Army, Air Force hit for aiding Saudi ban

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force and Army have gotten their marching orders: Do not honor a Saudi ban on Jews.

The order came as the Commerce Department levied fines against officials from the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Air Force and CACI Inc., a private defense contractor, for a 1991 federal contract that explicitly excluded Jews from work in Saudi Arabia.

The contract controversy dates back to 1991, when CACI won an Air Force contract to microfilm documents in Saudi Arabia.

During a meeting with Air Force and Justice Department personnel, CACI submitted an operations plan that, in part, said, "No Jews or Jewish surnamed personnel will be sent as part of the Document Acquisition Team because of the cultural differences between Muslims and Jews in the region."

The plan, which was later edited by a Justice Department paralegal, also said, "No Israeli-stamped passport, as per Saudi rules."

In late 1995, the Anti-Defamation League received a complaint from an individual who felt he was excluded from the air force contract. The ADL forwarded its information to the Commerce Department office that deals with the Arab boycott of Israel.

In another case of alleged discrimination, an unnamed Jewish employee of the army complained to the ADL in 1994 that he was kept off a trip to Saudi Arabia in 1993 after being scheduled to accompany a major general there. In April, 1994, the Jewish employee did accompany the major general to Saudi Arabia without difficulty.

Last week, the Commerce Department settled charges on the Air Force case by levying fines against the three individuals involved in the 1991 contract meetings.

As in most such cases, the issue was settled without admission of guilt. Commerce waived payment of all fines except for $15,000 against the CACI official.

"These government agencies should never have approved this noxious and objectionable behavior," said Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director.

"The actions taken by the Commerce Department should put all federal agencies on notice of the need to take proactive measures to ensure that discriminatory practices are avoided."

Both Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Attorney General Janet Reno planned to distribute memos to their respective agencies, warning against such discriminatory policies.

Meanwhile, Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House International Relations Committee, urged a full investigation and hearings into the alleged U.S. Army and Air Force collusion with the Saudi ban on Jews.

The ADL's Washington director, Jess Hordes, told the Journal of Commerce that both cases seemingly reflected overcompensation on the part of the Army and Air Force toward a perceived Saudi sensitivity about Jews.

The Journal of Commerce reported that U.S. firms doing business in the Mideast said there's been a 50 percent drop in requests to comply with the Arab boycott of Israel in 1996 from the previous year. Saudi boycott requests fell by 70 percent in that time, the newspaper reported.