15 Tevet 5775 Jerusalem
On Pollard and the US President
We just finished the Joseph Story in our weekly Torah readings. It began with seventeen year old Joseph earning the ire of his brothers with the recounting of his dreams to them, dreams in which he is clearly their superior.
Who can not relate to Joseph? We are all our own wonder boy, legends in our own minds. That is not necessarily bad. Each of us is a wonder, sent down from God with tremendous talents and potential. And perhaps, as adolescents, seeking validation and encouragement, we can be unsure of how to express our hopes for the future.
Ten or twelve years in the dungeon is perhaps a remarkable tonic to help clear one’s mind. As I wrote this I am led to think of our poor brother Jonathan Pollard, sitting in the American jail for twenty nine years, convicted of spying for Israel. He too, was once a talented, gifted, idealistic young man. He also felt, like Joseph, that “God did send me before you for the preservation of life.” And regarding his brothers “to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45: 5-7)
Joseph was naive to think his brothers would rejoice in his dreams of dominion. Pollard was naive perhaps to think that all Israeli officials are upstanding characters and would rescue him in his time of need. They both had reason to feel betrayed. But they both do not let themselves stay bitter. Time in the prison helps one mature. I can not help thinking that the months spent by Menachem Begin in the Russian Prison Camps helped forge him into the cool-headed leader he showed himself later in the Revolt against British Rule in Palestine.
There is no way to overturn the sentence against Pollard. I spoke to a friend who is a Federal District Court attorney and he explained to me that there were no procedural errors. It does not matter that later new evidence came to light – the decision is based on the evidence at the time of the trial. That the American spies killed by the Russians were a result of other spies – that doesn’t matter. At the time they thought it was a result of information Pollard stole, and that was reason to throw away the key.
But a President, looking at these items, could pardon him. Like the Royal Cup-bearer in Egypt, a not too savory character, some former Presidents said they were going to help, but, in the event, forgot him.
But what about the current President? He is something of a Wonder Boy himself. Some might find it as surprising that he could become President as that a Hebrew slave could become Viceroy in ancient Egypt. Some people think he dislikes Jews, but I do not think that is true. His negativity to Israel is simply part of his overall naivete in foreign affairs.
And really the Pollard affair is connected to this President, if you follow the circle around far enough. How so? Pollard turned spy for Israel in order to warn Israel of the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. America, eventually, got rid of Hussein. Then they stayed there in Iraq a long time to try to keep order. Under the current President, they packed up and cleared out. This vacuum allowed for the current menace of the so-called Islamic State to take over.
Freeing Pollard would be an act of political coming of age and maturity. A recognition, that America and Israel are really on the same side (despite that we constantly say we are on the same side). Pollard gave the information he did because he saw the US was withholding it from Israel, despite their intelligence sharing agreement. Instead of being suspicious of each other, if we really felt we were on the same side, of trying to make a safe, free world, then we could face together threats like Iran and Iraq as brothers.
That is really what the theme of all of Genesis is: learning to get along with our brothers.
Freeing Jonathan Pollard, no strings attached, would show that at least one Wonder Boy has grown up and become a wiser, more mature, world leader.
Note: this piece was rejected last month as an op-ed in the Washington Post.