Pollard, American Jews and Dual Loyalty

Week of June 30, 1993 - Rabbi Avi Weiss - The Manhattan Jewish Sentinel

It is a tragedy that even as Jonathan Pollard is enduring his eighth year in prison, there are still some American Jews so fearful of being viewed as less American or patriotic than their non-Jewish fellow citizens that they are prepared to ignore the gross miscarriage of justice in the Pollard case and abandon Pollard to a lifetime of incarceration and suffering. It is an old story, but unfortunately one that will not go away.

Just recently, Michael Ledeen, a former consultant to the National Security Council and the Pentagon, wrote in a widely circulated piece in the Jewish Forward that Pollard "deserves everything he got, and more..for the damage he did to the American Jewish community." Ledeen writes that "Pollard gave sudden legitimacy" to those who accused Jews of having a dual loyalty. "In the wake of the Pollard affair," Ledeen continues, virtually every high-ranking Jew in government [ including himself] was scrutinized anew by those who grant security clearances."

Ledeen's concern with the dangers of dual loyalty posed by Jonathan Pollard's actions - which reflects the fears of some Pollard critics - brings to mind a bizarre development unfolding today in Eastern Europe. It has been reported that there is a rise in anti-Semitism in countries like Poland despite the absence of Jews there. What is the connection?

Mr. Ledeen obviously has forgotten that Jews were suspect long before the Third Jewish Commonwealth was established in 1948. Traditionally Jews were mistrusted, feared, and considered alien entities by virtually every European state. This view of the Jews as being a nation apart and inherently subversive of dual loyalty. They can either deny their uniqueness or they can try to live with all of the ambiguities that being a diaspora Jew involves.

As for the former course, judging by history it has been a dismal failure. We have only to look as far back as ancient biblical Egypt and as recently as the experience of the German Jewish community to understand and appreciate that denial of one's uniqueness leads only to assimilation, cultural genocide and has not been a barrier to our physical destruction.

As for the latter course, the course that Jonathan Pollard has taken, what should be kept in mind is that there is no group consensus concerning the tension of being Jewish in the exile. It can only be handled on an individual basis. There is no a priori right or wrong. In other words, the response chosen is a product of inner turmoil, of time, place and context.

Jonathan Pollard came of age in a generation that has witnessed the most horrific destruction in the history of the Jewish people and then the miraculous rebirth of the State of Israel. And forty years after the Shoah - the slaughter of one third of World Jewry - Jonathan Pollard came face to face with information, inexplicably being withheld by the US from Israel, that made it clear that Israel was facing a mortal threat to her very existence. Pollard could not stand idly by and accordingly he transmitted information to Israel concerning the weapons systems and war-making capabilities of various Arab states such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, all intent on the destruction of the Jewish state.

Jonathan Pollard has on more than one occasion acknowledged that he broke the law and has expressed regret that he did not find a legal manner through which he could pass lifesaving information to Israel. But when confronted with the possibility that his failure to act could result in a catastrophe of potentially horrific proportions, Jonathan Pollard acted instinctively in defense of the people of Israel, a US ally generally acknowledged to be one of the best friends the United States has in the world. Yet it seems the moral dimensions of Pollard's actions are diminished in the eyes of some American Jews precisely because the innocents he was trying to save happened to be Jews living in Israel rather than, for example, Protestants living in England or Catholics living in France.

Furthermore, in their reflexive efforts at distancing themselves as far as possible from Jonathan Pollard's action, many American Jews have chosen to ignore not only his motivations but also the fact that all the information transmitted by Pollard concerned third party countries, one of which, Libya, the United States had already attacked in response to terrorist activity, a second, Syria, was then and still is on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terror, and a third, Iraq, the United States would ultimately wage an all out war against. Thus, for very good reasons, Pollard was never charged with acting to injure the United States.

Notwithstanding these facts, and the fact that other cases of espionage on behalf of countries allied with the United States have, when successfully prosecuted, typically ended with prison terms in the range of 2-5 years, Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the chief government prosecutor boasting after sentencing that Pollard "would likely never see the light of day." We would therefore suggest to those American Jews, like Mr. Ledeen , who have shut their eyes to the telling fact that Pollard is in a party of one who has been singled out for a

grossly excessive and unprecedented sentence

and whose main focus has been the issue of dual loyalty accusations, that they instead refocus their energies and concerns on the far more dangerous threat posed by a dual standard of justice.

Acceptance of such a dual standard is manifested not only in the indifference of certain segments of American Jewry to Pollard's unprecedented life sentence, but is also evident from the consuming fear clearly vented by Ledeen and shared by many American Jews in government that Jonathan's actions somehow jeopardized their employment. Nonsense! What may have jeopardized Ledeen and other similarly situated Jews in government was their reluctance to acknowledge and confront the real enemy threatening their positions. We live in a society where an individual is supposed to be judged for his/her actions. We do not believe in collective punishment. Therefore, any Jew in government who truly believed that Jonathan's actions were being used to cast suspicions on the entire American Jewish community, had an obligation to make public that outrageous abuse of power by government officials. Anyone, like Ledeen, who acquiesces to a shameful government policy that treats Jews in government differently than all other Americans, demonstrates both a lack of self respect and ignorance of our constitutional guarantees.

If Ledeen is right in his assessment that the Jewish community in the United States was threatened by Jonathan's actions, then the threat is far more serious than even I had perceived it to be.

There are those who would like to sacrifice Jonathan Pollard to insulate American Jews from the dual loyalty charge. Jonathan Pollard does not subscribe to this brand of lifeboat ethics. It is an open secret published in newspapers that on many occasions Jonathan was presented with a list of individuals whom the authorities considered possible co-conspirators. By report, people in positions similar to Mr. Ledeen were on that list. If Jonathan was not the man he was, he would have gladly availed himself of the opportunity to improve his lot by falsely accusing non-existent co-conspirators in his operation.

But Jonathan knows who and what he is. Jonathan would no more sacrifice an innocent Jew on the altar of expediency than he would the Jewish state. Unfortunately, there were many Jews in the intelligence community who knew what Jonathan knew in the mid 1980s but chose to remain silent out of personal considerations. Their concerns for Israel and their fellow Jews were only rhetorical and were disposed of the minute they threatened their diaspora lifestyle.

One cannot help but reach the sorry conclusion that what truly bothers Ledeen and many other American Jews active in government or in Jewish communal life about the Pollard affair is not the issue of possible injury to the US- because there was none- but rather a self-absorbed concern with the effect of Pollard's action on their own careers.

Rabbi Avi Weiss is national president of The Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha; Senior rabbi of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.