American Jewish leaders agree that Jonathan Pollard should be released from jail. What they do not agree on is why he is still there and the best way to get him out.
These differences have become public due to an editorial on January 16 in Tablet Magazine, a thoughtful, high-quality, on-line publication.
The editorial had both a strident tone and a jarring message. I would summarize it as follows: 1) America’s national security establishment mistakenly believed that the Pollard leaks led to the killing of American agents in Russia; 2) In order to cover its own mistakes in blaming Pollard for what he did not do, that security establishment has invented a new reason for keeping Pollard in prison: The need to prevent disloyalty among inherently untrustworthy American Jews; 3) American Jews have permitted themselves to be bullied by this strategy, and are offering only perfunctory support for Pollard’s release; 4) By acquiescing in an anti-Semitic campaign to tar all American Jews with the brush of potential dual loyalty, Jewish leaders are undermining the legal and social equality that American Jews now take for granted.
The argument that anti-Semitism is behind the decision of the American government to keep Pollard in prison received support, at least indirectly, from a statement by Abraham Foxman of the ADL. Foxman responded to the Tablet editorial by noting that Pollard’s continued imprisonment should be seen as a vendetta against the American Jewish community, and by saying that it has become harder and harder not to connect the Pollard affair with anti-Semitism. In other words, America’s foremost expert on anti-Semitism stopped just short of charging that anti-Semitism is motivating American policy.
As someone who believes that Pollard committed a very serious crime but that he should have been released from jail long ago, I find myself puzzled and distressed by these charges. They come, to be sure, from responsible and respected American Jews. But they don’t make sense, and I fail to see how they will be at all helpful in securing Pollard’s release.
I have been involved in various ways over the years in working for Pollard’s freedom. I have had conversations on Pollard’s behalf with American officials, including a brief, private conversation with the President of the United States. I have also been present at off-the-record, high-level briefings between various government officials and Jewish leaders. At these briefings I heard the case for the government’s position. I did not agree with the arguments made, and I was emphatic in expressing my opposition. But while I heard views that I believed to be terribly wrong, I never heard anything that I thought could be construed in any way as anti-Semitism.
This is not to say, of course, that individuals involved in one capacity or another may not have had anti-Semitic sentiments. Caspar Weinberger comes to mind. But there is a huge difference between prejudices that may have been at work with a person here and there and a policy of anti-Semitism in which a large number of people—judges, security officials, military personnel, politicians—would have had to be complicit.
Indeed, the major problem with the Tablet hypothesis is that it offers a conspiratorial view of how American government works that is at odds with reality as American Jews see it and Jewish life as American Jews live it. It is true, of course, that anti-Semitism never disappears from the human heart, even in America. And it is true as well that Pollard, at this stage, is the victim of an injustice. But there are many injustices in America. Yet it is also a place where Jews are represented at the highest levels of society, in politics, industry, and the arts; and it is simply incredible to think that a vendetta against the Jewish community could be taking place without these Jews being aware of it, or that they would tolerate it for a single second if they knew it to exist.
Similarly incredible is the idea that the Jewish community has soft-pedaled the Pollard cause. I am stunned by the Tablet suggestion that Malcolm Hoenlein has been insufficiently diligent in pursuing the case for Pollard’s freedom or has somehow been cowed by the supposed anti-Semitism of government officials. There is a public record here, and it is clear. American Jews have been tough and consistent on Pollard; especially impressive have been recent efforts to recruit prominent Americans, including conservatives and intelligence officials, to speak out for Pollard’s release.
Perhaps the Tablet editors expect American Jews to gather for mass demonstrations at the Washington mall and decry the anti-Semitism of both Democratic and Republican administrations that has kept Jonathan Pollard imprisoned. But this will not happen, and not because of cowardly acquiescence but because American Jews don’t believe it to be true.
And finally, I was disturbed by the editorial’s assertion that, in the negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel’s government must reject the idea of arranging for Pollard’s release in return for whatever concessions it might feel prepared to offer. Such a deal, the editorial told us, would indicate “the advanced state of moral and intellectual decay into which the organized American Jewish community has sunk.”
Really? A little less pontificating, please, and a little more reality. Jonathan Pollard needs to get out. I repeat: He needs to get out.
Since he is an American citizen, American Jews have a role to play. But Israel’s government, whose bungling security personnel created this mess, needs to do its part; and it should make every effort to use the current negotiations to get him released. The citizens of Israel and Jews everywhere would be grateful.