Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently been pushing U.S. President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard to emigrate to Israel. Pollard was convicted 30 years ago of spying for Israel, having betrayed his loyalty oath to the United States. The timing of Netanyahu’s outreach – given the nature of this American Jew’s crimes – highlights the need for American Jewry to reflect, focus, and speak out. Immediately.
Allegations and revelations of criminal or political mischief around the 2016 Presidential election should concern us as Americans and as Jews. Without prejudging or taking sides, it is urgent for major American Jewish organizations and prominent community voices to emphasize that nothing justifies violating U.S. law or elevating the perceived interests of an Israeli government over those of the United States.
Let’s dispense with several myths currently circulating around the Jewish cyberspace.
Myth #1: “This is all a political vendetta against President Trump, nothing to do with Israel or Jews.”
Prominent Jews and Israelis are already celebrating the possibility that Trump’s aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner managed private diplomacy with the Russian government during the Presidential transition, in an effort to undermine the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama. A key ask of the Russians: To delay or modify United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank, “including east Jerusalem”. Obama ended up abstaining rather than using his veto power to stop it.
At last weekend’s Saban Forum, Brookings Institution donor Haim Saban publicly thanked Kushner for his alleged efforts. If Kushner did such a thing – regardless of whether he violated the Logan Act – his lying about it to the FBI would absolutely constitute a federal crime. (See under: “Michael Flynn”.)
Myth #2: “The 1799 Logan Act has never been successfully prosecuted, anyway…Just look at Nixon and Vietnam.”
(The Logan Act effectively prohibits any American from independently intervening or undermining the U.S. position in any dispute between the United States and another government.)
As solid proof has come to light just in the past few years, we now know that prior to the 1968 Presidential election, then-candidate Richard Nixon used Anna Chennault to sabotage the Johnson administration’s peace negotiations between the pro-West South and the Communist North. The reason Nixon wasn’t investigated was that (1) the proof was hidden away for 40 years in his secret files, and (2) Nixon won the election.
One big difference with 1968 was that – even had there been an investigation – Israel and the American Jewish community would not have been implicated in any way. This time, additionally, Flynn and possibly Kushner weren’t just engaging one foreign government, Russia – they would have been doing so at the behest of a second foreign government, Israel.
Myth #3: “It’s OK, because this was to help Israel.”
Even if no crime were proven to be committed, statements from freelancers and extremists invoking Israel’s interests to justify or excuse criminality trivialize our democracy and endanger our status as Americans. Israel is a U.S. ally, but Netanyahu and Obama were political rivals. And American Jews are not allies, we are Americans.
The U.S. abstention on Resolution 2334 opened no new front or sanctions against Israel, and certainly didn’t necessitate calling on an American Jew to undermine one White House and jeopardize its successor. If ever there were a tough choice of saving Israel at the expense of U.S. interests – a fateful choice for Pollard – this was not it.
Myth #4: “If this does implicate the Jewish community, then best to keep quiet.”
Allowing our support for Israel to be exploited as justification for partisan or criminal behavior undermines our moral authority and political credibility – and damages the U.S. national interest at home and abroad.
With the continued disarray in Trump’s Washington, and in the absence of even a low-level White House liaison to the Jewish community, mainstream Jewish organizations are increasingly either shut out or sidelined by the Administration. Partisan and fringe groups are being legitimized from Washington, and they in turn are giving the Trump team a free pass – on anti-Semitism, on Jerusalem, on pluralism, on Islamophobia and racism and “America First”.
Mainstream organizations need not question the legitimacy of Donald J. Trump nor openly reject every Presidential tweet or policy about-face. But if we allow Israel and the patriotism of American Jews to become expendable fodder for defending the indefensible, then we are doing a disservice to both countries, to Jewish values, and to all American Jews – including Jonathan Pollard. We must distance ourselves from such abuses, and we must do so today, as a community.