The masses respond to heroes. No surprise that politicians participate in the celebration. Either it's because they, too, believe, or they see the gain or loss of votes if they go along with, ignore, or express doubts to the crowd.
It goes back to the gods of the Greeks and other pagans, ancient stories still told about saintly rabbis, and of course Moses, David, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad. None of the prominent religions are free. Jews and Christians no longer kill masses in the name of their heroes or principles. Civilized Muslims, along with the rest of us, are currently dealing with those who find something associated with their Prophet to justify the most barbaric of deeds.
Americans have George Washington and a number of other Presidents, with the views of recent heroism--from Wilson or maybe Roosevelt--tending to be highly partisan.
A long way from violence, but still within the range of heroism that moves politics, are the stories about Jonathan Pollard.
The Wikipedia article about him provides a summary of tales, claims, and counter-claims that make him a hero to some, a traitor or something else unpleasant to others. Truth, justice and balance, are as hard to find in the stories about Pollard as they are in the celebrations and nastiness about others who have captured popular attention.
It is impossible to find a hero without flaws.
Jews are familiar with the stories about Moses and David, the two figures who are most prominent in the Hebrew Bible. Both are celebrated for great deeds, but acknowledged to have sinned in major ways. The rabbis explain the almost absence of Moses from the songs and stories in the Passover Haggadah as meant to emphasize that no person deserves the degree of praise that should be reserved for the Almighty.
Some of that may be a Judaic reaction against what his followers did to a Jew made into a god, bolstered by stories about a virgin birth and resurrection.
Yet Jews, too, have rendered their heroes in unworldly terms. A Talmudic chapter in the Tractate Bava Metzia tells stories about rabbis that include much that is fantastic, including disputations and decisions after their death.
Among the claims and counter claims about Pollard
- He violated his oath and his loyalty to the United States while in a sensitive position, and did great harm to American Jews seeking to avoid the stigma of divided loyalties
- If he was motivated by service to Israel, he was also motivated by personal profit. He received substantial sums from Israel, and sold or tried to sell stolen material to a number of other countries, said to include South Africa, Pakistan, Iran, and Taiwan.
- What he provided to Israel exposed US sources of information within the Soviet Union, set back US intelligence efforts, and resulted in the death of informants.
- Early on, Pollard boasted about his affinity to Israel. His supervisors should have taken notice of a man showing strong commitments to another country and emotional instability, and reviewed his access to sensitive material.
- What he provided to Israel was material that the US would have supplied, if asked officially.
- It included material clearly important to Israel that the US should not have held back from ongoing cooperation..
- What he provided to Israel allowed the liquidation of terrorist cells with responsibility for the deaths of Israelis
- Israel was a close ally of the United States, whose use of the material was in the interest of both countries
- If Pollard was a fool for endangering the status of American Jews, Israel was complicit.
- The US spies on Israel, so why shouldn't Israel exploit its opportunities to obtain information not openly available from the United States, either with the cooperation of willing Jews or others motivated by a desire to help Israel or on account of money and other means classically used to obtain information. Israel is a country like others, pressured more than most by deadly hostility. It should not be judged by more rigorous standards than used to judge other countries.
- Pollard violated laws, personal oaths, and trust. He should have been punished, but his punishment was greater than that imposed on others for similar crimes.
- Pollard involved his wife in illegalities. She also served a prison sentence, and has accused Israel of doing nothing to help her former husband.
- Pollard violated a pre-sentencing agreement with respect to not talking to journalists. He spoke with Wolf Blitzer, and the violation was instrumental in an extended sentence.
- Claims about anti-Semitism in the sentence are complicated by a number of Jews prominent in American government and media who defend the harsh sentence and opposed his release, due to Pollard's obvious guilt and his damage to the delicate position of American Jews
It is common to contrast pro- and anti- attitudes about Pollard between Israeli and American Jews. Americans are more likely to avoid comment or express support for his punishment. Israeli politicians have, over the years, pressed various American administrations to pardon Pollard. Now they are asking the American administration to relax restrictions upon him and allow his migration to Israel. Israeli media has celebrated his release, with a prominent line that he helped Israel and should be allowed to migrate.
Against that, however, are at least a few Israelis breathing easier in the presence of restrictions meant to keep him in the United States and subject to other limitations for a period of five years.. It is not common to speak against an American who risked a great deal and paid a heavy price for aiding Israel. Israelis are divided about the wisdom of having used him, then denying him access to the Washington Embassy and its immunity when he was being pursued. For some, in contrast, those are the risks taken by individuals who play a dirty game. One shouldn't expect a government to go too far out of its way for a spy who took money and should know the risks.
Israelis with doubts include those who itch at the prospect of Pollard's ceremonial arrival in the country, and the coronation of a flawed individual to the pantheon of national heroes. It would be a right wing extravaganza, capable of distorting national priorities in a place always being targeted by others, where balance between contending values and conventional expressions of proper behavior with respect to the great powers are the optimal courses of action.
We can't know and weigh with fairness and objectivity all the claims and counter claims about Pollard's activities and motives, and those of the Israeli establishment who were working with him.
Skepticism about all claims of heroism is a posture with great historical justification. We who sit in the synagogue of the skeptics, and sometimes the synagogue of the cynics, might rest with a sense that Pollard was punished enough, deserves to be left alone, and to leave us alone.