The “Clubby, Old-School Anti-Semitism” of Western Intelligence Agencies

July 22, 2022 | A.E. Smith
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In The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence, Douglas London analyzes the workings, and many deficiencies, of the CIA, based on his own 30 years as a case officer. London also sheds some light on being a Jew in an agency where casual anti-Semitism remains commonplace. Reviewing the book, A.E. Smith describes his own experience with similar tendencies in the Canadian intelligence establishment:

When he completed his initial training, London set his sights on the CIA’s Near East and South Asia Division, known as NE. . . . But almost as soon as he got there, he was told that the Arabic-speaking case officer cadre known as the “NE mafia”—almost all pro-Palestinian Arabists—“would not likely take to the idea of having a Jewish case officer in their fold.” Another senior member of NE called young London’s loyalty into question, asking him if he was required to support Israel. “When you go to the synagogue, by the rabbi, isn’t it a religious requirement?”

After 9/11, . . . I discovered that the resident Arabists tended to view Israel as a kind of parvenu blight on the Arab world and were reflexively suspicious of Jews who trespassed on their preserve. Their younger colleagues, meanwhile, cleaved firmly to the notion of Israel as a brutal colonial power engaged in a genocidal war against Palestinians.

On a personal level, this clubby, old-school anti-Semitism often manifested in questions, spoken and unspoken, about my judgment on matters related to the Middle East and Islamist extremism, especially in interagency situations. I was often jokingly referred to as “the Zionist agent” and not-so-jokingly told that my opinions carried little weight because as a practicing Jew, I had to be an Israeli sellout.

Ironically, my interactions with Muslim community leaders were far more positive. Almost invariably, they were disarmed by the revelation that I was Jewish and would open up to me as someone with a unique relationship to Islam. “Really,” I was assured by one imam with a reputation as a firebrand, “despite everything, we are brothers under the skin, you and I.”

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