October 17, 2008

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Two national anti-discrimination organizations joined together and sent a formal letter to the Secretary of Defense asking that two lay Jewish leaders in the U.S. Army be immediately fired for making excuses for the attackers of a Jewish soldier after the brutal beating left him hospitalized with serious injuries, although the full extent of his injuries are still being assessed by military medical personnel.

One leader said the Jewish soldier "played the Jew card," and implied that he brought on the beating, and continued by saying, "everyone uses the 'N' word now and then to refer to African Americans," justifying the underlying racism for the attack.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have sent a joint letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates demanding that the U.S. Army remove the two religious leaders "from their voluntary, unpaid positions as co-Jewish lay leaders at Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia." MRFF Founder and President Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein and the President of the NAACP Georgia State Conference Edward O. DuBose jointly signed the letter.

The resignations are being sought after one of the co-Jewish lay leaders, Neil Block, made discriminatory remarks after the beating of a Jewish soldier. Richard Grifenhagen apparently supported Block's actions.

The soldier is Pvt. Michael C. Handman who is stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Last month, Handman was lured into a laundry room and, in an act of hate, beaten badly. He required emergency medical treatment. Block publicly suggested that Handman used his "minority status" as a Jew to play the "Jew card," or in other words, a "victim."

"Any young Jew who uses his minority status to play the system is villainous," said Block.

"Such atrocious, shameful and blatantly racist comments must never be allowed to go unanswered," wrote Weinstein and DuBose in the letter to the Secretary of Defense. "The U.S. Army simply must not tolerate such a hateful screed from one of its own acting under the color of 'co-Jewish lay leader' authority or any other authority."

Please see below for a full copy of the letter to the Secretary of Defense.


MRFF and NAACP Logos

JOINT MRFF/NAACP LETTER TO SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

October 16, 2008

To: The Honorable Dr. Robert M. Gates, United States Secretary of Defense

This letter is being sent to you jointly by the Georgia State Conference NAACP and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). We refer your direct attention to the horrific matter of the recent savage beating of Private Michael C. Handman who is currently assigned to initial basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Private Handman is Jewish and has obviously suffered mightily, both physically and psychologically, from the anti-semitic actions of his drill sergeants and the resultant fallout which that terrible persecution has spawned. On October, 13, 2008, Mr. Neil Block, who along with Mr. Richard Grifenhagen, is one of the two co-Jewish lay leaders at Fort Benning, made a number of outrageous, racist statements as reported in a press interview with "The Public Record" (www.pubrecord.org) of the same date. These comments have been seemingly supported by Mr. Grifenhagen. Among other extremely hurtful things, Mr. Block accused Private Handman of "playing the Jew Card" and of being "villainous".

While those statements are quite terrible enough, Mr. Block went on to say something particularly wretched. In an effort to excuse and ratify the noxious statements of Private Handman's Army persecutors and to serve as a justifying apologist for these anti-semitic statements, Mr. Block stated "I mean everybody uses the 'n' word now and then to refer to African Americans".

Such atrocious, shameful and blatantly racist comments must never be allowed to go unanswered. Their profoundly divisive and incendiary impact cannot be measured, especially at one of the Army's largest and most respected military training bases.. The United States Army simply must not tolerate such a hateful screed from one of its own acting under color of "co-Jewish lay leader" authority or any other authority. Indeed, there can be no safe harbor for bigotry and prejudice of any magnitude in the United States armed forces.

Accordingly, the Georgia State Conference NAACP and MRFF now officially demand that the United States Army immediately remove these two individuals from their voluntary, unpaid positions as co-Jewish lay leaders at Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq.
Founder & President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org

Edward O. DuBose
President
Georgia State Conference NAACP
www.ganaacp.org/

CC:
The Honorable Preston M. “Pete” Geren, III
Secretary of the Army

General George W. Casey, Jr.
Army Chief of Staff

Major General Walter Wojdakowski
Commanding General of Fort Benning


Click here to view the actual letter
sent to the Secretary of Defense
(PDF)


The Public Record Logo

Jewish Leader Says
Victim of Anti-Semitic Attack
Playing 'Jew Card'

Monday October 13, 2008

By Jason Leopold

Photo of soldiers
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army and Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Some members of the Jewish community are calling for the immediate removal of a retired Navy captain who represents the interests of Jewish soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia Army base that they said made light of anti-Semitic attacks on a soldier.

Three weeks ago, Pvt. Michael Handman was lured into a laundry room at the Fort Benning Army base by other soldiers, knocked unconscious and beaten while he lay on the ground. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance where he was treated for a concussion, facial wounds, and severe oral injuries.

The beating, first reported by The Public Record, took place about a week or so after Pvt. Handman wrote a letter to his mother, Randi Handman, informing her that his drill sergeants used anti-Semitic slurs against him because he wore a yarmulke with his military uniform.

In an interview, retired Navy Captain Neil Block, the Jewish Lay Leader at Fort Benning, seemed to place blame for the brutal attack and the prior incidents of anti-Semitism on Pvt. Handman for naively believing that wearing a yarmulke would not invite ridicule by his fellow soldiers.

“When he told me that he was going to wear a keepah (the Hebrew word for yarmulke) I said God bless you, but be prepared, there’s a consequence to it and you’re going to be challenged,” said Block, who has been the advocate for Jewish soldiers at Fort Benning for the past eight years. The military uses volunteer Jewish lay leaders due to the shortage of rabbis at the nearly 1,000 Department of Defense military installations around the world.

“He has a drill sergeant who has never seen a keepah in his life and treated him less than mommy and daddy would and made some derogatory comments about his faith," Block said.“This whole thing is an issue of overreaction. Should his drill sergeants have known better? Yeah. But they didn’t. I was at a party where people talking about Jewing somebody down. It goes on. Does it make it right? No. But it’s basic training. You can’t control 100 or so soldiers. I mean everybody uses the “n” word now and then "to refer to African Americans.”

In addition, Block suggested that Pvt. Handman used his “minority status” as a Jew to play the “Jew card,” in other words, a “victim.”

“Any young Jew who uses his minority status to play the system is villainous,” Block said. “There’s that element that I am being discriminated against.”

Block said he takes his Jewish faith seriously and there has never been anything “amiss” at Fort Benning on the scale of what Pvt. Handman has alleged.

Block became involved in the matter after Pvt. Handman’s father, Jonathan Handman, contacted Mikey Weinstein, the president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a nonprofit government watchdog group that aims to keep a close eye on the military to ensure its adherence to the law mandating the separation between church and state.

Weinstein spent a decade working as a U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate (JAG), was formerly legal counsel in the Reagan White House and was General Counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.

"The moment we were contacted by the father, Jonathan Handman, MRFF did what it always does in these ever more frequent, tragic matters of unbridled, military-sponsored Christian religious oppression; we moved at light speed to ensure the victim's immediate safety. Next, we demanded that the victim's chain of command comprehensively and fairly investigate and punish those responsible,” Weinstein said.

Indeed, media coverage of the incident after Weinstein’s involvement led the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff, General George W. Casey, to make a personal phone call to Fort Benning last week to inquire about Pvt. Handman’s safety, the Pentagon confirmed Monday.

The anti-Semitic attacks on Pvt. Handman received widespread media coverage following The Public Record’s initial report, which angered Block who believed the incident was blown wildly out of proportion. Last weekend, Block fired off a harshly worded email to Weinstein accusing him of creating a “disaster for us as Jews in and of the military” due to Weinstein’s alleged failure to verify or substantiate the information.

“If you really wanted some perspective instead of merely spewing regurgitated invective and uninformed opinions delivered as verity, it might have been well to contact me for some insight, verification and reality checking,” Block wrote. “Your reflexive assumptions that hate and discontent permeate the military relative to us Jews is publically prejudicial, uninformed and inane. Unfortunately, your public media approach to dealing with these kinds of issues gives you some sort of authority, which you do not deserve. You give comfort and sanction to those who would really try to marginalize us and an excuse for those of us who don’t or won’t measure up and use our ethnicity as their excuse.”

In an interview Monday, Weinstein said he was “alarmed” that Block has chosen to trivialize the anti-Semitic attacks on Pvt. Handman and "is blaming everyone but himself and the Army for this immense travesty, perhaps he will next castigate Private Handman for illegally using his head as a battering ram/jackhammer to smash against the innocent clenched fists of his fellow soldiers.

“Mr. Block displays a truly alarming and willfully reckless disregard for the truth of this tragic Army hate crime and subsequent cover-up. His egregiously transparent, self-aggrandizing and self-serving screed that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) did not immediately gather all salient and germane facts attendant to this civil rights crime and, further, that MRFF is “creating a disaster for us Jews in and out of the military” is blatantly untrue and quite beyond the pale,” Weinstein said. “The incontrovertible facts speak volumes for themselves. Mr. Block is apparently the current reigning Poster Child for Army religious predator apologists.”
Weinstein added that “Block's wretched "Jim Crowesque", callous assessment that everybody uses the word "nigger" sometimes, reveals quite all of which the world needs to know about this sorry excuse for a volunteer military religious leader. MRFF is not requesting, but demanding his immediate dismissal by Fort Benning before he can do any more harm.”

Prior to Weinstein’s involvement, Jonathan Handman sent a letter to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Republican of Georgia. Chambliss immediately contacted the Pentagon to investigate. The Department of Defense sent Chambliss a detailed letter two weeks ago confirming that Pvt. Handman was the victim of anti-Semitism.

“Based on [Private] Handman’s statement and the seriousness of the allegations, the command immediately initiated a commander’s inquiry,” stated a Sept. 26 letter sent to Chambliss by Samuel Selby Rollinson, the Department of the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff. “Based on the inquiry, the Army found that two [non-commissioned officers] inadvertently violated the Army Regulation concerning the free exercise of religion by requiring the Soldier to remove his yarmulke and by using inappropriate terms when referencing the Jewish faith.

“While the actions of the NCO’s were not meant to be malicious, and were done out of ignorance for regulations and cultural awareness, this does not excuse their conduct. The command intends to reprimand both NCO’s for their conduct; require them to present formal blocks of instruction on what religious are authorized for wear; and finally, the battalion chaplain will instruct all cadre members on the Army policy concerning religious accommodation.”

The reprimand of the drill sergeants took place a few days before Pvt. Handman was beaten. Block believes there is no connection between the two incidents and he claims the Army has 100 sworn affidavits stating that the beating of Pvt. Handman was not motivated by anti-Semitism.

“To extrapolate and say that the beating was connected to anti-Semitism is just wrong,” Block said.

One soldier has been held accountable for the beating, Block said, and he has been formally charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Block also recently interviewed the drill sergeants after they were reprimanded for referring to Pvt. Handman as “Juden,” “kike” and “fucking Jew.” During the Holocaust, Jews wore yellow Stars of David with the word “Juden” inscribed on the star.

“Young Mr. Handman asked his drill sergeant if arrangements had been made for soldiers to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services and his drill sergeant said ‘Yes Juden you needn’t worry. Arrangements have been made.’”

Block said his interview with the two drill sergeants led him to believe that “these are two absolutely contrite individuals who did not understand what they were saying.”

“One of the drill sergeants spent time in Germany,” Block said. “Juden is the German word for Jew. To some Jews it may have a pejorative impact. But it’s a legitimate word in German.”

Block said his email to Weinstein was obviously shared with members of the Jewish community who have been sending him emails over the past several days accusing him of being insensitive and demanding he step down or be removed as Jewish Lay Leader.

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, who maintains the popular Jewish affairs website JewsOnFirst wrote a letter to Block Sunday stating that he intended to immediately write to the “Jewish Welfare Board which oversees the services rendered to Jewish Armed Forces personnel.”

“I will, in turn, ask the Union of Reform Judaism to review and investigate your hurtful behavior as "Jewish Lay Leader" at Fort Benning. I want to see that you are swiftly removed,” Rabbi Beliak wrote.

Block said he has received numerous other emails from members of the Jewish community accusing him of being a “self-hating Jew” and a “poor excuse for a Jew,” and unfairly turned him “into the story.”

“They’re accusing me of all kinds of dastardly things,” Block said. “I am the champion of Jewish rights in the military.”


USA Today Logo

AP Logo

Beating of Jewish soldier won't be charged as crime

Monday October 13, 2008

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — An Army trainee will face nonjudicial punishment rather than criminal charges for beating a Jewish soldier so badly he was treated by a hospital, the military said Friday, in a move that keeps many details of the attack secret.

Fort Benning commanders decided not to seek a court-martial in the attack on Pvt. Michael Handman and will resolve it as a personnel matter rather than a crime.

"I'm infuriated," Jonathan Handman, the beaten soldier's father, said Friday. "The Army's continuing to do what they tried to do from the beginning, which is just shovel this under the carpet. It should be treated and charged as a hate crime."

Fort Benning spokeswoman Monica Manganaro said the Army would not release the name of the soldier responsible for the attack, the punishment he received or the results of a military police investigation because nonjudicial punishments are protected under the federal Privacy Act.

Handman, 20, of Atlanta says he was beaten by a fellow trainee Sept. 24 in a laundry room next to their barracks. He was treated at the Army hospital on Fort Benning in Columbus for a concussion and bruising to the left side of his face.

Four days before the attack, Handman was interviewed by commanders of his basic training unit about complaints he'd made in letters to his parents that he had been harassed by two drill sergeants because he's Jewish.

The Army later acknowledged one drill sergeant had ordered Handman to remove his yarmulke, which he wore with his uniform, as he ate in a dining hall. Another drill sergeant had called him "Juden" — the German word for Jews.

Manganaro said military police concluded the attack on Handman wasn't motivated by religious bigotry, but she would give no other details.

"There isn't anything more that I can add," Manganaro said. "The investigation is not public information and the results are not public information."

Handman's father says he believes his son's religion was a factor in the attack because it followed too closely behind his son's harassment complaint to be coincidental.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, agreed. He called the Army's denial of a religious motive in Handman's beating "complete garbage and an absolute cover-up."

"Michael Handman was turned into a punching bag for the Army because of his religious faith," said Weinstein, who has helped the Handmans pursue the case with the Army.

Army commanders have the discretion to forward investigations into violations of military law to a court-martial or to handle them administratively, as happened in Handman's case. Manganaro said the decision to pursue nonjudicial punishment was made by Handman's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Anthony Benitez.

While Fort Benning officials would not say what punishment Handman's attacker received, Manganaro said the maximum allowable would be 45 days restriction where he would be unable to leave his unit buildings, 45 days of extra duty, a reduction in grade and forfeiture of pay.

Fort Benning officials transferred Handman to a new training battalion of about 900 soldiers a week ago to separate him from his attacker and the two drill sergeants, who were reprimanded for religious discrimination.

Handman began basic training Aug. 29 and soon wrote a letter to his parents in which he said, "I have just never been so discriminated against/humiliated about my religion." He said he feared some of his fellow trainees "wanted to beat the (expletive) out of me... And the only justification they have is because I'm Jewish."

Handman's parents contacted U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who forwarded their concerns to the Army. Four days after commanders interviewed Handman about being harassed, he was beaten.


JTA Logo

Assault or hate crime in attack
on Jewish soldier at U.S. base?

Monday October 13, 2008

By Lori Gross

NEW YORK (JTA) -- All sides agree that a beating last month left a Jewish U.S. Army trainee, Pvt. Michael Handman, with facial wounds, severe oral injuries and a concussion. What’s in dispute is whether the assault -- at the base in Fort Benning, Ga. -- was carried out by multiple attackers, and if it was the product of an anti-Semitic campaign waged by Handman’s superiors.

The military has charged just one person, a fellow trainee, and insists that he was not motivated by anti-Semitism. Handman’s supporters, on the other hand, believe multiple attackers were involved and feel the incident was connected to anti-Jewish slurs dished out to Handman by two company drill sergeants.

Military officials declined to make Handman available for comment, and separate efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. His mother, Randi Handman, told JTA that her son only remembers being called into the laundry room to retrieve clothing, was struck and spun on his back while sorting through a pile, then covering his head to shield it from blows before drifting into the blackness of a concussion. He says several recruits were in the room before the beating commenced, his mother added.

Just days before the Sept. 24 assault, the two drill sergeants were issued letters of reprimand, in which they were accused by the military of addressing Handman with anti-Jewish slurs, including “Juden.” In the base’s mess hall, one of the drill sergeants also demanded that he remove his yarmulke, which he had begun to wear in the few weeks following his induction.

Though army regulation allows for individuals to wear a yarmulke, praying while on guard duty -- which Handman was rebuked for -- is against regulation, because soldiers must limit their focus to guarding weapons. According to his mother, Handman says that he was not praying, but merely reading Jewish canon -- three feet from where another guard had been reading the New Testament undisturbed.

She also said that prior to the assault, she received a foreboding letter from her son, warning her that he would be attacked.

“I have just never been so discriminated against/humiliated about my religion,” he wrote, adding: “I just feel like I'm always looking over my shoulder. Like my battle buddy heard some of the guys in my platoon talking about how they wanted to beat the shit out of me tonight when I'm sleeping. It just sucks. And the only justification they have is [because] I'm Jewish. Maybe your dad was right...The Army is not the place for a Jew.”

The case has attracted the attention of Mikey Weinstein, leader of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an outfit that fights alleged religious bias in the U.S. military. Weinstein, whose foundation has launched its own investigation of the beating, says that the drill sergeants referred to Handman as “fucking Jew” and kike. According to Weinstein, platoon members attempted to dispirit Handman by ejaculating in his pillow.

Handman’s father, Jonathan, contacted U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in the hopes that he would take an interest in the investigation, and urge the military to switch his son to a less hostile company. In response to the senator’s inquiries, Fort Benning’s Deputy Chief of Staff Samuel Selby Rollinson wrote that he does not condone the actions of the non-commissioned officers in slurring Handman, and denying him the right to wear a yarmulke or attend Jewish prayer services. But, Rollinson added, their actions were “not meant to be malicious, and were done out of ignorance for regulations and cultural awareness.”

Military police have concluded that Handman was attacked by a lone assailant, a fellow trainee that they refuse to identify, citing army regulations. The suspect has been charged by military police with assault, and is subject to yet-to-be determined penalties, including 45 days of restricted movement, extra duty, reduction in grade and forfeiture of pay. Military officials denied JTA requests to speak with the private who was charged in the assault.

Handman has been moved out of his original platoon to a rehabilitation platoon to recuperate from his injuries, and is now in a different battalion.

When asked through what method of investigation it was determined that the non-commissioned officers “inadvertently” violated the private’s religious rights, a spokeswoman for Rollinson, Monica Manganaro, said that they acted “out of character,” are experienced drill sergeants and had a superb record of performance up until this incident.

Weinstein said that the military frequently attempts to portray such incidents as one-time occurrences. He criticized the army’s choice of Lt. Dan Kim to lead the investigation of the motives behind the assault, saying that he would ultimately be the one accountable for prevalent misconduct.

According to army officials, Kim spent days gathering 100 sworn testimonies from every member of Handman’s company, all of whom denied that religious prejudice was pervasive, or that it provoked the beating.

Fort Benning’s spokeswoman was unaware of the “battle buddy” who Handman said had warned him of a pending assault fueled by anti-Semitism. According to the spokeswoman, Kim and military police officials say they have uncovered another motive during the investigation, but military privacy regulations prohibit her from sharing that information.

Weinstein argued that the sworn testimony of the privates is unreliable, since it was solicited by a lieutenant who ranks above them.

Claims that a conflict of interest exists were dismissed by an army spokeswoman, who pointed out that Kim answers to his superior, the battalion commander, and is obligated to render a truthful investigation.

Weinstein criticized the penalty, saying it was an outrage that the assailant was not even given the lowest form of a court martial. Handman’s father called the punishment “cute” and merely a slap on the wrist.


USA Today Logo

AP Logo

Atheist soldier drops suit against Gates, set to leave Army

Monday October 13, 2008

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An atheist soldier who accused U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Defense Department of violating his religious freedom dropped the lawsuit Friday, citing his plans to leave the Army next spring.
But the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which filed the suit in 2007 with Pfc. Jeremy Hall, still plans to pursue allegations of widespread religious discrimination within the military in a separate lawsuit it filed with a second atheist soldier.

Attorneys for Hall filed papers Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., to dismiss the case, said Mikey Weinstein, head of the foundation.

Hall and the foundation sued over Hall's claims that a major prevented him from holding an atheist meeting while deployed in Iraq. That officer denied the allegation.

Dropping the lawsuit avoids a fight over whether Hall has standing to sue if he is no longer in the Army, which he plans to leave in 2009, Weinstein said.

"He broke the barrier for us to have more people come forward," Weinstein said of Hall. "He served as a shining light that attracted all the other potential witnesses."

This is the second time Hall, 24, and the foundation have withdrawn the lawsuit. They refiled in March, adding claims that Hall was threatened with retaliation from other soldiers and officers, including the blocking of his promotion to sergeant and a telephone death threat against him and his wife that was traced to another soldier.

Fort Riley investigators said that the threat wasn't serious and that the soldier who left the message was intoxicated.

Spc. Dustin Chalker, a combat medic who filed the second lawsuit in October, also named Gates as a defendant. Chalker alleged he was required to attend three events from December 2007 to May 2008 at Fort Riley at which Christian prayers were delivered.

The lawsuit cited examples of the military's religious discrimination by fundamentalist Christians, including programs for soldiers, presentations by "anti-Muslim activists" and a "spiritual handbook" for soldiers endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Defense officials have declined to comment on either lawsuit but have said the military has a longstanding policy against discrimination that preserves religious freedom for all in uniform. It also has said complaints about alleged religious discrimination are rare.

Weinstein said Hall recently was transferred to another military police company. He plans to attend college and serve as a liaison with the foundation on religious freedom issues.


AP Logo

News Blaze: MRFF is Main Opposition of Alliance
Defense Fund, Legal Arm of
Focus on the Family

October 17, 2008

...Today, the West's key players on gay marriage include the Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit law firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz. It has 40 lawyers on staff, according to its Web site, and works with nearly 1,100 attorneys nationwide advocating for a Christian presence in national parks, city council meetings and other venues. The Alliance Defense Fund often goes to court against gay marriage, and represents the Yes on Proposition campaign in California. God has granted us an amazing opportunity to serve Him in courtrooms, the firm says. God created marriage as the unity of one man and one woman. This has been both the legal and traditional understanding of a marriage ¦ for millennia, since Eden (referring to the Bible story that the first man and woman met in the Garden of Eden). There is no more critical battle for our nation's future.

On the other side, the West is home to groups such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Based in Albuquerque, N.M., it challenges the growing evangelical Christian influence in the U.S. military. Generals and other officers often pressure their soldiers to join in Christian prayers and read the Bible" even to play Christian video games. And the military's evangelical tone includes virulent homophobia, says the group's founder, Mikey Weinstein. He's a Jewish graduate of the Air Force Academy, a lawyer and registered Republican, who speaks rapid-fire about religious predation by military superiors (who are) fundamentalist Christians" the draconian specter of military command influence being used to commit spiritual rape.

More than 9,000 active and retired military people including gays and lesbians in uniform, highly decorated combat vets and generals" have complained to Weinstein's group about the pressure they face, he says. The group currently has two lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Defense in an attempt to make the military evangelicals back off. The group's supporters include former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm and the California Council of Churches IMPACT group, which represents more than 5,000 churches serving 21 Protestant denominations. We have some gay people on the advisory board of the group, Weinstein says, and it's possible" though not on our scope right now that someday he'll go to court specifically to try to force the military to be more accepting of gays and gay marriage. Anybody who is against gay rights, he says, is an enemy of ours...

Click here to read entire article...


Mikey Weinstein Honored

Jews For Racial & Economic Justice
12th Annual Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer
Risk-Taker Awards

Thursday, November 20th, 6-9pm

Congregation B'nai Jeshurun
New York City

This year JFREJ will be honoring Ann Cook, Deborah Meier, Mikey Weinstein & Families for Freedom

Past Risk-Taker honorees have include Allen Ginsberg, Michael Ratner, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Rev. James Forbes, Art Speigelman, Grace Paley, Debbie Almontaser, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Domestic Workers United, to name a few.

Nov 20th Event Photo

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS TO THIS EVENT


MRFF In Box
MRFF's Inbox

October 11, 2008

Mikey,

The reporting on the recent Fort Benning incident involving a Jewish soldier ostensibly vilified for his Judaism and then beaten up as a result, which includes many repeated quotes from you without any apparent verification or substantiation, is beyond unfortunate. The national picture presented has been a disaster for us as Jews in and of the military. As reported and as subsequently addressed by the army within its legal constraints, the picture provided is significantly skewed and distorted.

As Jewish Lay Leader here at Fort Benning, the largest Jewish military agglomeration in the armed forces, I have been very much involved when an issue of insensitivity and ignorance developed into a media fanned storm. I speak not as an “apologist” but as a US Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy Captain who has been very close to military Jewish programs for a very long time and who has lived the Jewish military experience.

If you really wanted some perspective instead of merely spewing regurgitated invective and uninformed opinions delivered as verity, it might have been well to contact me for some insight, verification and reality checking.

Your reflexive assumptions that hate and discontent permeate the military relative to us Jews is publically prejudicial, uninformed and inane. Unfortunately, your public media approach to dealing with these kinds of issues gives you some sort of authority which you do not deserve.

You give comfort and sanction to those who would really try to marginalize us and an excuse for those of us who don’t or won’t measure up and use our ethnicity as their excuse.


Neil Block
Captain, US Navy, Retired
USNA ‘61
Jewish Lay Leader
US Army Infantry Command
Fort Benning, GA


MRFF Supporters reply to Neil Block:

October 12, 2008

Dear Mr. Block,

I am Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak. I am a Reform Rabbi. I was born in Germany in a Displaced Persons camp and came to this country in 1951. For years, I have studied and written about the history of our people especially during the Holocaust. I want you to know something of my background because it will help you understand some of what you will read below. When I was a little boy, I was attacked by a bully who called me names -- dirty Jew etc. I came home crying but my father was not sympathetic for too long. He taught me to fight and I beat up that kid the next time he started calling me names. Twenty-five years later, I met him at my high school reunion and he reminded me of that beating. I am used to standing up for my people and I am most adamant when I must stand up to a fellow Jew who is helping the haters of my people. My Dad's words to me when he taught me to fight that day were: I didn't come to America and survive the concentration camps (Katzet) for my children to come home crying. I am among the Jews who care deeply about how Jews think about each other and I don't brook self-haters! After World War II and the Holocaust, Jewish dignity is not to be treated lightly. You have acted dishonorablely toward fellow Jews and must be held accountable!

You should know that one of those whom you attacked, Mikey Weinstein, the President and Founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org), is an advisory board member of the web site www.JewsOnFirst.org which I co-lead with Jane Hunter. Mikey Weinstein is a very close and respected friend.. Some material relevant material can be found at http://www.jewsonfirst.org/weinstein.html and http://www.jewsonfirst.org/military.html#chaplains.

You have bragged about your personal military accomplishments. Know that Mikey Weinstein and his immediate family have a distinguished, long history with the U.S. Armed Forces including three consecutive generations of service academy graduates (including Mikey) and over 130 years of combined active duty military service to America in practically every major combat engagement our country's been in from World War I to the current War on Terror. Mikey is a former White House Legal Counsel to President Ronald Reagan and General Counsel to H. Ross Perot. Mr. Perot is a close friend and Annapolis classmate of Mikey's father. Recently, The Forward, designated Mikey Weinstein one of The Forward's "50 Most Influential Jews in America."

Mikey shared with me your imperious letter to him which I read in utter shock and horror. I spoke to Mrs. Handman, the mother of Private Michael Handman, who described her Yom Kippur encounter with you. On the basis of what you wrote to Mikey and because I am thunderstruck at your behavior, I am immediately writing to the Jewish Welfare Board which oversees the services rendered to Jewish Armed Forces personnel on Monday morning. I will, in turn, ask the Union of Reform Judaism to review and investigate your hurtful behavior as "Jewish Lay Leader" at Fort Benning. I want to see that you are swiftly removed. Finally, I am exercising my responsibility and right as a Jew to call you to a Beit Din (a Jewish court). I will call upon a Beit Din in Atlanta and have you officially summoned. I hope that you will respond. The court will explain to your rights and, I hope, you do not attempt to ignore their summons.

At issue will be your callous disregard for fellow Jews, your intentional hateful and despicable attitude and actions toward Mrs. Handman and her son Michael, and your self-hating expressions and denigration to Mikey Weinstein. I intend to do all that I can to bring this kind behavior to a public forum and to have a formal judgment brought against you by the Jewish community you betrayed. I would ask you to carefully consider my words since these are meant as an opportunity for you to express your sincerest regret and issue apologies to the Handmans and Mikey Weinstein.

Mr. Block, you could have aided Private Michael Handman without unilaterally judging him. You had no right to even whisper an uninformed doubt in the face of a young Jewish soldier's pleas for help. You certainly were not empowered to publicly side with his vicious attackers and harassers. You acted as an apologist for cowardly and ignorant people who cowardly assaulted and beat up a member of the Armed Forces of this country and whose sole "crime" was asserting his constitutional right to be a Jew. You chose to single out and embarrass this young soldier in public when his mother and cousin came to visit him, at your invitation, in synagogue on Yom Kippur!. You chose to suggest to his mother that he somehow invited this beating and that he doesn't "measure up". Your ignorant remarks to nationally recognized civil rights champion Mikey Weinstein are idiotic and insulting. I hope you take this opportunity to repair the serious damage you have done to these individuals as I intend to take the means I have outlined to bring this behavior to the attention of the broadest section of the Jewish community in America and beyond.

You have failed in the elementary human and Jewish duty to aid the "fallen." Instead, you have sided and aligned yourself with the haters of the Jewish people. Worse, your impudent certitude extended to the perpetrators of anti-semitic acts. You had neither informed knowledge of the events nor any experience in adjudicating these issues or even investigative powers. Does it make sense to excuse a drill sergeant's overt and public use of Nazi terminology against a Jewish - American army recruit? Does it make sense to side with a person of superior military rank who gleefully ambushes A subordinate ranking Jewish soldier? Does it make sense to denigrate an honorable man and the courageous organization he founded who have publicly and effectively fought to remove unconstitutional religious intolerance and hate from the American military through his years of work with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation? Do you really not know of the horrific treatment of the kind that was visited upon Private Michael Handman, and over 9,300 other American servicemen and women who are clients of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation? (You should know that 96 per cent of the foundation's complaints of religious predation and discrimination came from Protestants and Catholics; the remaining four per cent were from Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, and many other faiths.) Do you understand the significant way in which this kind of bigoted behavior undermines our military morale and, thus, also seriously threatens our national security? Why do you side with the haters of your fellow Jewish Americans? Are you so involved in your own self-hate that you no longer comprehend what has happened to diminish the operational combat readiness of the United States military through overt religious intolerance?

Mr Block, these are the hours just after Yom Kippur, and I strongly advise you to use this time to immediately apologize to the Handmans and Mikey Weinstein in a public manner.

I will, naturally, make sure that as many of my rabbinic colleagues as possible are made aware of your behavior.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak
www.JewsOnFirst.org


October 13, 2008

Captain Block,

I was surprised to learn that you are no longer active duty military and yet are serving in some capacity as a religious lay leader at Ft. Benning. During all my years serving as a Religious Program Specialist in the US Navy I never encountered one instance where a civilian (US Veteran or otherwise) served as an official lay leader at a military installation. Obviously as a civilian you are not subject to the UCMJ; however, you are still subject to having both your position and base privileges revoked.

I have to say that I find your actions doubly troubling because at one time you actually served in the capacity of a Captain, an O6 in the US Navy. I had the honor and privilege of serving with several Captains during my enlistment, I even had the great privilege of serving on the staff of the Commander of Submarine Squadron 14; however, throughout my service I never once encountered anyone who abused their rank or position by engaging in religious harassment and abuse – that sort of behavior is typically well below the standard expected of an officer and a gentleman.

Since you are a veteran serving as a religious lay leader at Ft. Benning, your actions fall even more squarely within my responsibility as Director of Veterans Affairs for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation; this of course delights me because it gives me even more opportunity to use every means at my disposal to see to it that your position as religious lay leader and your base privileges are revoked. Achieving that, I am confident that Rabbi Beliak will see to it that the larger Jewish community is alerted to your actions and attitudes so that they can observe you and guard others against your actions as a self-loathing Jew.

Mr. Block, I want you to know that I know who you are – that is, I know the kind of person you are; I have encountered individuals like you before. As a Jewish Veteran I have experienced Anti-Semitism and religious discrimination first hand. I know the drill. I am unmoved by excuses and I don't back down. When it comes to religious discrimination, abusive behavior and the use of rank, position or privilege to abuse others I am 100% intolerant. I've faced off with bastards like you before. You can ask around about me if you like: individuals in positions of authority within the Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Congress know my name and take my calls; they know that if I'm mad as hell they've got one hell of a problem on their hands, and I don't think I've ever been as angry as when I learned of your premeditated abuse of both Private Handman and his mother. Unlike others, I am not intimidated by your former rank or the fact that you seem to still think you can continue to wear it on your shoulders (where you think of yourself as "Captain Block" others who see who you are think of you only as "Mr. Blockhead") In fact, as an active duty enlisted man I once had to deal with a Commander – an O5 – who engaged in gross misconduct that directly impacted not only me, but injured my wife. When I dared to stand up to him, he ordered me to appear before him in Captain's Mast (he was the C.O. of the shore command in Holy Loch, Scotland). But I knew my rights and I had the courage of my convictions; besides, he had violated the UCMJ and I had both truth and justice on my side. In the end he was court martialed and reassigned. In fact, in the end, once the Navy turned over a few stones, they uncovered a wealth of misconduct that he'd been illicitly engaged in; of course this is typical of slimy individuals such as him, and I image such as you too. I was a mere E4 at the time; his rank didn't intimidate me then, and your former rank doesn't intimidate me now.

In conclusion I want to reiterate what I mentioned in my last note: I will not sleep until I have ensured that justice is served in regards to you. Before I'm done you are going to become a cautionary tale for others who would engage in similar acts of abuse of power. Those of us who care about justice, about our Constitution and the state of the US Military will see to it that you become infamous and that your name becomes a byword; believe it or not, even in these challenging times there are still many, many of us alive and well in the world today – your actions and belligerence have succeeded in clenching our fists and directing our energies toward justice. Sooner or later judgment comes to us all; my job is to see that yours comes sooner rather than later. My only advice to you at this point is to take stock of yourself and do the right thing. You need to publicly apologize for your acts and then remove yourself from any position of leadership within the Jewish community. Failing that, neither I nor any other person of conscience will have any choice but to see to it that you are both held accountable for your actions and removed from any position where you can repeat them.

Sincerely,

Akiva David Miller
Director of Veterans Affairs
Military Religious Freedom Foundation


October 13, 2008

Mr. Neil Block,

My name is Rabbi [name withheld] and I served as the Jewish Chaplain for [military installation name withheld] back in the year [withheld]. The antisemitism that I encountered down there was horrific and I had to deal with neo Nazi behaviour and constant harassment from the other chaplains I worked with. I had one chaplain who purchased Nazi uniforms on the German black market and wanted to celebrate Holocaust Memorial Day and decorated the Officer's Club at [military installation name withheld] with his disgraceful uniforms proudly and sickeningly with the swastikas.

So here was an Army private who was being harassed and beaten with blatant antisemitism in Fort Benning and who was desperate for your help and you stuck a knife in his back on Yom Kippur! You took a fellow Jew who was desperate for your help as a lay leader and helped the perpetrators continue their evil...on Yom Kippur.

My grandparents are both holocaust survivors who told me stories of Jews in the Judenrat who assisted the Nazis in rounding up Jews for the trains to the camps and gas chambers. You, Mr. Block are no different than the Judenrat. Instead of protecting an Army private who's being beaten and harassed because of his religion, you are helping the perpetrators who are guilty. Shame on you!

Shame on our community for even having you!

Rabbi [name withheld]


Other emails MRFF has received
relating to the Ft. Benning matter:

October 13, 2008

Dear MRFF,

This is so sick! Juden? I have not heard that ugly word since I saw those old black and white newsreels from WW2. How would these young Drill Sgts know that word unless they are white supremists? Oh, and some jerk can read his Bible while our young man can' t read his religious book? There's a double standard. And, eeewwww, there is some mysterious reason why our young man deserved this beating, but because of the Privacy Act, they can't tell us?

This is heart breaking and stomach wrenching. He needs to stay in long enough if they don't kill him first so he can file for a PTSD VA compensation. Just document everything the Barf bags do.

[name withheld]


October 14, 2008

Mikey!

Here we have yet another shot into the wall of separation between Church and State, this time using the head and body of a Jewish soldier as the missive! This is the direct result of the US allowing the poisonous growth of a "faith-based" military services which apparently now accept racists and anti-Semites with history of membership in KKK, neo-Nazi and Aryan Identity organizations.

Some factual comments (see attached):
1) the Nazi-forced "Star of David" has the word "Jude", meaning "Jew",
2) the only possible point of origin for the doofus NCOs' use of the word "Juden" derives from the Nazi and neo-Nazi use of the German "Juden raus!", I.e. "Jews out {of here}!", the word Juden being the plural of Jude.
3) the "Juden raus!" slogan is one of the most frequently used ones in spray-painted graffiti on Jewish headstones, Temples and social organizations' walls and doors by neo-Nazis and their ilk. It originated in the 1930s in Germany.
4) it thus follows that the two so-called NCOs had at least some contact with the "Juden raus!" phrase and that was most likely through some kind of contact, or contacts, with virulently anti-Semitic individuals and/or organizations now boring from within the US military establishment and enabled by the pro-radical-Christian sermons enforced on the service people.

[name withheld]


October 14, 2008

Mikey,

This Block guy sounds like a real "blockhead." Even his accounts of hearing "Jew someone down" at a party, and people using the "n" word are ridiculous. Did he not say anything to the offenders? Did he just "let it slide?" Does this guy even have a backbone?!?! What an idiot. Lay-leader? More like lay-person, who doesn't have a clue in this case. Plus, the whole self-hating Jew thing really came through with his comments about how Handman should expect to be treated differently for wearing a yarmulke, and that by claiming you were discriminated against - that somehow makes you a bad person. I really hope Pvt Handman recovers well from this, both physically AND emotionally. Your fight is all the more important for soldiers like him. Thanks Mikey.

[name withheld]


October 14, 2008

Mikey, this quote is really bothering me, "The Army has 100 sworn affidavits stating that the beating of Pvt. Handman was not motivated by anti-Semitism." Are these 100 military personnel saying that they took part in the beating? How else would they know whether it was motivated by anti-Semitism? Was one person inside the heads of the 99 other people who signed an aaffidavit to know what motivated them? This is pure BS. That's like me signing an affidavit saying that Ted Bundy wasn't really a serial killer, he was just misunderstood!

I'd love to know how much arm twisting went into getting those 100 sworn affidavits.

[name withheld]


October 14, 2008

[This email is in response to the following quote from The Public Record's story: "Block said. 'I am the champion of Jewish rights in the military.'"]

Mikey

I guess you can shut down MRFF now.... Maybe he can champion for the other 96% you serve....

[name withheld]


October 17, 2008

You, and your tribe, are the people who give Jews a bad name!

[name withheld]
LTC, US Army-Ret


October 12, 2008

This amazing e-mail was sent from Iraq to Spc. Dustin Chalker, our Military Religious Freedom Foundation co-Plaintiff in our just-filed litigation against the Department of Defense in Kansas City, Kansas

pardon my intrusion upon your ako account, but i read about your lawsuit in the stars and stripes and i just would like to commend you on it. i really hope you win. i agree with you that the army is rife with religious infringement and does a piss poor job separating church and state. not two days ago, i was forced to attend a hispanic heritage event that started off with a prayer from the chaplain (who orders the whole group to 'bow your heads') and a benediction at the end. can the army explain to me why not one, but two prayers are needed for a cultural event? it can not. but it's such a rampant thing in the army, that no one thinks twice. i've had a suicide prevention class by the chaplain, who told me i should be giving a 'spiritual rating' to my soldiers in their monthly counselings. i have to endure prayers before convoys, prayers before deploying, prayers during ceremonies, prayers during almost all military events nowadays. no one can tell me the army isn't biased in favor of christians. and the only reason it doesn't get more soldiers complaining, isn't because the majority are christians, but because un-religious people tend to be less crazy. you tell a religious fanatic that there can't be a forced prayer before a convoy and they decry discrimination and the world is outraged. you tell an atheist that they have to be subjected to listening to a prayer and they silently take it. so as not to disrespect other people's beliefs or merely because they are used to it. i wish more people would stand up to it. i wish i could have joined you in your lawsuit. i think your lawsuit is an epitome of personal courage-one of the army values. good luck and good for you. too bad there is such backlash and reprisals for standing up for what you believe in in the army. you'll be lucky if your chain of command doesn't blackball you or chapter you. i don't consider myself an atheist, but i'm certainly not a christian, and i feel like christianity is forced upon me all the time in the army. i can't escape it. the chain of command made a trip to a monastery mandatory out here (mosul) saying it was 'cultural'. before we left fort stewart, the battalion sergeant major wanted soldiers to support a prayer circle that took place after duty hours and off-base. our first sergeant argued he couldn't force the soldiers to do it, so all soldiers who did were offered no PT if they went. offering incentives for religious soldiers-or encouraging and coercing non-religious soldiers to go if they wanted benefits. sounds pretty biased to me. and that's just what i've seen since i've been in this unit. there are plenty more stories to go around. so, like i said, i understand and i agree with you. you are by no means alone.
very sincerely, (NAME, RANK AND UNIT WITHHELD)


MRFF's Mikey Weinstein
portrayed in major theater production at Kirk Douglas
Theater in Los Angeles

September 21st - October 26th

MRFF President and Founder Mikey Weinstein's Federal lawsuit against the United States Air Force in October 2005 was an igniting spark to uncover the unconstitutional religious infiltration of fundamentalist evangelism in the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  This play features Mikey’s struggle as part of the larger tapestry of events occurring in and around Colorado Springs.

Click here for tickets and showtimes

Special Offer
$20 Tickets!

Offer Valid through Oct. 26th
Mention code CIVILIANS or enter
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The Beautiful City Poster

A mesmerizing, fiercely intelligent portrait of Colorado Springs.

The Civilians, the OBIE-Award winning theatre company from New York City known for their boldly theatrical snapshots of the human psyche, brings its newest project to the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

In this new play with music, they tackle the fervor behind the Evangelical movement, the effect its growth had on its unofficial U.S. capital, Colorado Springs, and the confusion of a community in crisis following the scandalous fall of pastor Ted Haggard.

Created from interviews with actual persons and featuring music by the award-winning composer of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, This Beautiful City is a fiercely intelligent, explosive and ultimately sincere exploration of a uniquely American phenomenon and its passionate followers.

Co-produced with the Vineyard Theatre, New York.

The Beautiful City Photo

Click on the image above to watch a 1 minute promotional video for
The Civilians' This Beautiful City performed at Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays in March 2008.


Is there a "Shadow Government"
In The Pentagon?

Thriller Partially Based Upon MRFF-Discovered
Shocking Evidence Sheds Light on Secret
Religious Organization in the Military

Apocalypse Directive book cover

Washington, D.C. –In The Apocalypse Directive [Dorchester Publishing], the new political thriller from Washington insider Douglas MacKinnon, the President of the United States is a devout Christian frustrated with what he sees as the downfall of mankind.  With the help of like-minded individuals in the top echelons of the government, the president hatches a plan that is not only horrifying in scope, but entirely plausible. 

Ian Campbell is a former Navy SEAL and currently the White House Deputy Chief of Staff.  He is taken into the president’s inner circle—only to realize the president is about to bring about the end of the world because this Commander in Chief believes it is God’s will.  With the assistance of covert organization of high-ranking military leaders and government officials, the plan is launched and appears headed for completion. While unsure of what is actually happening, the president raises the suspicion of the first female Vice President and another government sub-group determined to stop the president.

There is an important connection within this book to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The religious group in the novel, “The Christian Ambassadors,” is based on the real-life group “The Christian Embassy.”  MRFF was the first entity to break the Christian Embassy story internationally in December 2006 (after a textual reference to same in a Harper's article by Jeff Sharlet, bestselling author of the recently released blockbuster "The Family") via a heavily attended press conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. MRFF demanded a DoD Inspector General office investigation into the organization, which resulted in the official recommendation of "corrective action" for multiple high-ranking officers within the Pentagon. Powerful editorials in The Washington Post have criticized this group for filming a fundraising video at the Pentagon and interviewing high-ranking officers who were in uniform.  A recent New York Times story revealed that U.S. Military Academy cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen routinely face intense religious proselytizing by this group. In addition, other portions of the book are directly based on and cite specific evidence which MRFF was the first entity to discover and make public.

Using a fast-paced narrative, and drawing on a background in military and White House affairs, MacKinnon brings the reader into the Oval Office, aboard Air Force One and into government meetings conducted at the highest levels.  By shedding light on religious extremism, he raises pointed questions about the role of faith in military leadership and its place in the hierarchy of national defense issues.

Douglas MacKinnon was a senior advisor to former Sen. Bob Dole.  He has served as a high-level Pentagon official with Top Secret clearance.  Before the Pentagon he served at the White House as an aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He is a nationally syndicated columnist and a frequently quoted political analyst.  He is a native of Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Click Here to Order Book from Amazon.com

Read Douglas MacKinnon's article in The Huffington Post

Read Chris Rodda's Book Review from The Huffington Post



Mikey Weinstein and his family are featured
in Oscar nominated director
Oren Jacoby's newest documentary.

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DVD ON SALE NOW!

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MILITARY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOUNDATION
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donated to the foundation.

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So, keep the emails coming, and never think that anything is too insignificant or assume that we might already know about it. You never know -- you might have stumbled into the next bombshell of a story and not even realize it.

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