A Long Wait for Justice: The Tenenbaum Case

Binyamin Rose - Mishpacha Magazine - January 10, 2018

Clearing one's name from false accusations can seem like an impossible task. Even more so when the process drags on for years.

But that's precisely the plight of Dr. David Tenenbaum, a civilian engineer in the US Army, ten years after an inspector general in the Department of Defense exonerated him of charges that he spied for Israel. Instead, the investigation found that Tenenbaum was targeted by coworkers primarily because he roused suspicion as a practicing Jew.

My first article on Tenenbaum's case made the cover of Mishpacha in August 2008, a month after the inspector general's report. Almost ten years have passed, but the Defense Department has so far disregarded requests from Tenenbaum's legal team for a formal apology and monetary compensation over the ruination of a talented man's career.

President Trump's sudden commutation of Sholom Rubashkin's prison term cheered Tenenbaum, but he was guarded in his comments during a telephone interview last week from his home in Southfield, Michigan.

"I'm not comparing myself to anybody else," Tenenbaum said. "But it's pretty frightening that it's taken this long."

Tenenbaum has recently been encouraged by a letter-writing campaign spearheaded by leading politicians and national Jewish organizations. Two months ago, Missouri's Senator Claire McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Homeland Security, wrote Secretary of Defense James Mattis requesting that he personally review the case and direct his department to take appropriate action to provide Dr. Tenenbaum with redress. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive director of Agudath Israel of America, followed suit with his own letter to Secretary Mattis in mid-December, as did David Kurzmann, executive director of the Detroit-area Jewish Community Relations Council, and Dr. Michael Engelberg, president of the New York Center for Civil Justice, Tolerance and Values.

Dr. Tenenbaum, a product of Akiva Hebrew Day School and Yeshiva Beth Yehudah of Greater Detroit, was working in the army's Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in the 1980s on a project tasked with developing technology to better protect military vehicles against the kind of armor-piercing weaponry ultimately used all too lethally against US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 1992, Tenenbaum was chosen to go to Israel on an engineer exchange program, intended to benefit the US Army, but which ended up arousing the canard of dual loyalty. Over the next four years, anti-Semitic coworkers filed seven reports against Tenenbaum under the Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the US Army (SAEDA) regulation. The FBI joined the investigation, even raiding the Tenenbaum home one "Saturday" afternoon while David was enjoying Shabbos lunch with family and guests.

Eventually, all charges were proven baseless, but the damage to his career was irreversible. So far, no one in the Army has been held accountable for their actions. Even though the Army restored Tenenbaum to his post, he is treated as a pariah, and does not receive any meaningful assignments on the job.

Tenenbaum said he has no way of knowing when, or even if, Secretary Mattis will respond to his plea, but he expressed the hopes that more Jews and Jewish organizations will bring his case to the attention of the Trump administration.

"It's an issue that affects everyone in the Jewish community," Tenenbaum said.

A ghostwriter is finishing a book on his saga. Tenenbaum prays that the last chapter - and a happy one at that - can soon be written.

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