Why did Jonathan Pollard swipe his political endorsement? - opinion

Jonathan Pollard's Hebrew isn't fluent enough for him to have been fully cognizant of the content of Ayelet Shaked’s numerous newspaper, radio and TV interviews.

JONATHAN POLLARD arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York City in 2017. (photo credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
JONATHAN POLLARD arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York City in 2017.
(photo credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

When Jonathan Pollard retracted his support for Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a mere 12 hours after releasing a video throwing his weight behind her, left-wing pundits accused opposition leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and members of his Likud Party – of having brow-beaten him into it.

Shaked responded to the about-face by pointing to the “poison machine directed at [Pollard] from the moment he announced his support for me, [which] put [him] in an impossible situation, and I’m glad he pulled himself out of the eye of the storm.”

She added, “An Israeli hero like Jonathan deserves to be at the heart of the consensus, and not become a target in the toxic discourse of Israeli politics. As I have said from every platform in recent weeks: Only together we will win; this is the secret of the strength of the people of Israel.”

“An Israeli hero like Jonathan deserves to be at the heart of the consensus, and not become a target in the toxic discourse of Israeli politics. As I have said from every platform in recent weeks: Only together we will win; this is the secret of the strength of the people of Israel.”

Ayelet Shaked

It’s true that Likud politicians expressed dismay at Pollard’s initial endorsement of the chair of the Zionist Spirit Party, the merger of Shaked’s Yamina and Yoaz Hendel’s Derech Eretz. And, as is typical of the Twittersphere, much of the criticism was unnecessarily ugly. But something other than pressure from the Netanyahu camp contributed to or was responsible for his change of heart.

 Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel at Hamacabia Village in Ramat Gan, on July 27, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel at Hamacabia Village in Ramat Gan, on July 27, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

What was really behind Jonathan Pollard's change of heart?

AS WAS indicated by his initial statement and subsequent reversal, the former civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy, who was convicted of espionage for selling military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s, isn’t yet up to speed on the electoral system of his newfound home. 

This makes sense, since he only made aliyah at the end of 2020, after spending three decades incarcerated in America. Nor is his Hebrew fluent enough for him to have been fully cognizant of the content of Shaked’s numerous newspaper, radio and TV interviews.

To illustrate, let’s start with his first announcement, which he delivered on Tuesday morning.

“As everyone knows, I’m not a member of any political party or faction and… have not formally endorsed any individual or slate. I’m an independent whose only loyalty and concern is for the land and people of Israel,” he began. “Because of my unqualified love of this country, and my dedication to [its] survival and well-being, I must now endorse someone who I know will serve Israel in a way that will safeguard both our core interests and our honor. That person is Ayelet Shaked.”

Yes, he said, “she exhibited misplaced loyalty in our last government. But I truly believe that she realizes the mistake she made and will not repeat her error. We need her now, free and clear of the bad influences that hurt both her personal reputation and her political credibility.”

He concluded, possibly alluding to his own past: “We all make errors in judgment. The difference is between those of us who refuse to acknowledge such errors and those of us who recognize their errors and commit never to repeat them. I believe Ayelet Shaked is just such a person, and deserves to be given an opportunity to continue being part of Israel’s leadership. At this difficult and dangerous time in our history, we need and deserve a proven patriot like Ayelet Shaked.”

SINCE SHAKED’S form of penitence has been to decry as unfair those who attack her for the way in which she and Naftali Bennett, with a mere seven seats garnered in the last election, forged an “anybody but Bibi” coalition that included the United Arab List (Ra’am) and provided far-Left Knesset members with ministerial portfolios. She also swears that she never forfeited her right-wing values and that the government in which she has had a prominent position for the past year and four months was more conservative than any previous one led by Netanyahu.

Pollard seems not to have grasped that this has been Shaked’s main message since the disbanding of the Knesset at the end of June when Bennett – who became Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s “alternate” and promptly disappeared from view – handed her the reins of Yamina. Maybe he didn’t realize that the rest of the party, some of whose members had already jumped ship, basically disintegrated.

Perhaps he was reading and listening to analysts from abroad opining about how certain she is to lead the country in the not-so-distant future. Whether she, too, still harbors this fantasy is secondary to her desperate attempt to make it into the Knesset at all after the November 1 vote. To this end, she and Hendel, another MK in danger of losing his seat, collaborated to form the Zionist Spirit Party.

That the two are not on the same page when it comes to Netanyahu – with Shaked claiming that the next government cannot exclude Likud, and Hendel clinging to his “anybody but Bibi” stance – is the least of their worries, however. Of far greater concern to the dynamic duo is their party’s poor showing in the polls. So far, despite Shaked’s grandstanding, the Zionist Spirit hasn’t been able to tickle the electoral threshold, let alone pass it.

SHE MUST have imagined that an endorsement from a household name like Pollard would give her a boost. Though it’s highly unlikely that his backing would have had the desired effect, the issue became moot by Tuesday evening.

In a letter to Israel National News-Arutz Sheva, he wrote, “After the things I said regarding Ayelet Shaked this morning, it became clear to me that she refuses to remove Yoaz Hendel from her list and to commit that she will only join a right-wing government. This raises a real concern that she will once again transfer votes from the Right to the Left. Therefore, I retract my support for her.”

His words show a lack of understanding of the workings of such mergers. Shaked can’t “remove Hendel from her list,” since he is not a member of Yamina; he has his own list, Derech Eretz, without which there would be no new entity called the Zionist Spirit.

It’s hard to fault an immigrant as green as Pollard for the confusion. Even many native Israelis have trouble keeping track of the minutiae of Knesset musical chairs.

To make matters more complicated, the current collapsed government was the result of an unprecedented and undemocratic – albeit legal – maneuver that enabled Bennett, the head of a very small party, to become prime minister. To pull it off, with Shaked by his side, he had to renege on every campaign promise that he had made to his right-wing base.

One wonders how Pollard was persuaded that Shaked regretted her “mistake” and was determined to rectify it. Given all her many public appearances of late, the only lesson she’s taken away from the failed experiment of meshing ideologically disparate parties in an unholy alliance is that it’s possible to do it again, but with a slightly different twist.

Her line, as though it’s some new and different idea that nobody had considered before, is that the parties from the Right and Center, along with a significant center-left presence, must come together to establish a broad coalition. Is she joking?

TO OVERCOME the elephant in the room: the rejection by the parties polling second and third behind Likud (Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity) of the possibility of sitting in a Netanyahu-led government, or even of agreeing to one that entails rotating the premiership with him, Shaked insists that she is the perfect “kindergarten teacher” to call them to task and rid them of their childish pettiness.

Funny that she hasn’t even been able to coax Hendel out of the sandbox. Sad that she thinks that if the large parties were actually to concede to such an arrangement, they’d have any use for her minuscule faction in the mix. Her delusions of grandeur nevertheless remain intact.

Contrary to the assertions of the anti-Bibi crowd, Pollard didn’t have to be bullied by Shaked’s detractors in order to withdraw his earlier stamp of approval. All he really required was a translator.