U.S. diplomat with antisemitic, racist blog ‘cannot continue to serve’: Foreign Service union president
U.S. Ambassador Eric Rubin called for the firing of Fritz Berggren, who remains at State Department more than two years after the discovery of his ties to the website
The president of the Foreign Service union called last week for the firing of Fritz Berggren, an American Foreign Service officer who publishes a racist and antisemitic blog that promotes white nationalism.
“There has to be an understanding that someone like this cannot continue to serve the United States in an official capacity,” Ambassador Eric Rubin, a senior career diplomat who is the president of the American Foreign Service Association and previously served as U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, told Jewish Insider in an interview.
Berggren, who has worked with Afghan immigrants and in Bahrain, operates a website called BloodAndFaith.com that routinely posts vicious screeds against Jews, Blacks, members of the LGBTQ community and other minorities.
“It’s not OK to say that Jews and non-white people are subhumans. It’s not OK to say that there needs to be an insurrection against the federal government. That’s actually very clearly a violation of federal law,” Rubin said. “If you’re a federal employee, are you able to say things that contradict the basic principles and values of your employment? We feel very strongly that you can’t.”
Berggren’s connection to the blog, where he still posts almost daily, was first revealed more than two years ago by Politico. (A post from last week ran under the headline, “Protect and advance the white race.”) He is still employed at the State Department, although it is not clear what his current position is.
“We cannot comment on individual personnel matters,” a State Department spokesperson told JI on Monday, and confirmed that Berggren is still a department employee. “Allegations that an employee has violated a law, regulation, or Department policy are taken seriously.”
The case has for years frustrated rank-and-file Foreign Service officers, particularly at a time when the State Department and the Biden administration have repeatedly expressed a commitment to diversity and to protecting federal employees who come from marginalized communities.
“If we’re talking about caring about respect for diversity and all that, we can’t have people expressing views like Fritz Berggren has expressed that are a very direct threat to his fellow employees,” said Rubin, who is Jewish. In August 2021, more than 70 Jewish diplomats wrote a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken demanding that Berggren be fired, and many continue to bring up the issue privately with Rubin.
“In 2023 people are legitimately worried that someone like this could be a threat in the workplace,” said Rubin, who added that for him, the matter is personal: Friends of his family died in the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh. The alleged killer is now standing trial in Pittsburgh. “We’re not talking about hypothetical things here. We’re talking about real threats.”
Two years ago, a swastika was found carved into an elevator at the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters, near the office of the special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. The perpetrator was never found.
“That was really concerning, because to be in the State Department, you either have to be someone with a security clearance, or someone who’s escorted as a visitor,” said Rubin. “It could be this guy, but it could not. We have no way of knowing.”
Rubin said that as the president of the union representing the more than 15,000 Foreign Service officers, he raises the issue with State Department leaders at least once a month. Each time, he is met with the same response.
“The basic answer we get over and over again is, ‘We can’t tell you,’” Rubin said. “We’re not asking for personal details. We’re just asking for assurance that someone who does what he does is not still employed.”
Because of the privacy afforded to personnel matters, the State Department will not even tell Rubin whether Berggren has been disciplined. But Rubin knows Berggren is still employed there.
“I haven’t been told what the reasons are that he has not been separated from federal employment,” said Rubin, who noted that he suspects there is “always a fear of litigation.”
“The federal government doesn’t like to get into litigation issues with people, so if you fire somebody you’re going to have to go to court,” said Rubin. “My reaction to that is, OK, sometimes you have to go to court.” As federal employees, Foreign Service officers have certain employment protections, and the bar for when they can be fired is very high.
“There are concerns, which I don’t disagree with, about due process at federal employment, people who say you can’t just fire somebody who’s a federal employee because of their views or their opinions. In principle, I don’t disagree with that — up to a point,” Rubin added.
“There’s a limit to freedom of speech, and we feel very strongly that someone who has declared himself to be truly opposed to the basic principles of our country, and the basic principles that we represent, should not be representing the United States of America as a member of Foreign Service,” he said.
A Jewish diplomat who spent much of his career in Central and Eastern Europe, Rubin worked with local Jewish communities in those countries to promote Jewish life and to help rebuild Jewish institutions. He helped support a new memorial at Babyn Yar in Kyiv when he served in Ukraine in the 1990s, and during that time he visited the towns in Ukraine and Belarus where his ancestors were killed during the Holocaust.
“I’ve been to the cemeteries. I’ve been to pretty much all the towns where my family’s from. It’s something I take really seriously,” said Rubin, who grew up in a secular Jewish family in Westchester County, N.Y., and learned Yiddish at a young age at the Sholem Aleichem Folkshule.
Rubin’s tenure as the head of AFSA will conclude in September, when he plans to retire from the Foreign Service after 38 years in government.