David Tenenbaum

A lesser man would crack under the strain of a 21-year fight for redress from the U.S. government against spurious claims of spying for Israel exacerbated by an anti-Jewish work environment.

David Tenenbaum

We as a nation have belittled an Orthodox Jew from Southfield for no legitimate reason and can’t seem to make amends for the ethnic discrimination despite clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.

If ever an American deserved to be called “a dedicated, loyal and professional civil servant in the service of our nation,” it is David Tenenbaum. He wants to be exonerated, compensated and respected by the government he so faithfully has served — a tall, but just order.

The U.S. Army civilian engineer, now 60, continues to exhibit the patience of Job in wanting closure, reparation and a government apology 21 years after first hearing false accusations that he’s a spy for the Jewish state.

Fix The Wrong
His is a story of personal and professional hardship hoisted by allegedly anti-Semitic Army colleagues as well as by a Department of Defense (DOD) in prior administrations lacking the bureaucratic spine to accept the finding of its Office of Inspector General that the “personnel security and counterintelligence process” against Tenenbaum “was poorly handled and managed.”

Redemption lies in the capacity of current DOD leadership to stop the charade of an interminable investigation and clear David Tenenbaum’s good name. That would be the right thing to do given the Inspector General determined the espionage allegations were without merit and brought with discriminatory intent.

On shaky legal grounds, the U.S. government upended the lives of Tenenbaum, his wife, Madeline, and their four children in 1997. The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his home on a Shabbat afternoon while presumably seeking evidence of espionage. The emotional hurt, says Tenenbaum, still lingers.

In many ways, the American way is a model for the civilized world. Not in David Tenenbaum’s case, unfortunately.

The Strife Within
It was in 1992 that U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) employees first alleged that Tenenbaum, a chemical engineer, was an Israeli spy.

Persistent behind-the-scenes accusations against Tenenbaum led to the 1997 spying allegations, which not only rang hollow, but also demoralized a devoted worker smart enough to figure out how to protect U.S. Humvees in guerilla warfare. When the Army stepped up investigating Tenenbaum, it also shut down a joint program he had developed with the U.S., Israeli and German armies to armor Humvees, a modern take on the vintage military jeep. Tenenbaum asserts the shutdown cost the lives of American soldiers early on in Iraq and Afghanistan because of unarmored Humvees being ravaged by terrorist-planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

In 2006, the Office of Inspector General, at the behest of then-U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., visited the case against Tenenbaum. Two years later, the OIG found unlawful discrimination. The upshot: The Army targeted the engineer because he was Jewish and openly expressed ties to Israel (as most Zionist Jews proudly do).

In 1984, Warren-based TACOM hired Tenenbaum as a liaison for joint projects with the Israeli military because he had been to Israel and could speak Hebrew. Those things got him hired, but also proved his undoing along with his religious lifestyle not meshing with anti-Semitic elements documented on the work floor. All of this swayed the later claim he was an Israeli spy.

Pressing Onward
Thanks to the backbone of two members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Tenenbaum may yet experience the remedy he so desperately wants and deserves. In an Oct. 26 letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Senators Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., ask Secretary Mattis to personally answer and address the case against Tenenbaum and direct the DOD “to take appropriate action” to initiate redress.

The push and pull of Tenenbaum’s travails have locked him in TACOM’s narrow work strictures despite a restored top security clearance and an inventive mind. The senators write that he’s caught in “a professional stalemate” with no significant job opportunities within the DOD or elsewhere. You could say he’s blacklisted within the government contract field; the American people are worse for our government, in effect, stymieing Tenenbaum’s ingenuity.

The Jewish community is lining up behind Tenenbaum based on the discrimination documented in the Inspector General report. Community support, resolved that Tenenbaum has built a case for justice, bucks a federal court ruling in Detroit that dismissed Tenenbaum’s 2009 constitutional rights suit against the departments of Army and Defense in which that report was cited as evidence. The ruling held that Inspector General investigators didn’t review Department of Justice sealed documents asserting protected state secrets. That meant the state secrets doctrine first invoked by the government in response to an earlier constitutional rights case brought by Tenenbaum still stood.

Let there be no doubt: Tenenbaum’s journey for justice involves the entire Jewish community because of undercurrents that reveal a Jew was targeted primarily because he was Jewish.

Every so often, someone comes along with the heart, spirit, tenacity and understanding of right to fight injustice.

David Tenenbaum is such a person.

Our government not only should admit accountability and redress David Tenenbaum, as so articulately championed by Sens. McCaskill and Peters, but also clean up the internal horror show that leeched discrimination and spurred the original 1997 spying allegations — confounding as they were.

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