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Ma'ariv
One of Israel's Leading Daily Newspapers
(translated from the original Hebrew)

The Base of Anti-Semitism

Tuesday October 28, 2008

By Tzach Yoked

 NOTE: The following is a rough translation from
one of Israel's leading daily Hebrew-language
newspapers, Ma’ariv.

WARNING: This article contains
offensive and racist language

Jewish Private Michael Handman has been hospitalized for already one month after he was brutally beaten by his fellow American soldiers.  Family members tell Ma’ariv about their serious racial threats that preceded this and reveal: anti-Semitism is rampant on the bases.

Not every day, does a violent incident on an American base reach the White House.  But the incident of Jewish Private Michael Handman, who was severely beaten by his comrades, doesn't cease to raise echoes.  The reason: the family is convinced that this is a case of abuse based on anti-Semitism, and tells Ma’ariv about the threats that preceded it.  On the other side, the Army insists: "they're playing the Jew card."

THE KIPPAH [is] OUT OF BOUNDS

Half a year ago, Jonathan Handman from Atlanta, Georgia was still an enthusiastic supporter of his younger son, Michael’s, decision to join the United States Army. "At that time when he had finished two years of college, didn't know what he wanted to do with himself and thought that this could give him some direction in life."  He remembers in an interview to Ma’ariv from his home in Atlanta.  "I was very happy than about the decision he taken, I thought it would even him out a little, and give him a new worldview.  Except now I can't stop eating myself up with the thought that with my own hands, I brought my son to this tragedy that he endured."

When Jonathan speaks about the tragedy that his son experienced, it means the incidents that took place about a month ago at the Fort Benning training base in Columbus, Georgia, in which Michael was struck in the face by several soldiers, suffered a concussion and severe injuries to his face and he was transported to receive medical attention at the nearby hospital.  The incident, like which, it can be presumed, a few take place occasionally on Army bases across the United States, received headlines on all the mainstream media in the United States and even reached the table of the American Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, as a result of the suspicion that the background for the attack was anti-Semitic.

Before the attack, apparently, Michael gave warning in a letter to his parents that he suffers from an anti-Semitic attitude on the part of several of his base mates.  It was also learned that just four days before the incidents, Michael was called to a discussion with his commanders, who sought to clarify additional details about the nature of his complaint in the offensive attitude of the officers and comrades of the base.

While no one disputes the fact of the attack, that took place in the area of the laundry of the base, the parties involved have difficulty agreeing on the motives for the incident.  The refusal of his commanding officers, who even arrested Michael short time after his release from the hospital, to recognize the incidence as an anti-Semitic attack at races wonder, since they do not deny that at least two of the staff sergeants who served on the base treated Michael offensively more than once, because of his religion.  In one of the incidence, Michael was even required by one of the sergeants to remove his kippah while eating in the mess hall on the base, and in another incident, he was called by one of them, a kike, and filthy Jew.

"I remember as a child in Georgia, I saw with my own eyes, the marches of the Ku Klux Klan that passed by my house," recalls Jonathan, "except that I never thought that anti-Semitism would continue to this day, especially not from officers in the American army, who are responsible for training future soldiers of the Army of the United States of America."

But Michael's officers refused to be impressed by the incident, that wasn't blown out of proportion, according to them.  They even decided not to take legal action against the soldiers who attacked him, but to deal with it within the confines of the base.  In addition, they said that the punishment given to the soldiers would not be publicized. These they said acted out of ignorance and without anti-Semitic intent.

Especially surprising, was the position of Neil Block, a former career soldier who serves today as the volunteer liaison for Jewish soldiers on the base. Block claims that not only was Michael not beaten because of anti-Semitism, but also that he is “playing the Jewish card," and he is taking advantage of his position as a religious minority to present himself as a victim. "I'm furious and can't believe it," the father says, in regard to the decision by the Army.  Not to press charges against the soldiers "the Army continues to sweep the whole incident under the rug, just as they did from the moment it happened."

“May God help you”

The first incident occurred four weeks after Michael's enlistment in the Army during last August. "I have never been humiliated or discriminated because of my religious backgrounds.  As has recently happened," Michael wrote to his parents, a short time after his induction.  "I always feel as if I have to watch behind my back.  Some friends in my squad heard some of the soldiers say that they were waiting for me to go to sleep to ‘beat the shit out of me.’” Parallel to this several additional incidents occurred that heightened his sense of frustration, among them the demands that he remove his kippah, and being called by one of the sergeants "kike" and "filthy Jew."

As a result of the letter he received from his son, Michael's father turned to the base commanders, requesting that they deal with his son's complaints.  They called the fresh soldier in to talk with him and asked for further details about the complaints that he presented.  But not only were the problems not resolved, they got worse, and four days after this discussion Michael was severely beaten by a few of the soldiers on the base when he was checking on his clothes in the laundry.  "They hit me in my face and around my temples until I passed out,” he recalled to his parents. “The next thing I remember was the taste of blood and two soldiers standing over me and calling my name."

"Michael became the punching bag of the Army because of his military faith," says the presidents and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to Ma’ariv.  Mikey Weinstein, who served in the military for decades, served as a legal adviser in the White House in the Reagan administration, and has been representing Handman in the last few weeks.  The main thrust of Weinstein's anger is directed naturally towards Block whose role is intended to fill the large deficit of Jewish military chaplains and to fill the basic religious needs of the Jewish soldiers who served on the base.

Block, as noted above, did not represent Michael, and even claimed that the incidence was blown out of proportion because of Michael's victim behavior.  Especially surprising were Block's statements in them into view, that he gave a short time after the incidence in which he describes his tremendous hesitancy about Michael's decision to wear a kippah during his service. "When he told me that he wanted to wear a kippah," Block recalled, "I said, ‘God help you, but be ready, because it will have ramifications that will challenge you.’ There's a sergeant there who had never seen a kippah in his life and he said some offensive things.  Along with facts, the matter was blown out of all proportion. I mean, everybody uses the word "nigger" here and there when they are referring to African-Americans.”

“Kike is like Nigger”

"Block and other people in the Army wanted me to believe in the shallowest fashion that it's possible to conceive of, that the sergeants had no real intentions,” Says Randi, Michael's mother, to Ma’ariv.  "From their point of view, the words kike and filthy Jew don't have to be said in a negative way.  But from my point of view, I can't accept that explanation.  The officers on the base explained to me that we're talking about ignorance only, and I say, whoever is so ignorant shouldn't be an officer in the Army."

"I'm not willing to accept this," says Weinstein.  "10 years ago, I founded this organization to ensure that Jews wouldn't suffer from anti-Semitism and today we've gotten to the point where there are 55 employees who have represented 10,000 soldiers who have suffered from discrimination because of their religious background.  By the way, 96% of the victims are actually Christian, three quarters of which are Protestants and one quarter Catholics."  He emphasizes.  "The claim by the base commanders according to which one of the sergeants had served in Germany, and therefore he thought that the word kite was legitimate, is nonsense.  And I'm not willing to accept it."

Block is trying to justify the incident by claiming that everybody uses the word nigger frequently."  Weinstein sums up, "and I say that I don't use that word, and none of the people around me.  I've gotten up to the Secretary of Defense and the West Wing of the White House has begun to look into the matter.  I won't rest, and I won't be silenced until Block is removed from his position that he was filling and the soldiers who hurt Michael are punished.”


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