The very mention of his name is incendiary.
At a meeting of the Jewish War Veterans Post 609 in Middlesex County, N.J., last Sunday morning, George Applebaum spoke of the post’s former commander, Ben-Ami Kadish.
“Traitor,” someone yelled.
“Dirty traitor,” shouted another.
“You have no right to say that because you have no knowledge of the case,” Applebaum shot back, prompting two members to storm out.
Passions are high in Monroe Township about an hour from New York City, where Kadish, the 84-year-old retired mechanical engineer arrested last month on charges of spying for Israel, has lived for the last 12 years. He is charged with four counts of conspiracy for allegedly passing nuclear secrets to Israel between 1979 and 1985 — documents he secreted out of an Army facility in Dover, N.J., where he worked.
Since being arraigned April 22 in Manhattan Federal Court, Kadish’s life has been turned upside down. He and his wife, Doris, put up their home as collateral in order to post his $300,000 bail and they are now attempting to raise money to pay their legal bill.
And some neighbors have complained about the inconvenience Kadish has caused them in the gated retirement community of The Ponds. For months their mail was regularly delivered very late in the day. Now the mailman has told them why: all mail to the Kadish home had to be inspected before he could make his rounds.
And neighbors who regularly jog through the neighborhood now believe the car that has been parked behind the Kadish home for the longest time belongs to federal agents. Some neighbors say they are even reluctant to visit Kadish at his home for fear conversations there are being recorded.
Although he has kept a lower profile — Kadish and his wife had been known as Mr. and Mrs. Volunteer for all their community activities — the octagenarian has been seen bowling, not alone, incidentally. And several members of the local JWV said he would be welcomed at a barbecue next month at the Veteran’s Memorial Home in Edison. Kadish had made regular monthly visits to that home.
Within hours of his arrest, the national JWV issued a statement saying its national commander, Lawrence Schulman, had ordered Kadish’s immediate suspension. Kadish had been commander of Post 609 in 2003.
“We suspended him from membership pending what happens to him,” Schulman said this week.
But another group to which Kadish belonged, together with his wife, Doris, B’nai B’rith, declined to follow suit. A spokeswoman for B’nai B’rith said that although its bylaws say members must be of “good moral character,” the group would only suspend a member convicted of a crime.
Although last month’s JWV statement said Schulman had “initiated court-martial proceedings to remove [Kadish] from the JWV,” Schulman said Tuesday that such action would only occur if he were convicted. “If he is found not guilty, we will lift the suspension,” he said.
But Applebaum said he and a number of other members of JWV Post 609 believe the national JWV leadership was too hasty.
“They were very quick to throw him under the bus,” he said. “They had a telephone conference call and some of the powers that be [at the JWV] said dump him. So they immediately came up with idea of disassociating from him completely … because we have to be holier than other people.”
Stanley Hoffman, another past commander, called Kadish a “sweetheart of a human being.”
“If I asked him, he would give me the shirt off his back,” he said. Hoffman said most of those he has spoken with believe Kadish is “innocent until proven guilty” and that the national organization was wrong in suspending him.
Although the JWV by-laws call for suspending a member who is indicted, Applebaum said, “in their rush to judgment they forgot Kadish wasn’t even indicted yet.”
He was arrested on a complaint.
When the members of JWV Post 609 met May 4, they wrote Schulman expressing support for Kadish and saying the national organization “acted in a manner that may prove to have a deleterious affect on the public image of the JWV,” Applebaum said.
Schulman said he has “spoken with a few people who feel upset we did what we did and who support [Kadish]. One said that if he is found guilty, we will no longer support him. That is basically our stand as well.”
Applebaum noted that he sent his own letter to Schulman pointing out that Kadish admitted providing classified documents. He said that even though the recipient was Israel, it “does not excuse this breach of law.”
Nevertheless, Applebaum wrote, Kadish “in the course of his service to this post and to our community has conducted himself in a manner that would make him a role model of a patriotic American.”
The federal charges against him paint quite a different picture. It is alleged that while employed at the Picatinny Arsenal, Kadish, acting at the behest of the science attaché at the Israeli Consulate in New York, removed between 50 and 100 documents from the Arsenal’s library.
According to court papers, the Israeli official told Kadish which documents to remove. Kadish is then said to have signed out the documents, put them in his briefcase and driven out of the Arsenal with them.
It is alleged that Kadish took the documents to his home, where the attaché photographed them in the basement. Media reports identified the attaché as Yossi Yagur.
Court documents said Kadish returned the documents to the library the next day. Among the documents said to have been removed were those pertaining to nuclear secrets, F-15 fighter jets and the Patriot air defense system. Kadish had access to them because of the “secret” security clearance he received in 1963 soon after beginning work there.
Shortly after Kadish’s arrest, Israeli authorities issued statements pointing out that Kadish’s alleged activities ended in 1985, the same year Jonathan Pollard was arrested for also being a spy for Israel. They insisted that since then, Israel has not engaged in spying on the U.S.
Meanwhile, back in his community, Kadish is known as a “leader in his participation of service to every cause that could benefit our service personnel, veterans and our local community,” Applebaum said.
“The judgment of this crime should be tempered by his misdirected intent to serve his country by giving assistance to America’s friend and ally,” he said.
But a neighbor of Kadish in the retirement community of The Ponds said many other residents are less forgiving. She said she was astonished at the large number of people who now shun him.
“Some people who used to be his friend now won’t talk to him,” said the neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous. “I can’t believe it. He’s an old man. And what they said happened, happened 25 or 30 years ago.”