American Jews should demand Pollard’s freedom

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-20-10

What many long suspected has been confirmed. Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger targeted America’s Jewish spy from the 1980s, Jonathan Jay Pollard, to teach Israel a lesson. One of Weinberger’s assistant secretaries of defense, Dr. Lawrence Korb, recently wrote a letter to President Barack Obama saying: “Based on my first-hand knowledge, I can say with confidence that the severity of Pollard’s sentence is a result of an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies in our foreign policy on the part of my boss at the time, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.”

As members of Congress circulate a demand for Pollard’s release after nearly 25 years in captivity, as American Jews once again agonize, as speculation grows about using Pollard’s release as a figleaf to allow Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to extend the settlements’ building moratorium, justice remains AWOL. Pollard should not be freed as part of a deal but as part of a settlement, wherein the American government atones for abusing his rights. The presidents who could have released him, the national security types who insisted on jailing him, as well as the Americans and Israelis who failed to redeem him, should all hang their heads in shame. The hero of the moment, Dr. Korb himself, should explain his quarter-century delay before doing the right thing. While we dithered, Jonathan Pollard has languished in jail.

Since Jonathan Pollard’s arrest in November 1985, most American Jews have wanted to forget all about him. Until Bernard Madoff, Pollard was the undisputed black sheep of the American Jewish family. If Madoff’s swindle brought to life the anti-Semitic caricature of the greedy Jew, Pollard embodied the treasonous Jew, the untrustworthy Jew, the dual-loyalty Jew. Despite the community’s affinity for lost causes, few have dared buck America’s national security establishment to defend the most infamous Jewish Judas since the 1950s’ Ethel and Julius Rosenberg Atomic spy case. Such blaring silence for so long demonstrates a dismaying insecurity about Jews’ place in America.

It makes sense that in 1985 most American Jews wanted to see Pollard jailed. Pollard broke the law when he passed secret navy intelligence documents to Israel. No patriotic American can countenance such behavior – even if the documents went to an ally. Yet even at the time, in denouncing Pollard’s “despicable” and “shameful” acts so vehemently, Jews seemed overly anxious to demonstrate their loyalty at Pollard’s expense.

American Jews got their wish.  Pollard was punished, severely. In March, 1987, as part of a deal intended to keep his then-wife Anne Henderson Pollard from jail, Pollard plead guilty to “conspiracy to commit espionage.” His plea spared the government from the risk of spilling more secrets at trial. Yet despite the plea bargain, and swayed by a blistering pre-sentencing memorandum from Secretary of Defense Weinberger, Judge Aubrey Robinson threw the book at both Pollards. Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment; his wife, who was never accused of stealing secrets, was sentenced to five years.

Pollard is no hero. But should Jews ignore the compelling cries for fair, proportionate justice simply because Pollard embarrasses us? Pollard does not deserve special treatment because he is Jewish, but neither does he deserve undue retribution. He is entitled to the same crusade the ACLU might mount for a murderer who, while guilty, does not deserve the death penalty.

When Pollard was arrested, many American Jews were furious because his actions supposedly made all Jews suspect. Since 1985 many Jews have endured more extensive investigations when being considered for security clearances; Israelis have faced more obstacles collaborating in defense-related American industries too. That one person could cause so much damage is mind-boggling. But does this say more about Pollard’s crimes or about Jews’ status in America?

If one rogue can threaten an entire community’s standing, something is wrong. Is that all it takes to derail the Jewish campaign to be America’s model minority? Are Jews merely tolerated, not accepted? American Jews’ reaction to the Pollard case evoked 1950s America, when first-generation greenhorns struggled to prove that Jews could be “a credit to our race and to our country.” Back then, Judge Irving Kaufman presided over the Rosenberg Atomic espionage case determined to rehabilitate Jews’ reputation. Millions of success stories later, American Jews should feel more secure. The many accomplishments, the deep patriotism, should refute the ancient dual loyalty libel.

American Jews do not live at the indulgence of Polish Nobleman patrons or a Russian Czar. American Jews do not enjoy civil rights as long as they sacrifice their Jewish identities, as their ancestors in “enlightened” Germany and “emancipated” France did. Jewish freedom is not contingent on anyone’s good will or on communal good behavior, but stems from inherent rights, “regardless of race, color, or creed.”

The American dream invites all citizens to sit at the table as equals. The American Jewish neurosis compels Jews to act like model dinner guests terrified of being banished from the dining room. Ironically, American Jews’ shame concedes too much to Jonathan Pollard and to anti-Semites – maybe Jews don’t feel as at home as they claim to in the Diaspora.

American Jews should be free, strong, proud, and comfortable enough to demand Jonathan Pollard’s release – unconditionally.  This one individual does not reflect on the community but his continued imprisonment does reflect badly on American justice. If Jews lack that comfort, if Jews cannot apply the same standards to this one unfortunate Jew that they do to others the courts mistreat, then maybe American Jews should realize that they too are imprisoned, by delusions and fears. Ironically, by defending this spy, by arguing that Jonathan Pollard has been punished enough, Jews can demonstrate loyalty to America, and to the fundamental fairness that makes America, America.

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