and says, ‘Well, yeah, he’s here, but we have political problems and stuff,” Mooney said. “They didn’t say what they were, just political things to consider, higher ups.”
Rebuffed by Israel, the FBI turned next to the Arab nations for any intel they might have on the men they believe to be Alex Odeh’s assassins. “The FBI contacted the Arab League in Athens to see if they could identify these people, maybe they had sources,” Mooney recalled. “And that’s when Shin Bet called back and said, ‘We will help you, we’ll locate this stuff. We don’t need those guys roaming around, spying on us.’”
Any information that the Shin Bet may have transferred to their FBI counterparts failed to lead to any progress in its investigation. At a mid-1990’s meeting about the Odeh murder, Mooney says, a U.S. State Department official in attendance [whose full name he does not recall] effectively neutered the investigation.
“The FBI was saying, ‘We know where they are, why can’t we get them?’” Mooney recalled. “And the State Department says, ‘Well, you wouldn’t understand, it’s real complicated. It’s the West Bank negotiations we’re in… We’re dealing with these things, and there are other irons in the fire, blah, blah, blah,” he remembered. “One platitude after another. Basically, the State Department says no, you can’t have them.”
Thus, according to Mooney, the State Department order to effectively freeze the Odeh murder investigation was not received well by the FBI agents assigned to solve it.
“The resident agent in charge in LA was extremely upset by the State Department official that was there,” said Mooney. “We had to do what they said, but nobody knew why. It was just, ‘Well, it’s above your pay grade, you wouldn’t understand the machinations of international diplomacy and West Bank issues.’ Bunch of bullshit.”
“And the feds just dropped it. The FBI was very unhappy about it, the agents I knew. But it came from Washington: ‘Choke it down, do as you’re told. It’s going to be an open case forever,’” he added. “And whether it was a backdoor deal, I don’t know.”
Odeh ‘deserved to die’, JDL chairman told his daughter
The Jewish Defense League was classified as the number one terrorist threat in the U.S. in 1985, on account of the assassination of Alex Odeh and other bombing attacks carried out that year by the Kahanists.
In the immediate aftermath of the murder, JDL national chairman Irv Rubin said that the killers deserved our praise, and that Odeh deserved his death, because “he was 100 per cent in back of the PLO.”
The following month, however, FBI statements accusing the JDL of having a hand in Odeh’s murder put Rubin on the defensive. From November 1985, Rubin began telling a new tale, laying the blame for the murder of the Palestinian-American activist on elements of his own community, claiming “they wanted a martyr and blew this poor guy away.”
But as the years passed, the FBI never charged any of its suspects. Realizing that they could literally get away with murder, Kahane’s followers grew even more emboldened. With Baruch Goldstein’s massacre in February 1994, the Kahane movement more than doubled the death toll they were responsible for, to over fifty kills. That number has since increased by over a dozen more.
Weeks later in April 1994, the city of Santa Ana erected a statue of Alex Odeh in front of its municipal library to mark what would have been his 50th birthday. Irv Rubin crashed the unveiling ceremony and intimidated those in attendance, including Odeh’s widow Norma and the couple’s three young daughters. “He started walking in my direction,” recalled Alex’s daughter Helena, “looked me straight in the face and told me my father deserved to die.”
In the years that followed, unknown individuals defaced Odeh’s Santa Ana statue with red paint, leaving scarlet daubs dripping down the statue’s neck and wrists. Rubin said he was disgusted by the statue of Odeh, who he called “a war criminal”.
Investigating the JDL’s role in his murder was “an ongoing vendetta sponsored by the Arab community to get Jewish people,” Rubin said. “The Arabs offered Odeh as a sacrificial lamb to make Jewish militants look like murderers,” he added.
In September 1996, the FBI announced it was offering a one million dollar reward for information that would lead to the conviction of the Odeh killers. Shortly afterwards, it interviewed a confidential source in the Kahane movement about the murder. It was unable, however, to convert his or her hearsay account into actionable evidence against Alex Odeh’s assassins. According to active agents still assigned to the case, pressing charges against Manning, Fuchs and Ben Yosef would require testimony from a witness who heard at least one of those very men discussing their own involvement in Alex Odeh’s murder.
JDL insider accounts did give the FBI additional insight into the inner workings of the Kahane movement, though. In the new millennium, the bureau worked with one of these former JDL members to make secret recordings of Rubin and his lieutenant Krugel plotting to blow up the office of Congressman Darrell Issa and a Los Angeles mosque and Islamic school.
In December 2001, Rubin and Krugel were arrested at their respective homes and charged with a list of crimes, including conspiracy to manufacture and detonate bombs and with attempted arson. These charge sheets amounted to two life terms plus additional decades in jail for both JDL leaders.
Rubin died in prison in 2002 while awaiting trial, allegedly by his own hand. In 2005, Krugel pleaded guilty to the JDL bomb plots, and was sentenced to twenty years in federal prison. Weeks later, he too died, murdered in prison by another inmate – but not before confirming to the FBI that he knew Alex Odeh’s murderers to be Robert Manning, Keith Fuchs and Baruch Ben Yosef.
White supremacist David Frank Jennings was later sentenced to 35 years in jail for murdering Krugel. Over the phone from a Kentucky prison, Jennings declined to tell this author why he bashed Krugel from behind with a concrete block to the head, killing him. “I’ll take that to my grave,” Jennings said.
Kahanist killers groomed proteges to get elected to the Knesset
Robert Manning, meanwhile, continues to serve a life sentence in an Arizona jail for an unrelated murder. His repeated requests that he be allowed to serve out his sentence in Israel have been denied.
The other two chief suspects in the Odeh murder, however still live in Israeli-occupied territory, in the Gush Etzion block of settlements, south of Bethlehem.
Ben Yosef once sought to emulate his mentor Meir Kahane by running in national elections for a seat in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. But his plan was foiled when the UN Consulate in Jerusalem denied his request to relinquish his U.S. citizenship.
Normally a mere formality that is almost always granted, Ben Yosef’s request to be denaturalized was likely rejected because it would have made it much harder for the U.S. government to extradite him for the Odeh murder in the future, if it ever decided to do so. As relinquishing secondary citizenships is a prerequisite for serving in the Israeli parliament, the U.S. Consulate decision effectively quashed Ben Yosef’s political aspirations.
Though they were denied the opportunity to secure Knesset seats of their own, Ben Yosef and Fuchs went on to groom successors who entered the Knesset in March 2021, with the help of Benjamin Netanyahu, during the final months of his premiership.
Heading the Israel office of the lawfare firm American Center for Civil Justice for years, Fuchs worked alongside the firm’s general counsel in New York, Neal Sher – formerly the executive director of AIPAC, and before that, the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI).
In 1979, during Sher’s tenure, the OSI tried to strip the citizenship of Tscherim Soobzokov, a Muslim Circassian immigrant to the U.S., following allegations that he had committed war crimes during the Nazi Holocaust. The following year, new evidence emerged which forced the OSI to end denaturalization proceedings against him.
But the Jewish Defense League maintained that Soobzokov was still responsible for wartime atrocities. According to FBI sources, the same three El-Nakam bombers that killed Alex Odeh – Manning, Fuchs and Ben Yosef – also murdered Soobzokov, setting off a bomb outside his New Jersey home two months before assassinating Odeh outside LA.
Did Sher and Fuchs ever discuss Tscherim Soobzokov, the man they both targeted, during their many years of close collaboration? Sher can no longer answer this question; he died last October from COVID-19.
In the last decade, during Fuchs’ time with American Center for Civil Justice, the organization added to its payroll his Fuchs’ wife Leah Kalangal, his comrade-in-arms Baruch Ben Yosef, and two other Kahanist sympathizers: Yehuda Amrani and Simcha Rothman.
In 2013, Fuchs, Amrani and Rothman founded the Movement for Governance and Democracy, a far-right lobby group that has authored legislation passed in the Israeli parliament. The transcript and video footage from a July 2015 Knesset Interior committee meeting show Fuchs, Amrani and Rothman were in attendance.
During those same years, the attorney Ben Yosef trained a protege to share his legal caseload and help him defend other Kahanist criminals: longtime Kahane movement rabble-rouser Itamar Ben Gvir.
After articling with Ben Yosef and passing his Israeli bar exams in 2012, Ben Gvir would eventually surpass his mentor, and ultimately lead the Jewish Power party, the newest incarnation of Meir Kahane’s banned Kach party.
Netanyahu’s political fortunes began to sour at the end of the 2010s. Following his indictment on major corruption crimes, he campaigned to include the Kahanists in the Knesset, hoping their inclusion would allow him to build a new governing coalition, and thereby stave off his legal woes.
Though he failed to remain in the prime minister’s office, Netanyahu was successful in his secondary goal of injecting Kahanists into the Knesset. In March 2021, both Itamar Ben Gvir and Simcha Rothman were elected to Israel’s 24th Knesset, running on a single slate.
Two months later in May, Ben Gvir incited what Israel’s national police chief Kobi Shabtai called a “Jewish intifada” – race riots and organized pogroms against the non-Jewish Palestinian population, in cities across Israel.
It is no less than astounding that two of Israel’s most notorious individuals, suspected of murder in the U.S., could have catapulted their proteges into the Israeli parliament. Recent polls indicate that in the upcoming elections scheduled for the fall, the Kahanist Knesset faction could receive up to ten seats, which would make it the third-largest party in the parliament, all but guaranteeing that Ben Gvir is appointed police minister.
But that would come as no surprise to Hugh Mooney, who has long maintained that Fuchs and Ben Yosef would be behind bars like their co-conspirator Robert Manning – if not for the Israeli and American officials who intervened on their behalf. “They had connections higher up, obviously. They had friends in high places,” Mooney said of the El-Nakam bombers. “Still do obviously. Or now, they’re the people in high places.”
While it has long been something of an open secret that the Kahanist trio of Robert Manning, Keith Israel Fuchs and Baruch Ben Yosef were Alex Odeh’s killers, the U.S. government has remained hesitant to charge them with murder. And while it has claimed that this is because it lacks a witness willing to testify, many, including in law enforcement, suspect that it never had any intention of doing so. Moshe V’s testimony, however, could be a gamechanger, either forcing the U.S.’ hand or calling its bluff.
David Sheen is a freelance investigative journalist reporting from Israel*Palestine for over a decade for dozens of local, regional and international journals, earning the support of journalist unions and human rights groups at home and abroad, amongst them the Rory Peck Trust and the Front Line Defenders.
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