Action against ambassador touches nerve in Jewish world

Michael J. Jordan - New Jersey Jewish News - September 26, 2000

NEW YORK, (JTA) In light of several recent security snafus, Washington's intelligence community is clearly under pressure to tighten the cordon around sensitive material.

But the fact that the first diplomat ensnared in the dragnet Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel happens to be Jewish and a controversial conduit in the Middle East peace process touches a nerve for American Jews.

As it became public over the weekend that Indyk's security clearance was suspended, anxiety that Jews may again be accused of "dual loyalty" intermingled with conspiracy theories of who was actually behind it.

One theory pinned it on the Republicans, in an effort to damage the Clinton administration and the Democrats' bid to retain the White House. Another suggested it was somehow coordinated by Likud, the Israeli opposition, and its U.S. allies, who are trying to undermine peace negotiations.

As the Indyk case continues to unfold, it's still unclear what exactly investigators have on him, if it will end his ambassadorship to Israel, and whether it will have any impact on the peace process.

Ostensibly, the ambassador is accused of taking classified work home with him and using a laptop that did not have security clearance actions that are said to be pervasive in the diplomatic corps.

Meanwhile, American Jewish leaders and lobbyists worked the phones, probing sources for both substance and scuttlebutt behind the State Department's attempted reassurances that there is "no indication of espionage" and no "intelligence information has been compromised."

The crux of their concern was summed up in three questions:

  • Was Indyk singled out?

  • If so, why?

  • And why now?

    Jewish sensitivity to the "dual loyalty" accusation is not unfounded, say Jewish activists. That specter has loomed in several high-profile investigations against American Jews over the years.

    The most famous is the Jonathan Pollard case.

    Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was convicted of espionage in 1985 for passing secret U.S. military information to Israel.

    Despite plea bargaining, Pollard was handed a life sentence a move some Jews say smacked of anti-Semitism.

    At the time, other American Jews involved with intelligence were reportedly questioned about their views and loyalties.

    More than a decade later, in February 1997, it was revealed that the U.S. Army was investigating David Tenenbaum, a weapons research analyst, for allegedly sharing classified documents with Israeli military officials. Tenenbaum, who was never charged, is currently suing army officials for being singled out because of his religion.

    And in October 1997, the CIA questioned the Jewish connections of a young lawyer, Adam Ciralsky, who was to be promoted to a White House post. Ciralsky lost his job.

    This summer, he sued the CIA, claiming that rampant anti-Semitism within the agency destroyed his career.

    In a February 2000 segment on the CBS television program "60 Minutes" that explored the Ciralsky case, an unidentified CIA official alleged that Israel recruits religious American Jews to spy on the United States.

    Because of the sensitivity, Jewish leaders and lobbyists ferreting out more information from Washington are being unusually tight-lipped about what their sources are saying.

    They were reluctant to speculate publicly about his suspension, opting to wait for more details of the case to emerge.

    Still, most agreed that as Capitol Hill is leaning on federal agencies to crack down on lax security, it was mere coincidence that Indyk was the first to be exposed.

    But at least one veteran Jewish leader suspects that some in Washington officialdom are engaging in ethnic profiling.

    "Coming on the heels of the Wen Ho Lee situation, I have the impression that the intelligence community is saying, We're not just picking on someone of Chinese ancestry here's someone of Jewish ancestry who we're focusing on,' " said Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

    Reich was referring to the recent case of the Chinese American scientist who was indicted for security violations, detained in solitary confinement and then released after a judge chided the Justice Department for mishandling the case.

    Reich, who over the years has tried to win Pollard's freedom, added that the case against Indyk "seems unfair" and that Indyk was "singled out. Until there's more information, that will be the lingering impression among some Jews."

    The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, on Monday quoted a Democratic congressional aide as saying that Indyk has for several years even before he became ambassador to Israel for a second time in 1999 been warned about "his lapses in securing materials and handling classified material."

    As for who else could be behind the move against Indyk, theories abound. Indyk clearly has earned his share of enemies across the political spectrum.

    In the Arab world, many decried his past employment with the leading pro-Israel lobby in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On the other side, Jews resisting any concessions to the Palestinians have branded Indyk, who has been heavily engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a "Jewish Arabist."

    Some critics couldn't resist trying to connect the dots between a speech Indyk made earlier this month in Jerusalem and his security suspension.

    In a speech at the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College, Indyk was quoted as saying that Jerusalem "is not, and cannot, be the exclusive preserve of one religion, and the solution cannot come from one side challenging or denying another side's beliefs."

    Indyk's critics, such as Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, viewed it as a call to divide Jerusalem.

    "To me, it seems the greatest concern with regard to Indyk is not the most recent allegation about security, but about Indyk's speech in which he supported the Arab view to divide Jerusalem," Klein said.

    Klein, who has lobbied for Indyk's recall during the past week, said Monday that he had actually received a couple calls from supporters congratulating him on contributing to Indyk's suspension.

    But Klein said he did not know whether there was a connection between the complaints about Indyk's remarks and the move against him.

    In a letter to the Conference of Presidents on Monday, Indyk sought to clarify that his comments were not out of line with U.S. policy.

    "Some journalists chose to distort my remarks and convert them into criticism of Israel, which they were not," Indyk wrote. "Perhaps my meaning would have been clearer if I had added that Judaism has never claimed the Holy City as its exclusive preserve' and that Jews have never challenged or denied another side's beliefs."

    Other Jewish leaders were skeptical that the speech and suspension were linked.

    "I haven't talked to anyone who would lead me to believe that it was anything other than a coincidence, in terms of the timing," said Martin Raffel, associate executive vice chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

    However, added Raffel, "the fact that no one's said that there isn't a connection doesn't mean that there isn't."

    However, one source who declined to be identified told JTA that a second ambassador is also under investigation. His case has not been publicized, however, because he serves in a much lower-profile country than Indyk.

    The same source said he was encouraged by the pronouncements of the State Department and other officials that Indyk is not suspected of spying.

    "In a case where they normally wouldn't be saying much, it's significant and suggests that it really does have to do with trying to meet strict security needs, not with violating the national interest," said the source.

    If nothing else, said Reich, the investigation of Indyk somehow tempers the boost to Jewish self-esteem provided by the nomination of Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic candidate for vice president.

    "It almost brings us back to earth, this bubble that has burst," said Reich.

    "Sure, there will be some shivers in the Jewish community, but it will pass."