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‘A Security Concern Due to Divided Loyalties’

A dentist wants to serve America’s military. But having a mother in Israel can be disqualifying.

When Gershon Pincus turned 60, he decided he wanted to give something back to his country. The Brooklyn-born father of four had maintained a successful private dental practice in New York City for 35 years. As he would later attest in an affidavit, “I can think of no better way to experience the sunset of my career than by using my professional skills as a dentist to assist those who have chosen to serve in the United States military.”

So Dr. Pincus turned to the USAJobs website, found an opening for part-time work at an off-base Naval clinic in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and applied. By the summer of 2014 he was making a weekly commute of some 400 miles to the clinic from his home in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens. It was routine dentistry at lower pay than he had earned in private practice. But it was the opportunity he had sought to serve.

That October, Dr. Pincus underwent a routine interview to obtain a security clearance for civilian employees. As part of the interview, he made note of his familial connections in Israel. Two of his siblings had moved there in the 1980s, though neither worked for the Israeli government. His elderly mother, now suffering from dementia, had also moved there late in life, so her daughter could help take care of her. And one of Dr. Pincus’s children, Avi, had served briefly in the Israeli army before tragically succumbing to a drug overdose at an early age.

As for Dr. Pincus’s own connections to Israel, they amounted to three visits in the past decade, including one for his father’s funeral. He has no personal friends in Israel, no financial interests or holdings there, and no desire to ever hold an Israeli passport. He calls his mother on a weekly basis, and for a while handled her monthly rent and utilities bills. That’s it. The security investigation concluded: “There is nothing in subject’s background or character that would make him vulnerable to blackmail, extortion, coercion or duress.”

But that wouldn’t be the end of the matter. This March, Dr. Pincus was subjected to an unusual second interview, this time from a contract investigator sent by the Office of Personnel Management. All but one of the questions, sent from OPM headquarters, concerned his potential connections to Israel.

In September, Dr. Pincus’s security clearance was denied, meaning he would not be able to continue doing his dental work. The “Statement of Reasons” provided by the OPM explained why.

“You have weekly telephone contact with your mother and brother in Israel. You added 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, may be manipulated or induced to help a foreign person, group, organization or government in a way that is not in U.S. interests, or is vulnerable to pressure or coercion by foreign interests.”

In the lexicon of anti-Jewish slurs, “divided loyalties” has such a notorious history that it’s surprising to see it make its way into a formal government document. Avi Schick, a partner with the Dentons law firm, says that when he first heard that a Naval employee could lose his job just for having relatives in Israel, he was so skeptical that he promised to take the case pro bono if the facts turned out to be true. “And here we are,” he tells me. My own calls to the OPM and the Pentagon were not returned.

The larger question is how common such security-clearance denials are. The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals maintains a public database of what are known as “Industrial Security Clearance Decisions” dating back to 1996, involving thousands of civilian cases in all. Each of these involves an appeal from an application that was initially denied, and it is reasonable to assume that many rejected candidates never bother with an appeal.

Since the Obama administration came to office, there have been a total of 58 cases in which Israeli ties were a significant factor in the decision. Of these, 36 applicants—an astonishing 62% of the total—lost their appeals and had their clearance applications denied. For comparison, there has been just one case of a French citizen losing an appeal and being denied a clearance, and zero involving British citizens.

It’s true that a statistical analysis alone is not sufficient evidence of systemic prejudice. Then again, as Mr. Schick notes, the process of disqualifying Dr. Pincus “was driven by headquarters personnel” at the OPM, not some rogue agent in the field. It’s also worth adding that the slenderness of the evidence by which Dr. Pincus is being denied his clearance (and thus his job) suggests the level of scrutiny to which any applicant with the slightest Israeli connection is subjected. In one 2014 case, briefly described in the database, a candidate was refused clearance because a sister-in-law serves in the Israeli military.

Mr. Schick has now petitioned Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to review Dr. Pincus’s case. As that review takes place, the most pro-Israel administration in history—as President Obama and his advisers like to brag—might ask why it treats Americans with honest and honorable ties to Israel as potential enemies of state.

Mr. Stephens writes the Journal’s “Global View” column. Write

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