Army Denies Advising Jewish Troops in Saudi Arabia to Conceal Dog Tags

Some American soldiers in Saudi Arabia may have been advised by superiors to hide dog tags identifying themselves as Jews, but the advice was not on orders from the Pentagon or the Saudi kingdom, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said Thursday.

“Some uninformed individual down the chain of command in the organization may have told a soldier, based on speculation,” Cheney said, “but the fact is the Saudis have not imposed any such restriction on us. And we obviously would not agree to that.”

Cheney, appearing on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” program, added that the Saudis have “accepted our forces as is, regardless of religion, regardless of whether they are male or female.”

The issue arose after Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) wrote Cheney about a Jewish family in his state who told him their son was “advised of the ‘option’ of receiving a ‘non-Jewish’ identity (including ‘non-denominational’ dog tags) prior to his departure to Saudi Arabia.”

David Luchins, Moynihan’s special assistant, welcomed Cheney’s assurance and added, “We hope to see that formalized in a directive.”

Two of the Jewish groups closest to the Pentagon expressed little concern about the incident. But the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith called on Cheney to issue a directive to U.S. personnel, “outlining available options if some attention to religious affiliation is necessary as a protective measure.”

The Jewish War Veterans of America, on the other hand, said it had been assured that “persistent rumors that Jewish servicemen and women are being officially advised to cover or alter dog tags indicating Jewish faith are absolutely untrue.”

The JWB’s Jewish Chaplains Council believes that while unofficial advice was indeed given, “there was no issuing at any time of substitute dog tags for any Jew serving in the military,” said Rabbi David Lapp, its director.

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