In this season of taking stock, of counting our blessings and regretting our
faults, we recognize with profound appreciation that we live at a time when the
Jewish communities of the world are free.
When I speak to student groups
about one of the great dramas of my lifetime – the exodus of the Jews of Russia
and how, to use Natan Sharansky’s words, “housewives and students” defeated the
powerful Soviet Union, I might as well be telling them a Hanukka story. They
don’t know who Sharansky is, and the term “Prisoner of Zion” has little
That’s not a criticism. What molded our lives doesn’t have to
In more recent times, we have directed our efforts to
finding and freeing individual Jews, mostly soldiers of the IDF who are missing
in action: Ron Arad, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Guy Hever, Zachary Baumel. I
wonder if I am the only one who, for so many years, included Gilad ben Aviva
(Schalit) in the entreaties of my daily prayers? And who sees that he
occasionally still finds his way in, before I remind myself that he was freed
Where does Yehonatan ben Malka fit in our private and community
He’s not incarcerated in an underground cell in Gaza or in a Communist
prison. Yehonatan ben Malka is an Israeli citizen whose exact location we know.
Prisoner number 09185016. Butner Federal Correction Complex in Granville County,
North Carolina. Jonathan Pollard.
I was eight years old, walking
from public school to Hebrew school in Colchester, Connecticut, stopping at
Fanny Miller’s candy store for fireballs and chocolate-covered raisins, already
taking part in the great debate with my Jewish friends. “What would you do if
America and Israel went to war against each other?” we asked each
The subject of loyalty was deeply embedded into our consciousness
as American Jews. Somehow you knew that your Irish and Polish and Italian
classmates weren’t having a parallel debate. In a sense we were
hyper-patriots. We couldn’t take freedom and security of America for
granted like the Daughters of American Revolution in town.
At the same
time, the values of liberty and justice resonated with both our Americanism and
Judaism. In the rare circumstances I heard the names Ethel and Julius Rosenberg,
the only Americans to be executed for spying in the Cold War (in 1953), the
subject was quickly hushed up.
By the time I was 12, I’d read one of the
early Holocaust accounts: Judith Sternberg Newman’s biography In the Hell of
Auschwitz. Newman’s relatives lived in Colchester. On one hand, I felt even
luckier that my grandparents had left Eastern Europe for the United States. On
the other hand, the need to protect the Jewish people was
Grave errors had been made in America towards the Jewish
people. Although I felt unhampered by my Jewish identity to attend any
university, a generation earlier talented Jews faced admission quotas and
certain branches of the armed forces were known to be difficult for Jews to
enter. The US, with its wide-open spaces and supposed immigrant culture, didn’t
take on an organized rescue policy for Jewish victims of Nazi Germany until
Think of the 937 passengers on the ship called the St. Louis,
refugees from Germany, sailing so close to Florida that they could see the
lights of Miami, being turned back to the Nazis in May 1939.
opposition to immigration, xenophobia and anti-Semitism kept immigration
restrictions rigid even after World War II. In addition to the moral greatness
of saving the Jewish people, imagine what America would be like today if the
country had taken in the Jews of Europe. Take even the simplest parameter: Nobel
Prize winners. Thirty-seven percent of American winners are Jews – and
that is without the Six Million.
You couldn’t count on the US to avoid
making additional errors about the fate of the Jews. What would any of us do if
we were in the position to raise the alarm and help avert a future catastrophe?
Even back in Hebrew school the answer was clear.
Jonathan Pollard was
born in Texas in August 1954, and grew up in Indiana. While working as an
American civilian in intelligence in Washington, Pollard saw classified material
that contained information about maintaining Israel’s security. I don’t care
that he was paid – Mossad agents get salaries, too, for taking on dangerous
You can spend hours reading the details of his case online and the
strong opinions it has generated. Here’s the short of it: Pollard’s illegal
activities for Israel were detected. He sought asylum in the Israeli Embassy in
Washington but was rejected. To avoid an embarrassing trial, Pollard was
persuaded to agree to a plea bargain that would also guarantee that he wasn’t
given a maximum sentence. He expressed profound regret for his actions. The
prosecutor complied with the plea agreement and asked for “only a substantial
number of years in prison.” Nonetheless, Judge Aubrey Robinson, Jr. imposed a
life sentence after hearing a “damage assessment memorandum” from the defense
That was in 1987. Unless he receives a presidential pardon,
Pollard’s possible parole won’t come until November 21, 2015.
No one has
ever revealed what documents Pollard gave Israel in 11 deliveries of
confidential files about the Middle East. Was the information critical in
convincing Israel to knock out the nuclear plant in Osirak, Iraq? If so, his
perspicuity saved not only Jewish lives but American lives, too.
THEN, is he still in jail?
Among those who opposed Pollard’s release was his
former boss, the late US Navy Rear Adm. Sumner Shapiro, who served as director
of the Office of Naval Intelligence from 1978 to 1982. Said Shapiro: “We work so
hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody screw
it up... and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try
to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of
Pollard’s incarceration, then, isn’t only about spying. To a Jew who
rose to the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy, he should be
punished for threatening the hard-won proof that he was as loyal an American as
After shameful denials, Israel admitted that Pollard was
working for us and declared him an Israeli citizen. His release is often
mentioned in connection with prisoner swaps and peace deals, to sweeten an
otherwise hard-to-swallow deal. Former US deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb
said “the severity of Pollard’s sentence is a result of an almost visceral
dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies” in American foreign
policy.” Do any of us doubt that US Vice President Joe Biden’s vituperation
against Pollard had less do with the spy’s deeds than his anger towards the
State of Israel?
Nonetheless, more than a quarter-century after Pollard was
jailed, many voices across the political spectrum agree that his punishment was
excessive. Left-wing Congressman Barney Frank is in rare agreement with
rightwing former House speaker Newt Gingrich on this one. Former CIA director
James Woolsey says Pollard’s punishment is excessive. Even former defense
secretary Caspar Weinberger admitted that “the Pollard matter was comparatively
minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance.”
As we enter
5773 – an election year in the US – Jews of every political orientation should
be able to agree that the time to release Pollard and make their views known is
now. Synagogue members of every orientation should include him in public
declarations. To quote accused spy Sharansky, who now heads the Jewish Agency:
“The time has come to vigorously and loudly demand his freedom.”
Prisoner of Zion to another.
The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses
on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of
public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of
America. The views in her columns are her own.