Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Jewish Airmen on Libyan Base Say They Must Conceal Religion

October 12, 1964
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Charges that U.S. Air Force personnel of the Jewish faith must conceal their religion and are unable to teach their religion to their children have been made in letters received from Wheelus Air Base, in Libya, by Sen. Jacob K. Javits, New York Republican, The Department of the Air Force, responding to the Senator’s inquiry, admitted a portion of the charges but maintained that adequate religious facilities existed.

The personnel charged, in substance, that Libyan anti-Jewish feeling is so strong that children and dependents living off-base must hide their Jewish identity. A detailed account was given of how fear for the physical safety of children caused the termination of a Jewish Sunday school organized by an Air Force captain and his wife.

One airman wrote: “I have two children, four and five years old, and it is eating me up that I can’t teach them the Jewish way of life.” The servicemen alleged that the Air Force subtly pressures men to hide their Jewish religious affiliation to avoid offending the Arabs. Proof was provided of instances in which the Wheelus air base radio and TV stations, serving American personnel, censored and banned all material referring to Jews, Judaism, or Israel.

An Air Force officer of Jewish faith asserted that Jews in Libya were forced to sacrifice their religion and self-respect. He said that “if Jewish personnel must be forced upon the Arabs, why not let it be unmarried men who would reside in barracks on base–not families who must live in the Arab community?” He said “We live under constant fear of intimidation.”

Col. Frederick Fahringer of the Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison, wrote Sen. Javits that Jewish religious facilities were available to the men based at Wheelus although he admitted that TV and radio programs were edited to avoid annoying the Arabs. The Air Force spokesman said the broadcasts were restricted “on subjects embarrassing or offensive to the Libyan host.” He said “the Air Force has done this in the interest both of preserving cordial relations with the host government and of preventing retaliatory action by that government or by private individuals which might hamper its operations or place its base tenure in Jeopardy.”

Sen. Javits said he considered the Air Force letter inadequately responsive to the difficulties facing the Jewish personnel and their dependents and promised that a “penetrating inquiry” would be pursued.

Recommended from JTA