Something is rotten in the U.S. military. Bad enough that a Jewish U.S. Army trainee, Pvt. Michael Handman, was beaten at Fort Benning last month – receiving facial wounds, severe oral injuries, and a concussion – but the military, despite testimony to the contrary, is insisting that the attack was not motivated by anti-Semitism. How, then, to explain away repeated anti-Semitic slurs by two company drill sergeants prior to the attack? And why was Handman penalized for wearing a kippah and reading a Jewish text?
His family must be terrified. He certainly was, according to his mother, who reports that her son wrote her a letter predicting that he would be attacked. “I have just never been so discriminated against/humiliated about my religion,” he wrote, adding, “Maybe your dad was right…The Army is not the place for a Jew.”
Nor, it seems, is it a place for atheists. On its Website, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation – which fights alleged religious bias in the U.S. military and has been investigating the Handman case – records the case of an atheist soldier who has received a death threat, calling it “highly probable” that the caller was a fellow soldier. And the leader of that foundation, Mikey Weinstein, a Jewish attorney and former counsel to President Ronald Reagan, found a swastika on the front of his house in June.
And women? In its editorial on Oct. 14, the Fayetteville, N.C. Observer – which serves Fort Bragg, one of the military’s largest bases – discussed the murder of four military women in North Carolina over the past nine months and called for action to prevent more murders by members of the U.S. military.
Equally disturbing has been the reaction to these assaults. According to Weinstein, the military would prefer to paint them as “one-time” occurrences. Clearly they are not.
In 1997, David Tenenbaum, an Army engineer in Michigan, was accused of spying for Israel and was harassed at his home – which was ransacked – threatened, and verbally assaulted. Apparently, Tenenbaum had made the mistake of speaking Hebrew and wearing a kippah, according to a colleague. A final report released by the U.S. Department of Defense in July held that Tenenbaum was unfairly targeted because of his religion. Good, but not enough.
It’s election time, and candidates of both parties are asking for our support. Now is the time to raise our voices. Let’s make sure they know what’s going on in the armed forces and see what they plan to do about it.