Know-it-alls of the world, Disunite!

Last week a friend and fellow blogger at the Times of Israel posted a blog that, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, infuriated a lot of readers. The bottom line of Marc Goldberg’s piece is that he feels that Jonathan Pollard deserves his fate in prison, because he committed a crime (espionage), betrayed the trust of his employer (the United States of America), with not-so-pure motives (money), was caught and is now paying the price that he had to know from the outset was a possibility (life imprisonment).

Obviously this is not a popular stand for to take on Pollard – especially these days considering the reports of Pollard’s seriously deteriorating health and the increased efforts to secure his release on humanitarian grounds. The vitriol in the responses to Marc’s piece were to be expected, as were even the personal attacks (which completely mislabeled Marc on many levels). Also to be expected was the level of self-proclaimed expertise contained in many of the comments.

One respondent cited then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s testimony at the Pollard trial in his blog comment. The “testimony” in question was in fact a sealed letter written by Weinberger and handed to the judge, which to this day is still a classified document.

Many people with whom I have spoken feel that even if Pollard was indeed guilty of espionage, he has definitely paid the price, and no longer poses a threat to American national security, and therefore should be released. This was one of several predominant themes in the comments to Marc’s blog, and it is not a new argument. For years people have been telling us that the threat Pollard poses to the United States is no more. And I can’t help but to wonder – how could these people possibly know this?

Without going into my own views on whether Pollard was a US traitor or a Zionist hero, a brilliant operator or a bumbler, an innovator or a patsy, I will say that I have long felt that there is a lot more to the story than the public has been told. While on rare occasions convicted spies have been very severe prison sentences, that Pollard has been incarcerated now for 26 years and that no US President has seriously considered granting him clemency does seem above and beyond what has been America’s modus operandi regarding spies, made all the more stark by the fact that Pollard, unlike most other convicted spies, sold his secrets to one of America’s staunchest allies.

Yet no president has been willing to budge – not Reagan, who was in office when the affair hit the proverbial fan, neither of the Bushes – one of whom (Junior) was widely perceived as the most Israel-friendly president to occupy the White House, neither Clinton nor Obama both of whom have worked at presenting themselves as light of the future, change and progress. Through all of these administrations, Pollard has remained in his North Carolina prison.

There absolutely must be a reason for this, and not just because he’s a convicted spy or that he’s Jewish. There is something going on to which we are not privy. Several possibilities have been offered – last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Hayom newspaper that the CIA is convinced that Pollard was not working alone (Ayalon says this is not true) which is why they will not release him. It has been suggested by many that the Pollard conviction was a result of Weinberger’s anti-Semitism.

Whatever the case, for some reason unbeknownst to us, for 26 years, every US president has deemed Pollard enough of a real threat that his release has never seriously been considered. Yet most people presume to understand all of the ins, outs, details, facts and testimonies in the case, and pass judgment from the vantage point of their living rooms, where they have had unlimited access to the accounts that have appeared in newspapers, books and on television.

This expertise that so many people claim from the privacy of their own little world is not a new thing. How many football and baseball (for example) fans watch games on television (or even at the stadium itself), and yell themselves blue in the face because the manager or coach is such an idiot who has absolutely no idea how to run a team! At least not nearly as well as these fans in question. Never mind the fact that the manager was a professional player for 20 years, which after six years of Little League, 3 years playing in middle school, 3 more years in high school, 4 years in college varsity ball and three years in the minors before breaking into the Big League. He spent time as a hitting or a baseline coach, and managed a minor league team before becoming a major league manager. Overall, he has been in serious level baseball for upwards of 40 years, but he knows nothing compared to the guy who has seen every game on TV this year and has memorized the stats of each player on the team.

We laugh at that – because we see it often and recognize how ridiculous it is. But we stop laughing when the talk turns to Israeli politics, and more specifically, Israel’s security.

At the age of 26, I served in the IDF for one year, which is less than the three years that sabras – native-born Israelis serve, but I would imagine more than the time served by average immigrant. I was in a combat unit (as a tank driver) and saw some very light action during the first Gulf War as a regular soldier and occasionally in my reserve duty over the 15 years between the discharge from my service and my release from reserves, by which point I had reached the rank of First Sergeant. While my vantage point was from the limited view of a low-ranking soldier in the Armored Corps, 12 months of active duty and 15 years of up to 40 days/year reserve duty did grant me an experience and understanding of Israel’s defense. Yet for all of that experience, I keep a proper perspective on how much I do, and don’t know.

Unlike so many who are absolutely convinced, based on their political views, that they understand Israel’s security better than a man who spent 35 years in the IDF, including four years as the Chief of General Staff. I refer, of course, to our current Defense Minister, Ehud Barak.

In terms of political views, accomplishments, and so forth – don’t get me started on Barak. I am not and have never been among his admirers. But I wouldn’t dream, even a second that I have a better grasp of our military situation than he does! Yet many folks – including with equivalent or less military experience than mine, and many outside of Israel who have never donned an IDF uniform, seem to think that Barak doesn’t understand Israel’s security. According to them, he also doesn’t “get” the Palestinian mindset, nor does he grasp the military capability of our Arab neighbors.

Let’s make one thing clear – as much as one can disagree with Barak’s politics, stands and actions, there really are very few people who “get” these things than he does. And no, he does not owe it to us (or to our friends, supporters and co-religionists around the world) to share the inside knowledge that he has.

We saw it too with Ariel Sharon during the 2005 Gaza Disengagement. Every armchair right wing activist knew better the situation in Gaza than one of Israel’s most celebrated military commanders.

And how many of us thought that we could teach a thing or two about the strategic importance of the Golan and the West Bank to the late Yitzchak Rabin, whose 40 years of fighting the Arabs and Palestinians was apparently no match for well-thought out logical arguments of those with a different vision of how the Land of Israel should look?

Disagreeing with the views and decisions of experts – in any realm, be it security, espionage or baseball is perfectly acceptable, even praiseworthy. But for all we know how right we are, and for all we know that anyone who fails to see the issues as we do simply doesn’t understand them as well as we do, we need to take a step (or three) back. We need to differentiate between what we actually know, and what we envision as being the best case scenario. Most of all, we need to afford a smidgen of respect to those who, for all their ideas runs counter to our own, they are not without their own knowledge, and even expertise. Often far more than we can boast.

Once we’ve mastered that on the Israeli political and security front, we can turn our attention to the more important things, which we have a far better chance of truly affecting change anyway. I refer, of course to how the manager of my beloved Atlanta Braves will get the team to the World Series this year.

About the Author
Asher Zeiger grew up (well, sort of) in North Carolina and moved to Israel in 1988. He lives in Modi'in with his wife and two daughters, and works as freelance writer, editor and translator. In his spare time, he tries hard at not taking himself or life too seriously (successfully) and at unwrapping himself from around his daughters' little fingers (not so successfully).