Pallone Expresses Outrage Over FBI Denial of Employment to Over 90 Arab Speaking Sephardic Jews

Oct 20, 2003

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) today called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) denied applications for linguist positions from over 90 Arabic-speaking Sephardic Jews and called on U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to require the FBI to reconsider the applications. Pallone made the request in a letter to the Attorney General today.

"I find it outrageous that, despite a shortage of Arabic-speaking translators, none of the 90 plus Jewish applicants met FBI qualifications," the New Jersey congressman wrote. "It is my worry that the FBI denied their employment solely because of their religion. If this is the fact, I find this most disturbing."

Arabic translation is a critical component of anti-terrorism investigations and it has been widely reported that the FBI faces a backlog of untranslated Arabic documents and recorded conversations. In October of 2001, the FBI's New York office approached Sephardic Bikur Holim, a New York based social services charity that works with Arab Jews, to submit applications for Arabic linguist positions in the FBI. Sephardic Bikur Holim subsequently submitted over 90 applicants, however not one was ultimately hired by the FBI.

"Given the critical nature of this type of work and the high demand for this specific and rare skill, this kind of discrimination cannot be tolerated," Pallone wrote. "The need for vigilance and heightened security in the face of the terrorist attacks our nation has experienced is a necessity. However, we must remain equally concerned that these applicants receive equal consideration for employment, without discrimination based solely on their religion."

The FBI faces difficulty recruiting fluent American-born translators, because the Arabic language is rarely studied in American colleges, but since 2001 has started hiring translators born in the Middle East. Many of the Sephardic applicants possessed extensive translation experience, including Arabic translation work for Israeli radio and TV news stations, as well as the Israeli Army. Also, because many of the applicants were born or lived in Arab speaking countries, they have extensive knowledge of the nuances and colloquialisms in the Arabic language that a non-native speaker may miss.

"This is not just a matter of discrimination, its a matter of national security," Pallone said. "These untranslated documents could hold the key to information about future terrorist plots against the United States and here we have over 90 people who are willing to help translate them."

Text of the letter follows.

October 20, 2003

Honorable John Ashcroft

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Room 1145

Washington, DC 20530

Fax: 202-307-2825

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

It is with great concern that I am writing today regarding reports the FBI turned down applications for linguist positions in the FBI from nearly 100 Arabic-speaking Jews.

In October of 2001, the FBI's New York office approached Sephardic Bikur Holim, a New York based charity that works with Arab Jews, to submit applications for Arabic linguist positions in the FBI. Sephardic Bikur Holim subsequently submitted over 90 applicants, however not one was ultimately hired by the FBI.

Arabic translation is a critical component of anti-terrorism investigations and it has been widely reported that the FBI faces a backlog of untranslated Arabic documents and recorded conversations. I find it outrageous that, despite a shortage of Arabic-speaking translators, none of the 90 plus Jewish applicants met FBI qualifications.

Many of these applicants possessed extensive translation experience, including Arabic translation work for Israeli radio and TV news stations, as well as the Israeli Army. Also, because many of the applicants were born or lived in Arab speaking countries, they have extensive knowledge of the nuances and colloquialisms in the Arabic language that a non-native speaker may miss.

While I have not personally reviewed the applications of the 90 Jewish candidates, I find it very hard to believe that none of them met the necessary qualifications to be offered a position. It is my worry that the FBI denied their employment solely because of their religion. If this is the fact, I find this most disturbing. Given the critical nature of this type of work and the high demand for this specific and rare skill, this kind of discrimination cannot be tolerated.

I respectfully request that you ask the FBI to immediately reconsider the applications submitted by Sephardic Bikur Holim. The need for vigilance and heightened security in the face

of the terrorist attacks our nation has experienced is a necessity. Howeve r, we must remain equally concerned that these applicants receive equal consideration for employment, without discrimination based solely on their religion.

I ask that you please keep me abreast of the review process for these applicants. I look forward to your immediate and timely response to this request.

Sincerely,

FRANK PALLONE, JR.

Member of Congress

CC. Robert Mueller, Director

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Pasquale J. Damuro, Assistant Director in Charge

New York City Field Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation