Jonathan Pollard was sent to prison for life by the Reagan administration for spying for Israel, and intelligence officials of at least five administrations, Republican and Democrat, blocked his release for 30 years until he was finally paroled late in the Obama administration, but required to stay in the United States for five more years.
His case was a painful one for many in the American Jewish community who saw it give rise to renewed accusations of dual loyalty. It continues to poison US-Israel relations, particular in the intelligence agencies and at the Pentagon. My sources in the Israeli intelligence community told me that Pollard was part of a rogue operation that did more damage than good for the Jewish state.
When a group of wealthy Jewish Republicans went to President George H.W. Bush after the 1992 election asking him to release Pollard, one reported he told them, “Let Clinton do it; the Jews voted for him.”
President Bill Clinton almost did but deferred to opposition from his CIA director.
President Donald Trump turned down repeated pleas from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on behalf of Pollard, but that could be about to change.
Trump has demonstrated that there is no limit to what he will do to help Netanyahu win elections, who now faces the toughest contest of his long career. Don’t be surprised if Trump sends Pollard to Israel just before the September 17 election so Bibi can have more bragging rights about his clout in Washington and something to show his right-wing base.
It is time to let Pollard make aliyah. He’s paid a high price for his crimes, although many of his outspoken followers wrongfully insisted he was a hero who acted selflessly to save Israel and the Jewish people, doing no damage to the United States and intending none.
I never bought that. I’ve been a fierce critic not only of Pollard for his crimes, but of his followers who insisted he was forced to act because Washington was denying Jerusalem vitally needed intelligence only he could provide.
I met Pollard in 1981 shortly after I went to work at AIPAC as the legislative director. He applied to replace our longtime research director, Lenny Davis, who was making aliyah. Lenny, Tom Dine, the executive director, and I interviewed him.
Pollard said he wanted to leave his job as a naval intelligence officer and work for AIPAC so he could help Israel. He told us he could bring a wealth of information and warned us that our homes and offices were tapped, we were followed by unknown agents, that we should check our cars for bombs before getting in at home and the office, mentioned secret Palestinian access to the White House and more.
We came to the quick conclusion that he was crazy and anyone who hired him had to be even crazier. Lenny escorted him to the elevator and we didn’t think any more about him until news broke of his arrest more than four years later.
Later as a columnist for Anglo-Jewish newspapers in the United States and abroad, I wrote several pieces about the Pollard case based on firsthand observations of the damage his case had done. One article in particular inflamed passions among the confessed spy’s supporters, a reaction that came as quite a surprise to me.
In my view, the long campaign to win his release was impeded by the constant flow of vituperative attacks on those most able to help him, including American presidents and Israeli prime ministers.
I believed Pollard was his own worst enemy, closely followed by his second wife, Esther. Some of his supporters attacked my columns as “poisonous” but I also got supportive phone calls. Most important were from his father, Morris Pollard, and from a close friend and relative, both telling me they shared my assessment.
But not Esther Pollard. She and her husband’s other apologists went on the attack. Their most interesting was a claim that I was Jonathan’s “accomplice” and an ungrateful one at that.
I was ungrateful, they alleged, because Jonathan had a chance to go free if he would turn me in as one of his co-conspirators, Esther Pollard wrote on her website, “Justice4JP.” I owe my freedom to Jonathan because he “chose honor and truth above self-interest” and wouldn’t rat me out, she charged.
Here’s what she wrote:
Douglas Bloomfield’s name was indeed on a list of suspected Jewish co-conspirators that prosecutors showed to my husband while he was being held in a nightmarish prison facility for the criminally insane. Jonathan was told that he could win his ticket out of the facility by implicating any one of the names on the list. His accusers did not particularly care about the guilt or innocence of any of the Jews named. All they wanted was another whipping boy. Lucky for Bloomfield and those others on the list that Jonathan chose honor and truth above self-interest, and would not cooperate.
Well, it’s not as good as being on Nixon’s or Trump’s enemies’ lists, but it’s something.
Not only am I a thankless co-conspirator but, charged one critic, I insulted Pollard by wrongly painting him “an unheroic figure.”
That’s true. He’s no hero. He’s a traitor who betrayed his country and mine and his solemn oath in exchange for money, jewelry, trips and a pension and then claimed a special messiah status.
According to Pollard’s admirers, I am free only because their hero went to jail out of a loyalty to me that I never knew about much less reciprocated.
During all those years that Pollard was doing my time, no one from the FBI, CIA, Defense Intelligence or any other security agency has uttered a word about this to me, not even a single call, visit or question.
I’m hurt. If I’m such a dangerous spy, as Esther Pollard suggested, I deserve better. But you have to admit one thing: I must be a damn good secret agent. My spying has been such a closely guarded secret that even I didn’t know anything about it until I read these letters.
But if they do come for me, I’m not going alone. I’ll also turn in my handler, Walter Mitty.
Partisan politics aside, it is time to let Pollard make aliyah. But not until after the Israeli election.