'J’accuse on Pollard'

It’s one of the most painful wounds in the Jewish world. All Israeli attempts to obtain leniency for Jonathan Pollard have failed.

August 22, 2011 23:15
PROTESTERS HOLD posters calling to free Pollard

Pollard posters 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

He is a convicted spy. He has an Israeli passport. He is serving a life sentence. He is the only American to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. It’s one of the most painful wounds in the Jewish world. All Israeli attempts to obtain leniency for Jonathan Pollard have failed.

Some 113 years after French novelist Emile Zola famously wrote “J’accuse!” charging that an anti-Semitic government had wrongfully convicted a young Jewish captain named Alfred Dreyfus, Pollard’s supporters wonder if history may record his case as America’s Dreyfus affair. The former president of B’nai B’rith International, Tommy Baer, said the Pollard affair was “the closest thing to an American Dreyfuss case.” If Pollard’s incomparably harsh sentence is allowed to continue, all but the most naive will have to confront the idea that he is still in prison only because he is a Jew.

Dreyfus and Pollard are, of course, different cases in one significant respect. Dreyfus was innocent, and Pollard has admitted his guilt. But a close look reveals striking similarities.

The French Jew was exiled to the hell of Devil’s Island. Pollard is being held in solitary confinement in an underground cell. Dreyfus was a political prisoner from the first day of his arrest. By contrast, Pollard was not a political prisoner during the first few years of his incarceration.

However, now that he is serving well beyond the time served by others who have committed comparable offenses, now that he remains incarcerated because of prejudice, , he has become a political prisoner. If Dreyfus made Theodor Herzl into a Zionist, Pollard has been abandoned and betrayed by most Jewish intellectuals.

A few years ago only Ida Nudel and other former Soviet “Prisoners of Zion,” in a letter delivered to then-Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens, declared that there remained yet another political prisoner: Jonathan Pollard.

Yosef Mendelevich, who spent 11 years in the gulag, called on “all the friends who fought for the Prisoners of Zion to organize again for Jonathan Pollard..”

Pollard’s release is today an integral part only of the right-wing camp in Israel (Gush Katif made Pollard an honorary resident, and most of his supporters wear the knitted kippot that identify national religious Jews). But the question is not about the Jewish Right that adopted Pollard, but why the Jewish Left has abandoned him. Pollard has been in prison longer than anyone ever sentenced in the US for passing classified materials to a friendly foreign power. Israel has never underestimated Pollard’s offense. But his case constitutes a great miscarriage of justice. In the United States the median sentence for a person convicted of spying for the Soviet Union was 10 years. The median sentence for someone spying for a non-Soviet power has been less than three years. Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz said the Pollard case is “an American injustice,” calling his life sentence “outrageously disproportionate.” Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ronald Montaperto was just sentenced to a three-month prison term for passing US intelligence secrets to communist China. Meanwhile, Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison for passing US secrets to Israel is now in his 27th year in jail, held in a subterranean cell in solitary confinement for seven years.

After his arrest, Israel did everything in its power to distance itself from Pollard, despite the fact that Jerusalem knew the magnitude of his contribution in the face of the chemical-weapons threat presented by Syria and Iraq. It wasn’t until 1995 that he was granted Israeli citizenship, and it wasn’t until 1998 that Israel officially recognized Pollard as its agent. Binyamin Netanyahu is the only prime minister to have made a real effort to get him released.

For his contribution to Israel’s security and for his long suffering in prison, Israelis should consider Pollard a national hero. He is commonly recognized as the source of the country’s preparedness for the Iraqi missile attacks during the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv, and Israelis wore gas masks.

Twenty-two countries were transferring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons technology to Arab states – in particular Iraq. This was six years before the Gulf War, six years before Saddam Hussein became a household name.

Jonathan Pollard warned Israel of Iraq’s bellicose intentions, and that Syria’s Assad was amassing vast quantities of chemical and other unconventional weapons. By its own agreement with Israel, the US administration should have given this information to Jerusalem. But it was deliberately blocked by then-secretary of state Caspar Weinberger.

Among all the doubts, Pollard emerges as a Jewish hero.

He passed on information to try and save Israel from its enemies. But now reports on his health are marginalized to the back pages of Israeli newspapers, and claims by his supporters are treated as crank calls. The famous writer Amos Oz just got in touch with Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian terrorist convicted of murdering many Israelis. The Israel Prize recipient sent the Palestinian prisoner one of his books with a personal inscription wishing him a speedy release from prison: “This story is our story. I hope you read it and understand us better, as we attempt to understand you. Hoping to meet soon in peace and freedom.”

Pollard’s espionage is no way comparable to Barghouti’s murders of Jews, but Oz and the other Israeli intellectuals never sent a letter to the prison where Pollard is serving life without parole. Pollard’s room is so small that when he sits on the bed and stretches his arms he touches both walls. His kippa was thrown to the ground. He was spread-eagled against the wall and his testicles squeezed.

His kosher food has been served rotten and his phylacteries were constantly split open by overzealous guards.

But for most of the influential Jewish intellectuals in the US, Pollard is still “a traitor,” “a fanatic” (Robert Friedman of The Washington Post), “an aberration” (Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg), “a viper” (Marty Peretz of the New Republic).

Natan Sharanksy, Yosef Mendelovich, Josef Begun and other Jewish prisoners in the Soviet Union were freed because the Jewish world exerted all the pressure and influence at its disposal to free them. Pollard deserves the same tenacity. He has served more than sufficient jail time for his crime. And to return to the first question: Is Pollard like Dreyfus? No. After 27 years in prison, Pollard is still waiting for his Emile Zola. After the case of Dreyfus, the French essayist Julien Benda published his famous attack on the intellectual corruption of the age, La Trahison des clercs. We are now living through the new treason of the intellectuals, who are silent and indifferent in the face of anti-Semitism. And it’s an intellectual collapse that goes way beyond the case of Jonathan Pollard.

The writer is an Italian journalist and writer, and the author of A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism in many languages.

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