Unfortunately, the disturbing case of a U.S. government agency denying security clearance to an American Jewish dentist because he has close relatives in Israel is not a fluke.
“In the past decade there have been 105 reported instances in which employees of military contractors have had their clearance denied because of ties to Israel,” according to Avi Schick, an attorney who is working pro bono on behalf of Dr. Gershon Pincus, the dentist in question. Schick said that those cases represent “only a subset of the denials due to Israel ties” by the government, noting that “the reported cases only involve denials to employees of government contractors. They do not include denials to direct military employees such as Dr. Pincus,” and they only list “those who appealed the denial.” So the problem is very real.
Pincus, 62, who has been in practice for 35 years, has lived all of his life in New York, and his father served in the Air Force during World War II. After giving up his full-time dental practice, Pincus registered to work three days a week at a naval dental clinic in Saratoga Springs, though it is about 200 miles north of his home in Far Rockaway. (He later explained that he felt a sense of duty “to assist those who have chosen to serve in the U.S. military.)
Soon after he began work at the clinic last year he was subject to a routine interview for security clearance. He noted that he has a brother, sister and elderly mother who suffers from dementia living in Israel. The interviewer concluded that “there is nothing in [his] background or character that would make him vulnerable to blackmail, extortion, coercion or duress.”
But in March of this year, in a rare move, an investigator at the Maryland headquarters of the Office of Personnel Management called for a second round of questioning of Pincus, to “develop information related to potential foreign influence and/or foreign preference.”
With one exception, every question put to him in the second interview was related to Israel. Still, the second interviewer had no concerns, according to the official documents.
But in September, Pincus received a Notice of Intent to Deny eligibility for security clearance, which means he could not continue in his job. The reason given: “You have weekly telephone contact with your mother and brother in Israel. You added [that] your mother, sister and brother may have contact with neighbors in Israel. Foreign contacts and interests may be a security concern due to divided loyalties or foreign financial interests.”
“Divided loyalties” is an old anti-Semitic charge, so it is doubly upsetting to see the phrase appear in an official government document. It seems the three-decade-old spy case of Jonathan Pollard hangs heavy with the U.S. Navy.
Under the Obama administration, 36 of 58 appeal cases, in which Israeli ties were key in the decision, resulted in losses of security clearance, according to Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal. He added that during that time one French citizen and no British citizens lost appeals.
Pincus is now challenging the determination, said Schick, who expressed disappointment at “the silence of elected officials” in the state. Surely there should be a vocal protest and an investigation into why seemingly loyal Americans with ties to Israel, a faithful ally, are somehow suspect in the eyes of the U.S. government.