Many issues have been discussed over the course of this American and the Israeli election cycle. However, the fate of Jonathan Pollard is one issue that has not received even quiet mention in either side of the Atlantic. Jonathan Pollard has been incarcerated for over 25 years.
Without recapitulating the complete history of this event, suffice it to say that Pollard spied for Israel. He was caught. He agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in exchange for a plea agreement. Pollard’s plea agreement was voided on a technicality. As a result he received a life sentence. No one else who has spied for an ally has ever received a life sentence in the United States.
As someone who shared a few similarities with Pollard — age, education, deep love for Israel — I have wondered how I might have behaved had I was working for the US government and came across information that could help Israel but was not being shared with that country. In my case, however, this potential dilemma would never have been tested: by the time I finished graduate school and was in a position to be recruited for various US governmental agencies (as were a number of my classmates), I had already served in the Israeli army and would thereby have been automatically deemed ineligible to occupy sensitive intelligence positions.
It’s impossible to get into the mind of Pollard and know what his motivations were, but I have always felt sympathy for him. The fact that he received money for giving information was immaterial to me since intelligence agencies always offer money to further bind a spy to them. My sympathies for him have grown over the years, as the extent of the miscarriage of justice has become clear. The very fact that Pollard still sits in jail 25 years later is hard to rationalize.
The lack of actions on Pollard’s behalf has always perplexed me, though I have often been just as guilty of inaction on his behalf. After all, I marched to free Soviet Jews. I even got arrested to free Soviet Jews. For Pollard, however, I have done little. Part of my hesitancy to act has always been predicated on a certain irrational fear of going against the US government. I wondered if I became vocal on Pollard’s behalf would I end up on some sort of enemies’ list? Would I start being audited by the IRS? Can the source of others’ inaction be traced to similar fears on the part of America Jews, already worried about perceptions of dual loyalties?
Protesting against the Soviets was a simple choice with manageable consequences, such as getting arrested. Protesting against the legal decisions of one’s own government, in a case where a Jew clearly committed illegal acts somehow seemed more dangerous. While I do not share many of my American Jewish friends’ fears of dual loyalty accusations, I understand it. Many of the early opponents of Zionism among American Jewish leaders, were deeply fearful that acceptance of Zionism would open the door to the canard of dual loyalty.
Until Jonathan Pollard, the concerns over dual loyalty seemed to have been put to rest. The Pollard case brought those fears vividly alive once more. Could American Jews be trusted to ignore Israel’s interests when America’s policies conflicted? We had always argued that that question is merely hypothetical, since, in reality, America and Israel share the same values and strategic interests. But the Pollard case exposed the uncomfortable truth that this is not always true. There can be times when American and Israeli interests diverge. It appears, therefore, that some unspoken decision was made among the American Jewish community to ignore Pollard’s situation, lay low and hope that everyone would forget about this inconvenient episode.
And, what is being done on Pollard’s behalf here in Israel? There have been reports that Israel is making use of the chaos in Syria to search for Eli Cohen’s body. Whether or not there is any truth to those reports, just the floating of the story indicates how far Israel will go for one of its own. How far did we go to achieve the release of Gilad Shalit? Yes, one could reasonably point out that these are not equivalent cases, and they are not. There is, however, one clear parallel: Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship over 15 years ago and is languishing abroad in a foreign prison. He was set on his task by the government of Israel. There are few demonstrations on his behalf. There are no “sit ins” demanding his release. There is no tent opposite the Prime Minister office imploring Pollard be set free. Jonathan Pollard does not have parents who live here. He did not go to school with Israelis. In most ways, he is really not “one of us”. So no one really cares. Yes, lip service is given to his cause, but that is as far as it goes.
A few weeks ago additional facts of the Pollard case were declassified. It turns out that, despite all the talk about the “terrible damage Pollard caused to the US”, he only passed information to Israel on other countries, primarily Arab states. He did not pass any information on the American military or other U.S. secrets. Furthermore, it seems the US government used the pretense of an interview that Pollard gave to Wolf Blitzer, (then a correspondent of The Jerusalem Post) to void his plea agreement.
Many people contend that the whole story must still be unknown and that these secret facts would certainly reveal why Pollard is still imprisoned after all these years. Maybe that’s true. I am certainly not suggesting that what Pollard did was right. Seemingly clear is that whatever Pollard did that remains classified information, none of it justifies his still being in jail. More than that, there is no justification for the relative silence of the Israeli government and the American Jewish organizations. My fear is that Pollard will continue to rot away in jail for a crime that was authorized by Israeli government. In that regard, Pollard acted for all of us.
We face many challenges here. Those challenges did not stop the State of Israel from putting the return of Gilad Shalit above almost everything else. If we are a Jewish State, a Jewish state places Pidyon Shivuyim (the return of captives) as very high priority. It is time to bring this issue to the forefront. We must ask our candidates and ourselves what we can do to bring about Jonathan Pollard’s return to the home he has never really known.