It has been more than 20 years since F.B.I. agents brandishing a search warrant appeared at the front door of David Tenenbaum’s suburban Detroit home as he and his family and guests were eating their Shabbos seudah.
The agents proceeded to search the house thoroughly for evidence that Dr. Tenenbaum, an observant Jew and experienced chemical engineer at a nearby Army installation, was a spy for Israel. They found none. Because he wasn’t.
For weeks after the 1997 raid, though, the mild-mannered Jewish husband and father was trailed by federal agents and, once local media learned of the raid, threatening phone calls ensued.
“It was a witch hunt,” Dr. Tenenbaum said at the time. Then he corrected himself: “It was a Jew hunt.”
Dr. Tenenbaum’s appearance and behavior were what caused some of his coworkers to cast suspicion on him. Though he was recognized as a creative and hard worker, he didn’t lunch at the non-kosher eateries the others frequented, he wore a yarmulke and he left early on Fridays in the winter.
And he spoke Hebrew. That was part of why the Army valued him, and why it sent him to Israel three times for conferences and meetings. “The same reason they hired me,” he said during his ordeal, “is the reason they suspected me.”
Dr. Tenenbaum filed suit against the Army, charging it with religious discrimination. The suit was thrown out of court, his attorneys say, after Defense Department officials said national security could be compromised if it were adjudicated. A high-level Defense Department official said the concern wasn’t State Secrets but State Embarrassment.
Among the documents his lawyers had obtained were references to Dr. Tenenbaum as the “little Jewish spy.”
At the time of the disruption of Dr. Tenenbaum’s life, he had developed and designed a project to provide armored protection to light combat vehicles like Humvees. The project, his lawyers noted, could have prevented American casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq. The Army, they implied, may have not only anti-Semitism on their record but blood on their hands.
More than a decade after the raid on the Tenenbaum home, the Pentagon’s inspector general fully exonerated Dr. Tenenbaum and endorsed his assertion that the investigation by the leaders of the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren, Michigan, had targeted him simply because he is a practicing Jew.
The report found that Dr. Tenenbaum “is, and has always been, a dedicated, loyal and professional civil servant in the service of our nation.”
The inspector general’s report suggested, too, that various ruses were used to subject Dr. Tenenbaum to heightened attention. “We believe,” the report concluded, “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…”
At that time, in 2008, an Army spokesman said, “We will certainly review the issues raised in the Department of Defense inspector general’s review for any procedures and policies that may need to be addressed, or other steps that we should take to address the situation.”
It isn’t known if any procedure or policies were addressed or changed, but one thing is certain: Despite the Department of Defense report’s exoneration of Dr. Tenenbaum and its finding that his alarming treatment was the result of bald anti-Semitism, he has received no redress for his years of suffering. In countless cases where a Defense Department employee has been mistreated, some remedy for the mistreatment has followed. Not, though, here.
On the contrary, after the IG report was issued in July 2008, Dr. Tenenbaum asserts, he was ordered to undergo a drug test and told by co-workers that the controversy had been his fault. He says that he discovered that his supervisors told others to not speak to him.
At the end of October, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill and Gary Peters, members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, penned a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, reviewing the details of the Tenenbaum case and noting how the “false allegations” against the Jewish engineer “have not only caused him personal hardship but also disrupted his professional progress and credentials.”
Last month, Agudath Israel weighed in as well with General Mattis. Executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel sent a missive to the Secretary of Defense, reiterating the senators’ points and adding that “if… the Department [of Defense] takes no steps to right this wrong, then the not-so-subtle message is that Jewish Americans, especially Orthodox Jewish Americans, can never be trusted within the Department… As you can well imagine, this message is devastating.”
“Respectfully, but urgently,” Rabbi Zwiebel wrote, “we implore you to seize the opportunity to do the right thing, and send a powerful message that the culture of anti-Jewish stereotyping will no longer be tolerated in DOD.”
It’s a message the DOD should have been sent long ago.