A U.S. Army soldier was brutally beaten by other soldiers in his platoon earlier this month following two incidents in which a drill sergeants allegedly used anti-Semitic slurs to address the soldier.
Pvt. Michael Handman, 20, who has just completed his fifth week of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, was recently released from a hospital where he was treated for a concussion, facial wounds, and severe oral injuries following the attack, according to the boy’s father, Jonathan Handman.
The soldier’s father said he received a disturbing telephone call last week from his son’s commanding officer “to tell me that my son is OK and out of the hospital.”
“Apparently he got his clocked cleaned and beat to the point that he was sent to the hospital by ambulance with a concussion,” Jonathan Handman said in an interview. “He was in bad enough shape that they did a head and neck [CAT] scan.”
Jonathan Handman said his son 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.
Michael Handman enlisted in the Army earlier this year. He wears a yarmulke with his uniform, which apparently led his drill sergeants to refer to him as a “fucking Jew” and a “kike” and a demand that he remove the yarmulke during dinner, according to his father. The soldier recently wrote a letter to his mother Randi recounting the anti-Semitism he has endured by his drill sergeants and members of his platoon since arriving for basic training at Fort Benning.
“I have just never been so discriminated against/humiliated about my religion,” Michael Handman wrote his mother. “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.”
A Fort Benning public affairs representative would not comment on the incidents saying the attack and the anti-Semitism are under investigation. Michael Handman’s father said in an interview he fears for his son’s safety and is worried that his son may continue to endure additional beat downs and taunts about his faith by drill sergeants.
“I’m scared he will become a victim of friendly fire.” Jonathan Handman said. “The Army is not doing enough to protect him. They have mentally broken him to the point that he is willing to ruin his life by getting a dishonorable discharge.”
After he was released from the hospital, Pvt. Handman was sent back to the same platoon to face the soldiers who attacked him. He was then moved to a different company within the same platoon. But Jonathan Handman said his son told him the anti-Semitism has continued, according to a conversation he had with his son.
A week ago Jonathan Handman took action and began a fierce letter writing campaign in an effort to get his son some help. He reached out to his state’s U.S. senator, Saxby Chambliss, the Republican of Georgia. Chambliss immediately contacted the Pentagon to investigate and, surprisingly, the Department of Defense sent Chambliss a detailed letter last week 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 investigation by the Pentagon was limited to the anti-Semitism and did not include an inquiry into the beating.
Prior to receiving a copy of the letter from Chambliss, the elder 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.
Handman’s allegations that his son was the victim of anti-Semitism and that his son was allegedly beaten because of his Jewish faith resonated immediately with Weinstein.
While attending the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in the 1970s, Weinstein was subjected to a virulent series of anti-Semitic attacks which he describes in gripping detail in his book, With God On Our Side: One Man’s War Against An Evangelical Coup in America’s Military (St. Martins Press, 2006).
Recently, In fact, Weinstein launched MRFF more than three years ago after his sons, Casey and Curtis, also U.S. Air Force Academy graduates, told him they were harassed about their Jewish faith and urged by other cadets and Air Force officials to convert to Christianity. Weinstein’s daughter-in-law, Amanda, likewise an Air Force Academy graduate and a Christian, also experienced wrongful religious pressure from Christian fundamentalist officers at the Academy. Weinstein said his son Curtis, like Michael Handman, was also called “A fucking Jew.”
Recently, Weinstein’s family was the subject of a much-publicized hate crime attack where, among other things, his house was marked with a swastika and a crucifix.
The Army’s cavalier attitude toward the anti-Semitic attacks on Pvt. Handman, as described in the letter to Chambliss, rubs Weinstein the wrong way.
“The Army’s wretched response to this hate crime is, sadly and typically, to trivialize the entire sordid matter,” Weinstein said in an interview. “Those found to be responsible need to face a criminal trial by general courts martial. The United States Army needs to learn, and learn fast, that persecuting anyone and marginalizing them by asserting that they lack character, integrity, veracity and courage because of their chosen religious faith, or lack thereof, is exactly the same thing as attacking someone and telling them that they’re stupid for the color of their skin. Shame, shame on the United States Army.”
After speaking with Jonathan Handman, Mikey Weinstein contacted Lt. Dan Kim, the company commander at Fort Benning, and demanded to be fully briefed “about a hate crime” involving Pvt. Handman.
Weinstein said Kim told him he had “100 sworn affidavits” denying that Pvt. Handman was the victim of anti-Semitism and even went so far as to insinuate that it was possible that Pvt. Handman may have instigated the attack.
Kim would not return messages left on his cell phone or at his office.
“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. As that will only happen “when hell freezes over”, I want the Army to understand that MRFF will now use this entire incident in our just-filed Federal litigation against the Department of Defense.
“Indeed, it will serve as yet another heinous example of the pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of the religious liberties of our honorable and noble U.S. service members by their military superiors unlawfully using the armed forces chain of command to force one and only one biblical worldview on their otherwise helpless subordinates.”
Weinstein’s MRFF is a co-plaintiff in a Federal civil suit filed last week in the United States District Court of Kansas against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates alleging the U.S. Army has been subjecting soldiers to fundamentalist Christian prayer ceremonies against their will during mandatory military events. He reiterated that he intends to defend Handman’s case vigorously.
This is not the first incident of anti-Semitism that Weinstein’s organization has exposed that has resulted in the Army running for cover.
Weinstein and MRFF exposed a pattern of anti-Semitic Biblical teachings by chaplains at Fort Leavenworth. He also signed on to help defend former Army Chaplain, Rabbi Jeffrey Goldman, a Toronto native, who was taunted by senior military officers at a prayer breakfast one morning in May 2001 as his chaplain colleagues had placed Nazi uniforms and swastikas on the wall of the officers’ club at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Handman and his wife, Randi, continue to worry about their son’s well being.
“I feel like this was written from the movie “A Few Good Men” and we all know the outcome there,” Handman said, referring to the 1992 Tom Cruise blockbuster about Marines accused of murdering a colleague. “That is what terrifies me. I do not want to bury my only son.”
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