Jewish Journal

Jewish dual loyalty and anti-Semitic witch hunts

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 25, 2008 | 5:55 pm

There has been much discussion this summer about claims of Jewish dual loyalty—whether diaspora Jews can be both loyal to their country of citizenship and concerned for Israel or if they are covert spies, as anti-Semites have alleged throughout history.

The persecution of David Tenenbaum, which GetReligion deems a “hunt for a spy in a yarmulke,” indicates just how damaging anti-Jewish suspicions can be.

Tenenbaum worked for the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command when his Southfield, Mich., home was raided by FBI agents in 1997. They were looking for evidence that Tenenbaum was spying for Israel, and his reputation was tarnished in short order. But this summer, after 11 years, the Pentagon’s inspector general cleared Tenenbaum’s name and admitted he was targeted because he was a Sabbath-observing Jew.

“We believe that Mr. Tenenbaum was subjected to unusual and unwelcome scrutiny because of his faith and ethnic background, a practice that would undoubtedly fit a definition of discrimination whether actionable or not,” the inspector general’s report concluded.

What made Tenenbaum’s behavior suspect? Well, for one thing, he spoke Hebrew. Seriously.

More from The Washington Post after the jump:

Tenenbaum still works for TACOM, though he feels the strain of more than a decade of fighting for vindication. He was hired there in 1984, two years after he earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Wayne State University.

From the moment he began work at the post, he knew he was different from many on the staff. While colleagues went to lunch at McDonald’s, he brought in a kosher meal. He wore a yarmulke. He carried a backpack, rather than a briefcase—not an uncommon practice today but highly unusual in the buttoned-down world of TACOM in the 1980s and 1990s. He left early on Friday for the Sabbath.

He was also known as a hard worker, one fixated on solving problems. “He was operating two gears higher than the rest of TACOM. He took his job so seriously,” said one Pentagon official familiar with the Tenenbaum case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it.

Tenenbaum was hired to work with officials around the world to identify materials that the Army could use or adapt to improve combat vehicles’ “survivability.” He worked especially with officials from Germany, Britain and Israel, according to his sworn statement to the inspector general.

He spoke Hebrew and understood Jewish and Israeli culture. Those, according to Tenenbaum, were skills the Army appreciated—and a source of its suspicion. The Army sent him to Israel three times for conferences and meetings—in 1985, 1986 and 1995—but later, some who worked with him found his trips suspicious.

“The same reason they hired me is the reason they suspected me,” Tenenbaum said.

Colleagues at TACOM filed formal complaints about Tenenbaum’s behavior. The first came in 1992, just as Tenenbaum was nominated for a prestigious work assignment in a year-long Israeli engineer exchange, and it charged that he raised suspicion because he used a backpack and took trips to Israel. The complaint led to a report by the Defense Investigative Service, but the FBI decided not to investigate, according to Tenenbaum’s later lawsuit charging the Army with religious discrimination.

Yet by the fall of 1996, half a dozen complaints had been made against Tenenbaum, including one that cited his speaking Hebrew and one that noted his close relationship with an Israeli liaison officer, who the inspector general’s report said had Army authorization to be at TACOM.

Because of the complaints, the post’s security staff began to formulate a plan to find out more about Tenenbaum. His supervisor recommended that he request a security clearance upgrade from secret to top secret—a “ruse for a counterintelligence investigation,” the report said.

Tenenbaum’s lawyers said many of the complaints were recanted or played down, or came years after the events they alleged. Others involved meetings and activities related to Army projects.

“Every time David’s name came up for an assignment or a project, they would investigate him,” said Daniel Harold, Tenenbaum’s lawyer for more than eight years. His suit was thrown out of court, his attorneys say, after Defense Department officials and former attorney general John D. Ashcroft said national security could be compromised if the case continued.

Among the documents, his lawyers discovered references to Tenenbaum as the “little Jewish spy.”

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