(photo credit: COURTESY OF JUSTICE FOR JONATHAN POLLARD)
On November 21, 1985, I was a 14-year-old ninth-grader living in Silver Spring, Maryland, just 30 minutes from the Israel Embassy. On that day, Jonathan Pollard was arrested under suspicion of spying for Israel.
I recall being so upset, as an American Jew, that Jonathan was arrested for spying for an ally of the United States. My father, Judge Ronald Lipman of blessed memory, explained that Jonathan had broken the law, and people who break the law must pay the price.
Over the past few years, I was intimately involved in efforts to gain Jonathan’s release, especially while serving in the Knesset as a member of the Lobby for Jonathan Pollard. I raised the issue in every meeting I had with American officials, at all levels, and also know that the chairman of my party, MK Yair Lapid, did so with American leaders at the highest of levels.
We never dismissed Jonathan’s crime – he violated American law, and justice had to be served. But we argued over and over again that justice had already been served. We pointed to American officials such as Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense at the time of Jonathan’s arrest, who now called for his immediate release both on humanitarian grounds, and because justice had already been served.
All of us who worked, hoped and prayed for Jonathan’s release must now take a moment to celebrate and thank God that the day of his release has become a reality. But beyond that happiness and relief, we must all internalize the lessons of this narrative as well, and the leaders of Israel must use this understanding as our guiding light moving forward.
The five American presidents who have served since Jonathan’s arrest did not keep him in jail because they hate Israel.
They kept him in jail because they love America. We can debate what specific interests led them to keep Jonathan imprisoned so long, but each of these president’s took an oath to preserve and protect the United States of America and not its allies, no matter how close those allies may be.
On January 31, 2013, I stood up in the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv and raised my right hand to renounce my United States citizenship. I did so because Israeli law dictates that I could not be sworn in as a member of Knesset while maintaining citizenship in another country. The logic behind this policy makes sense: My loyalty and my devotion must line up purely with Israel, leaving no doubt that all of my decisions would be made strictly with Israel’s best interests in mind.
American officials are no different. They may love Israel (and many have demonstrated that affection in very tangible ways), but as the Jonathan Pollard saga has demonstrated so clearly, when they are faced with a choice between protecting America’s interests or Israel’s, they will – and rightfully so – choose the interests of America 1,000 times out of 1,000.
That realization must be Israel’s guiding principle from this point forward. Despite all our best diplomatic efforts, at the end of the day we only have ourselves.
This doesn’t mean that we’re free to anger the leadership of the United States. We have a special relationship to treasure on many levels, especially when it comes to military and intelligence cooperation. But just as their leadership will do what they think is best for the US – on Iran, on trade, on immigration, and everything else – we must do the same.
This realization must also resonate with American Jews. You live in America. You cannot expect more from your leaders who swear an oath to serve Americans. You can lobby, you can pressure, and you can vote people out of office. But the loyalties of Americans will ultimately be to America and not Israel.
Jonathan Pollard lived in America, but his loyalty was to Israel.
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for that formula to work and to yield positive results. That is why we have Israel: We do not want to be dependent on other countries, no matter how kind and generous their offers.
Thank God, Jonathan will now be free. Justice has been served many times over, and we all celebrate his personal freedom and our national freedom from this 30-year saga. Now we must learn the crucial lessons from this horrible story and, with grace and wisdom, free ourselves from the diplomatic shackles that hurt our nation and state.
The author served in the 19th Knesset. He is chairman of Anglo and Diaspora affairs for the Yesh Atid party, hosts a radio show on voiceofisrael.com and is a political analyst for i24 News.