My Two Loyalties

April 9, 1992 - Anne Roiphe - The Jerusalem Report

This is an open letter to the Mossad. Hello, are you there? I hope you don't think this is too daft, but I've got a job for you. Let me explain.

The American courts have denied Jonathan Pollard resentencing. So despite the forces that are supposed to temper justice with mercy, his life sentence stands. Hard to grasp this. Hard to figure the lack of outcry on the part of the major Jewish organizations and lobbies.

Why isn't there a scream, a picketing of courthouses, a rush of editorials? He gave information to an ally, not an enemy. He thought this information was vital to Israeli security. In no way did he threaten the United States in its dealings, overt and covert, around the world. The great power that lies in the American armed forces remains despite information that Pollard managed to slip to a friendly state. The bombing of Iraq was not inconvenienced by Pollard's act of feverish concern for Israel. Long after the cold war's end, Pollard will sit in his cell, paying and paying for a crime of affection, a political prisoner, in a country that has no political prisoners. Murderers, drugs lords, junk-bond kings will be home in their beds while Pollard rots away.

The Rosenbergs were executed in the midst of a cold war, but none of us believe that Ethel Rosenberg in particular would have been killed, a woman and a mother, if her name had been Jones. Yes, the judge and prosecutors were Jews, but they were Uncle Abes, determined to wrap the American Jewish Community in the Stars and Stripes forever. In the end, while they were hiding behind the rules and regulations of a mostly just but not always judicial system, they behaved like Mafia killing their own. Today's general silence about the Pollard case echoes the past.

A Diaspora Jew will take the leading role in a political, social morality play from time to time - Beilis in Russia jailed for the death of a Russian child; Dreyfus sent by France to Devil's Island on false charges. The publicity that the Jewish transgressor gathers, whether innocent or guilty, framed or caught, creates a storm of anti-Semitism. The real or imagined act puts a spotlight on our dual-loyalty problem. It seems that every 50 years or so we are treated to the public hanging of a Jew that serves to tell the community that the Jews are enemies within, alien unassimilated cosmopolitan lumps in the nationalist pie. Other Jews lie low during the drama. Or so they have in the past.

These days the American Jew is also bombarded with reports of Israel selling arms to China and other countries. Our response to these accusations again makes us vulnerable to charges of dual loyalty. What are we to believe and what are we to say out loud? Did Israel sell American technology? Probably not. Probably America has been selling Israeli technology. But how is the casual reader to tell? Iran-contra was aided by the Israelis: Surely the powers that be or don't be knew about it. Israeli agents have done the nasty work of the CIA in South America for years. Whose fault is that? Who put pressure on whom? How is the American public to know who is the arms merchant and who is his supplier? The pusher and the addict do a swift tango on the mean streets of international dirty deals. American Jews cringe. Unless we stop quaking we will always be vulnerable, never able to say out loud what we think about arms deals or Israeli agents. We need to be bolder. We can begin by asking more firmly for a reconsideration of the Pollard case.

Our Jewish contribution to America, as lawyers, doctors, professors, businessmen, philanthropists, artists, and dreamers, is beyond reproach. We don't have to be ashamed of our admittedly odd relationship with Jerusalem. In America we really are different from Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Pakistani-Americans. Our connection to the land of our fathers really is stronger. Our passionate connection to the State of Israel is fixed in us by history and religion. So let's stop worrying about who thinks what about our loyalty. It is dual and there it is.

I may have seen too many James Bond movies, or maybe I'm still humming the "Third Man" theme. But I've been imagining the Mossad in motion: Plan a prison break. Make our hearts beat with pride. Sneak in with a helicopter, with a knife in a cake, with stolen passwords, disguised as a nun, a vice president, a laundry worker. Get Pollard out. He deserves it. If there had been a Mossad in the 19th century it would have sent a boat to Devil's Island. It would have freed Dreyfus in the dark of night from his tropical dungeon.

Mossad, do your cloak and dagger thing. You won't disturb American-Israel relations more than the Prime Minister has already disturbed them. The headlines will shriek for a week or so. In the end they will do a movie about you. Arnold Schwarzeneger will beg for a lead part. Woody Allen will play Pollard. You won't provoke anti-Semitism in the United States. Chances are we'll all be admired for our daring, the courage of our conviction, the willingness to protect our own. Please bring Jonathan Pollard home for Pesach. Thank you.

Anne Roiphe, a contributing editor of The Jerusalem Report, is a novelist and journalist living in New York.

  • See also: Jewish Leaders Must Extract A Moral Thorn