When Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American intelligence analyst for the US Navy, arrived unbidden at the Israeli embassy with a suitcase full of classified documents in 1985, he complicated the career path of every Jew in America who wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy or security
As an American Jew working as Pentagon policy analyst in the 1990s (and a graduate of the international affairs program that Pollard had dropped out of two decades earlier), I felt the aftereffects of his betrayal. At a time when Jews were beginning to occupy senior American security and foreign-policy posts that had previously been off-limits, Pollard kept the specter of Jewish “dual loyalty” alive within the establishment. He claimed that he passed classified material to Israel because he felt that Israel was being endangered by the United States. This confirmed the stereotype that has stalked Jews for centuries, from medieval England to the Dreyfus affair to Stalin’s Soviet Union: that, when forced to choose between the interests of their country and of the Jewish people, Jews will choose their people.
Pollard was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to life in prison. Israel’s initial reception of Pollard was chilly, but over the years, Israeli prime ministers, as well as American Jewish leaders, sought his release. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1996. He was paroled in 2015, after serving 30 years of his sentence. He completed his parole in November and Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned him to assure him that “We’re waiting for you,” adding, “Your nightmare is over and you can come home to Israel.” He landed last week.
I live in Israel now, and I have had a hard time listening to the enthusiasm with which newscasters reported on his plans. They welcomed him “home” with a warmth usually reserved for Israeli backpackers who are located after going missing in the jungle. I heard Pollard’s lawyer on the radio, speaking in sabra Hebrew about his plans. She said he did not regret his actions. Actually, she switched to English and said that he had “expressed regret” in order to satisfy the parole board, but he still believes he did the right thing.
When I started working in the Pentagon in 1997, it seemed natural to me that Jews should hold senior positions in the US security and foreign policy establishment. Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller, and Martin Indyk, all three of whom could reminisce about being students in Israel just before or during the Yom Kippur War, were running the Middle East peace process for President Clinton. Sandy Berger was national security adviser. Dov Zakheim, who wore a kippah, came into the Pentagon as an undersecretary of defense for President George W. Bush.
But this was a major departure from a bureaucratic culture that assumed Jews were too susceptible to bias to work on Middle East issues. The first time a Jew became a political officer at the US embassy in Tel Aviv was 1977. Security clearance investigators routinely asked if a Jewish defense or security employee would, when push came to shove, choose Israel’s interests over the interests of the United States. Indyk, who was appointed just a few months before I came to Washington, was the first Jew to serve as the State Department’s senior Middle East policy official.
While suspicions of Jewish dual loyalty clearly existed long before Pollard, he put a face onto the nebulous threat that we Jews allegedly posed to national security. I feared that when people looked at me, they saw him. During my five years in the Pentagon, I carefully calibrated how much of my Israel attachment I let show. I remember attending an Independence Day reception at the Israeli embassy in Washington. I took care not to sing along with the band that was playing familiar Israeli tunes. When they began to play Hatikvah, I copied my American colleagues and stood at rigid attention out of respect for a foreign country’s national anthem. I whispered the words and hoped nobody noticed that I knew every syllable.
The dual-loyalty charge has morphed several times in the past 25 years. Palestinians said that Ross, Miller, and Indyk functioned as a second Israeli negotiating team. People on both fringes of the political spectrum accused Jewish neoconservatives in the Bush administration of pushing America to go to war with Iraq in order to serve Israel’s interests. Representative Ilhan Omar accused AIPAC of fostering “allegiance” to another country. Most bewilderingly, President Trump accused Jews who vote Democratic of being disloyal to the Jewish people and to Israel.
What the accusers fail to understand is that a person can have multiple identities and one loyalty. When I chose to work for the US government and swore not to reveal classified information, I took on a professional, moral, and legal commitment. My personal attachment to Judaism and Israel did not prevent me from upholding that commitment.
If Pollard wants to repair some of the damage he has done — not only to Jews seeking a career in US government service but to minorities everywhere who need to be accepted as loyal citizens — he should offer a real apology, not just the minimal expression of regret that he needed to make to the parole board. If Israel’s leaders want to welcome him, they should temper their joy with an acknowledgement that by spying on the United States, they betrayed their most important ally, and they opened the door to suspicion of American Jews.