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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pollard, Israel and American Antisemitism

17 January, 2008
For more postings regarding Pollard,
The Pollard Affair haunts the American Jewish community and the State of Israel. It raises questions regarding the status and security of Jews in the United States, the relationship between Israel and the US, and the evolving character of Israel as State of the Jews. How did American Jewry respond to the unfolding events surrounding the arrest and trial of Jonathan Pollard; on what was his life sentence without parole based and justified? How did Israel respond to Pollard's arrest and trial? And who are those "unnamed government sources" who surface in the press obviously timed to pressure Israel and remind us of Pollard's "perfidy."


In an exchange of letters in 1989 during which Pollard ask I lead the effort to promote his freedom Jonathan and I agreed that only Israeli government intervention would achieve that goal. Once I accepted the challenge all postal communication between the two of us came to an abrupt and mysterious end.

In December, 1989, as Director of Justice for the Pollards I arranged for Jonathan's sister and myself to tour Israel in order to build grassroots and governmental support for the effort. We spoke before enthusiastic and overflow audiences at universities; interviewed on the radio and television. Our activities were followed closely and reported daily in the media. My meeting with Israel's Chief Rabbis resulted in a letter from them to President Reagan requesting Pollard's release. My meeting with Interior Minister Hammer won his support for the effort. But the political high point of the trip was our meeting in the Knesset with more than thirty Members from all parties and ideological leanings, left and right, religious and secular. By consensus, they agreed to prepare a Knesset petition to President Reagan requesting Pollard be allowed to come to Israel. Within weeks more than seventy Members had put signature to paper and a Knesset delegation was dispatched to Washington. Reagan assigned the task of receiving the Knesset delegation to a low-level functionary.

Among the communities we visited was the development town Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev . A television reporter accompanying us asked a child if he knew who Ben-Gurion was and was met with silence. Asked who Pollard was the child shouted, "Pollard saved Israel!" On the ride back to Tel Aviv a former ranking Mossad officer told me that within Israel's intelligence community Jonathan's contribution to Israel's security was considered even more important than that of Israel's legendary spy in Syria, Eli Cohen.

Over the years I have been told that, with the possible exception of the present incumbent (I am not personally aware that Ehud Olmert has or not discussed Pollard with Bush), all prime ministers approached US presidents to secure Jonathan's freedom. In fact his release was considered imminent more than once in recent years, blocked in the end by high-ranking, faceless US Government bureaucrats.

Has Israel been as proactive at all times as it might have been? Probably not. But this brings us back to that Knesset vote reported recently in the Jerusalem Post. The second paragraph in that article pinpoints what I had hoped to achieve in 1989: "The bill would have set up a three-pronged effort, including the appointment of a special minister to head the release effort… " (Since writing this Eli Yishai announced that his Shas party would make Pollard's release a condition for his party's support of the goals of the moribund Annapolis summit). The Knesset took the initiative in 1989-90 for Pollard. The Knesset continues to have an important role to play as conscience and motivator to the Government.


The United States and Israel have for many years had an agreement to share intelligence. Mutually beneficial when respected and adhered to, the agreement serves both countries' interests. Pollard, employed by Naval Intelligence as an analyst, discovered that information vital to Israel's security was being intentionally withheld. Most of us, Jews, Zionists, would likely have accepted this quietly as "beyond our pay grade." But Pollard, a young, idealistic and outspoken Jew and Zionist took matters into his own hands. He offered, and Israel accepted. Why, if he knew a crime was in process did he not go to his superiors; why, faced with a crime of such magnitude did he not go directly to the Secretary of Defense? The scope and character of the materials in question suggested that the order to withhold came from high up in the bureaucracy. And at the top of that ladder was the Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger. And Weinberger's sympathies were widely known.

Weinberger turned Pollard's trial and sentencing not only into a travesty of justice, but into a media circus. In the spotlight of the press he dramatically "raced" to the courtroom moments before Judge Robinson was to pronounce sentence. He "demanded" the plea agreement, the government's promise of leniency in sentencing in exchange for Jonathan's cooperation, be vacated. With the resulting life sentence in hand Weinberger addressed the press to denounce Pollard as a "mercenary and traitor deserving the death penalty."

A conviction of treason allows for a sentence of death. But Jonathan was not charged with or convicted of treason, and the Secretary, a prior Halliburton lawyer, knew this. But "The Affair" was his creation, his show. Pollard was not convicted of treason but of "passing information to an ally," a charge usually disposed of quietly to avoid public embarrassment, and typically resulting in little or no jail time.


Casper Weinberger was known to be embarrassed by his Jewish heritage so may be "excused" for exaggerating Jonathan's guilt, branding him "traitor." But how explain the embarrassment, the knee-jerk reaction of some American Jews in their passionate denunciation of Pollard?

The obvious explanation is our unease in our land of residence. Before the war Germany, a land in which Jews had lived for more than two-thousand years, was the international exemplar of freedom, acceptance and assimilation. Against the backdrop of the Holocaust we in America know that our position, positive as it appears in the present, is materially the same as that of our pre-war relatives in Germany. Post-Shoah in our hearts we feel what our minds deny, refuse to accept; that wherever we choose to live in Diaspora we will always be at risk. And, as our experience in Germany demonstrates, no degree of assimilation will protect ourselves or our children or their children from that eventual fate.

With recent history as backdrop our awareness of the Pollard Affair forces us to confront our real fear, our primary insecurity in Diaspora, our vulnerability as Jew in Christian society. And we recoil, not at ourselves for knowingly placing our children at risk, but at our prisoner for forcing us to confront directly our fear in face of Denial.


The Reagan Administration seemed particularly vulnerable to infiltration for purposes of espionage and 1985 became known as the Year of the Spy. Spies for China and the Soviets, for allies and enemies seemed to be exposed daily. Certainly the most important was an American home-grown, Aldrich Ames. Finally uncovered several years after Pollard, Ames was CIA chief of counter espionage for Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In addition to his responsibility for the deaths of at least 11 American agents, at his trial it was also revealed that he fabricated intelligence information implicating Pollard to divert suspicion from himself. This same fabricated intelligence provided part of the rationale for the harsh sentence meted out to Pollard. Another of those "mysteries" surrounding the Pollard Affair was that Aldrich Ames, the Yankee master mole would become a mere footnote to the Year of the Spy, while Pollard and Israel would be the symbols of betrayal of an innocent and trusting United States.

Within all bureaucracies interest groups emerge to promote or impede policy by the governments they are paid to serve. Antisemites and nativists in the Departments of State and Defense, for example, nearly derailed President Truman's post-Holocaust support for the UN resolution calling for the creation of a Jewish state. Having failed they nearly succeeded in blocking the president's recognition of the new State of Israel. Since such groups hire replacements from among their own they self-perpetuate. Pollard either landed gratuitously into their hands or they were involved in his creation as spy. Either way Pollard provides anti-Israel "unnamed government sources" an instrument by which to influence Israeli decision-making on issues deemed important to her enemies.


Beyond our obligation to achieve the release of Pollard, what are the lessons of The Affair? Regarding the United States as safe haven: out of fear of nativist antisemitism (blatant and significant before and during the Holocaust), American Jewish leadership were muted in response to that unfolding tragedy. Backdoor efforts to influence Roosevelt by our shtadlanim of the day (themselves often Administration insiders) proved no more effective than their reputed backdoor supplications to Reagan on behalf of Pollard forty years later. The anti-immigrant laws enacted by Congress decades earlier to keep out Eastern European Jews remained in force throughout the war at least in part because Roosevelt chose not to respond to the mass-murder of Europe's Jews.

For our Diaspora: Denial regarding the Holocaust continues. We choose to ignore the lessons and precedent of Christendom's long-standing Jewish Problem and its Final Solution. For how else could we continue to live in and to be responsible for raising families in our Diaspora homes while consciously acknowledging the unthinkable, the continuing and accelerating historical precedent? Jewry in the Diaspora is forever dependent on the fickle goodwill and mercy of our host country, of our friends and neighbors. But that acceptance is also sensitive to economic and political conditions, very uncertain variables. That we know but suppress our knowledge, refuse to accept it, this is the very definition of Denial. In our hearts we know what we refuse to accept, that within Diaspora we will forever remain strangers in a strange land.

"Never Again" is more than a near-forgotten slogan and reminder of the dangers of Holocaust. It was and must continue a signpost and reminder for those among us who choose to live as Jews in post-Shoah Diaspora. As for those who choose conversion as a way of enhancing prospects or minimizing risk, Germany continues a chilling reminder. While we may regard ourselves as patriotic and contributing to our country of residence, in the end it is not ourselves but those we live among who determine our fate. And living in the world of the Information Superhighway, tracing us back three or more generations is no more difficult than a computer search of national hospital records. We can hide, but they our identity is one keystroke away.

For Israel: Shoah is also drifting into the mists of history, its lessons fading from national consciousness. What further evidence than the recent proposal by the chairman of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee to remove the Grandparent Clause from the Law of Return. The Clause is precisely Zionism's commitment of refuge for anyone threatened as Jew from persecution. It is the very reason the Jewish people created a Jewish state. Or take the recent instructions of the Interior Minister to the Jewish Agency: halt activities promoting immigration by Jews not so defined by Halacha! And where will this end, that only persons living according to Halacha, born of a Jewish mother will be considered Jews by the secular Jewish state; that in the end only Halachically-pure and genealogically-provable Jews will be granted refuge by the state built, paid and fought for by Zionism, our almost entirely secular national liberation movement? And how many generations back on that genealogical chart will Israel go to determine Jewish purity, perhaps back to two Jewish grandmothers?

Being a Jewish state subjects Israel to the same discrimination, the same enemies faced by our people in the Galut. But as a state we are at least in a position to take collective, even decisive action against those enemies. But what of enemies hidden in the midst of friends, those anti-Israel constituencies within the US government bureaucracy for example? At both Wye River and Camp David Pollard was vilified in the press for no apparent reason (certainly he had done nothing newsworthy locked away in his prison cell) other than to embarrass American Jews, to pressure Israel at sensitive negotiating moments. Both recent occasions where Pollard's release was raised as part of US-brokered peace agreements bureaucratic interference induced President Clinton to reverse himself, to back away from releasing Pollard.

As for Israel as a country, our survival depends on two primary factors. We must find a way out of our isolation in the Middle East. Israel cannot realistically absorb three million Palestinians and survive, and any other alternative is morally unthinkable and politically unrealistic. So the goal of Greater Israel must be removed once and for all from Israel's political map. If we cannot force the Palestinians to make peace we can at least relinquish claim to the lands over which they fight.

Secondly, Israel must return to her Zionist roots and mission. Over the years we have drifted away from identity as "Zionist;" indeed the term has become passé, almost an embarrassment (today those aware of Zionism at all tend to use "Post-Zionist" to describe Israel-in-the-World). This drift from Zionism is expressed in many ways. By Netanyahu in a speech last year to an American audience; by the recent suggestion of the chairman of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee to limit the Law of Return; by the recent instructions by the Interior Minister to the Jewish Agency Executive to stop encouraging aliya by communities not Jewish according to Halacha; by the persistent effort of some orthodox politicians to enact Who is a Jew, legislation which would define a Jew according to Halacha for the State of Israel. If enacted Who is a Jew will drive a wedge between the Jewish state and the Jewish people in Diaspora, the majority of whom do not identify themselves "according to Halacha."

Politically and demographically Israel cannot afford to lose the Diaspora. Israeli policy regarding Jewish status must recognize and accommodate no, be sensitive regarding our Diaspora community. Israel's drift towards separation and isolation ignores the fact that the state needs the Diaspora as much as the other way around. And the overwhelming majority of Jews, in Israel and Diaspora, are not orthodox, do not trace lineage or live according to Halacha.

So long as we are subject to others definitions of who is a Jew we must be equally flexible in doing so. Even a self-hating Casper Weinberger should qualify for refuge should the need arise again. Israel is the State of the Jews, not merely the Jewish State, home to our current residents, "the Israelis." Alongside survival, Zionism is Israel's mission and identity.


The genesis of the Pollard Affair remains shrouded in mystery and open to speculation. In his book, Territory of Lies, Wolf Blitzer describes events which hint at Pollard's recruitment as being suspect without actually drawing that conclusion. How, for example, could this young and openly Zionist Jew find employment in Naval Intelligence, an organization within a service with a reputation less than philosemitic; had not Pollard only recently been rejected as unfit for a similar position with the Central Intelligence Agency? And how was it that his handlers in Naval Intelligence included Pollard as part of the team tasked with providing intelligence to Israel, precisely the position that would provide him the platform from which to appreciate the importance and volume of information being withheld from the Jewish state? And how was it possible that Pollard was able to smuggle day-by-day, briefcase-full by briefcase-full, unsuspected and undetected for more than a year photocopies of intelligence documents which, as described by Weinberger, would fill a space "six feet by six feet by six feet?" I suppose all of this could all be dismissed as a total lack of security within Naval Intelligence. But that seems unlikely.


Some Israeli lawmakers are again raising the possibility of releasing Marwan Barghouti, this time as part of a deal to free Gilad Shalit. In fact Barghouti's release is all but inevitable given the chaos of Palestinian politics and the deference of Israeli authorities to this charismatic and potential reformer. But the Bush Administration would also like to see him released. President Bush will leave office in one year, his legacy a trail of regional failure and carnage. His moribund Annapolis "summit" is his last chance for at least one success. But who credibly represent Palestine, an anarchic society in political chaos? Barghouti offers the only available hope of unifying his people. His importance to the peace process makes him a bargaining chip not only for the release of Shalit, but also for Israel's American Prisoner of Zion, Jonathan Jay Pollard.

Pollard has said several times that he does not want his freedom at the cost of freeing a terrorist. Belying the opinion of those who label him "traitor" and "mercenary," after twenty-two years in prison Jonathan is still an uncompromising and principled idealist, a true Zionist who continues to place Israel's welfare above his own. And while I have deep respect for his principles, after 20 years watching him unjustly suffer in American prisons, aware that he is likely to suffer another 20 years or die in custody; knowing that the true criminals are those "unnamed government sources" who derive pleasure in parading him before the public when it suits their fancy, Barghouti for Pollard may be Israel's last and best opportunity to obtain his freedom for years to come.

Whatever its roots, the use made of Pollard over the years leads to an obvious conclusion: Pollard in prison represents a danger to both the American Jewish community and to the State of Israel. The longer he remains in the hands of his jailers the longer they will have him available to serve their dangerous agenda, to be used to threaten and manipulate our community in the United States and the Jewish state. Pollard's release is not merely an act of righting an obvious injustice; it is a matter of primary importance to the security of American Jewry and to the State of Israel.

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