After 13 Years, Can Israeli Spy Finally Go Free?
April 1, 1998 - Anne Roiphe - The New York Observer
One of my children groans, "Not again, you'll turn into a broken record."
True, I've written about Jonathan Pollard before and most likely will
There are some times, however, when being stuck in a groove hits the
note. My daughter forgets that what is merely boring for her is a daily
in jail for a man whose lock-him-in-a-dungeon-and-throw-away-the-key crime
to inform Israel that Scuds were in the vicinity and that potential nuclear
missile sites were sprouting in the neighbor's desert. Earl Pitts, the
weird-eyed ex-F.B.I. guy who stole American secrets and gave them to the
blamed his own treason on the seductiveness of the windows on Madison
This sleazy piece of work told us that on 60 Minutes, and he was about as
credible as any person whose life style exceeds his income can ever get. He
will be out of prison before he serves as much time as Jonathan Pollard
Mr. Pollard, in jail now for 13 years, has been sentenced with a vengeful
to a term greater than that of any other peacetime spy. That makes a
of our desire for equal justice under the law. This cannot be justice
with mercy, and it cannot be good for America to use its vast power against
single unthreatening individual in such an unremitting temper tantrum.
Perhaps one doesn't have to go paranoid about Mr. Pollard's cruel sentence.
Perhaps it is the accidental result of the Jewish American fear of being
once more with a dual loyalty slam, and of an Israeli Government that was
embarrassed to be caught with a hand in the American strategic cookie jar.
It is not sinister. It's just pathetic. It is probably not overtly
and probably not a conspiracy on the part of the Arabists in the State
Department. But Mr. Pollard's continuing incarceration is out of proportion
the crime. Perhaps our State Department and our military were excessively
defensive about a piece of information hidden for no apparent reason from
Israel, our ally and friend. A man who betrayed America for Israel broke
word, committed a crime, acted recklessly out of love and fear for his
He has expressed remorse. He is a wiser man now than he was then. But was
the worst spy who ever nicked this republic? Hardly. Does he deserve this
endless sentence with no realistic hope of parole, no expectations of
He harmed no one. Our prisons are filled with rapists and sex offenders who
will see freedom before Mr. Pollard. Only under the unabashedly cruel
of dictators and tyrants would the justice system play this out to its
Our major Jewish organizations are now making gestures toward getting Mr.
Pollard released. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations sent a rather formal and cool letter to President Clinton.
Surprise, surprise, they received a pro forma turndown, which they didn't
protest publicly because they chose to go the route of polite caution. Fair
enough: Why be loud and noisy and make a nuisance of yourself when the fate
only one Jew is at hand?
After 13 years of expecting Jonathan Pollard to permanently disappear in
American prison system, the Israeli Government seems ready at last to do
right thing. Most lawmakers on all sides of the contentious political
are no longer denying that Mr. Pollard acted on their behalf. In mid-March
Jerusalem, Communications Minister Limor Livnat called on the United States
allow Mr. Pollard to come to Israel. The immigration minister, Yuli
has visited Mr. Pollard in his Butner, N.C., prison. Ophir Pines-Paz, a
Party member who is the head of the Knesset lobby for Mr. Pollard,
letters to his Knesset colleagues calling on them to visit Mr. Pollard.
Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman has visited Mr. Pollard and promises to
for his release.
Israeli cabinet secretary Dan Naveh has been designated by
the Government to deal with the Pollard issue. Yitzhak Oren, an official at
the Israeli Embassy in Washington, has told Mr. Pollard that he will do all
he can to bring him home. Tommy Baer, president of B'nai B'rith International,
said that if Mr. Pollard is not released soon, "It has the potential to
the closest thing to an American Dreyfus case." Mr. Baer noted that Alfred
Dreyfus was innocent and Mr. Pollard was not, and that distinction is
important, but symbolically, when a Jew is treated unfairly by the courts
his country, the matter echoes in our historical ear and resonates with our
most unhappy memories. Mr. Baer has not condoned spying, but he feels that
Jonathan has already paid his debt to society.
Where, I wonder, is The New York Times on this issue? Abe Rosenthal weeps
persecuted Christians in China and that's good, but why hasn't he got a
tear left for Mr. Pollard? William Safire carries on about campaign
but hasn't that partisan moralist noticed something smells in our justice
system? How can columnists of The Times turn their backs on such an issue?
What are they afraid of?
A Washington insider said that two things must happen before Mr. Pollard
be released. He must express remorse, and the major Jewish groups must make
clear that this matter is high on their agenda, important to them. Jonathan
has expressed remorse loudly and clearly. He knows that his act deserved
punishment. Let the Highest Judge of All decide the guilt he should carry
eternity. Now the Jewish organizations, our leadership, must demonstrate
courage on this issue, and provide loud and forceful leadership. They must
speak out for the Jew who tried in the wrong way to do the right thing that
the American State Department wouldn't do. Jewish organizations have an
unfortunate history of trying to mend fences behind the scenes when outcry
would have been the dignified and correct choice. Not again, not this time,
please. While Mr. Pollard remains in jail, his term now so off the justice
scale, no Jew can place complete trust in this country. Are there two
standards of justice?
Chancellors and rabbis, writers and artists, synagogue attendees and
atheists support his cause. Everyone I speak to says, Of course I care. But
then we all return to our private matters, we feel helpless before the
of the state. I feel a deeper tie to Jonathan and more anxious than ever
the long night of his incarceration come to an end. There is something
man in jail for life because he was afraid for Israel's safety that galls,
that rips out the heart, that makes the bitter herbs of this Passover seem
more bitter than ever.
See Also: Jewish Leaders Must Extract A Moral Thorn