The Spy Who's a Hero in Israel May Be America's Scapegoat

Barry Chamish - Newsday - August 8, 1988

Recently I was assigned guard duty at an outdoor book fair in central Jerusalem. At my post by the entrance, a table had been set up to collect names for a petition to free Jonathan and Anne Pollard, the American couple convicted of spying on the United States for Israel. Anne Pollard received a 5and a half year prison term; her husband drew life. In one hour, 58 people had signed on their behalf - an extraordinary number in a country in which petition signing is viewed with some diffidence.

The Pollards are considered heroes in Israel. When Jonathan Pollard's sister appeared on Israeli television and left her brother and sister-in-law's addresses, thousands of Israelis wrote the couple expressing gratitude for their work on behalf of their country. The city of Mitzpe Ramon named a street after the couple and has set aside a home for them when they are finally freed - if, in fact, the United States ever frees Jonathan Pollard.

While working for the intelligence branch of the U.S. Navy, Pollard transferred highly sensitive material to agents at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Once discovered, the Israelis abandoned their spy and tried to deny involvement. In the expectation of a lighter sentence, Pollard told all in great detail - and still received the harsh jailing he had assumed would be commuted.

The transcripts of the Pollard trial revealed that he did not endanger American security one iota. The information he gave to the Israelis concerned primarily the infrastructure and intentions of the Arab world.

In fact, Pollard was not spying against the United States, but rather against Israel's enemies, using information collected by an American agency. The accusation that he was a traitor to America has no basis in fact, yet it landed him behind bars for a lifetime.

Pollard's motives were based on Israel's defense needs and the belief that the United States was withholding information vital to preserving it. He volunteered for what he saw as moral reasons, receiving minimal pay for his efforts; he was not recruited into the Israeli secret services. [

J4JP 2001 Note

: Jonathan was a bona fide Israeli agent. He was not a mercenary paid for his services. The government of Israel denied this for years until 1998 when Pollard sued the government and the truth won out. See the Facts Page.]

The United States and Israel have an intelligence understanding with each other. Israel has lived up to the understanding, including transferring to the United States and intact Soviet MiG-21 fighter and an advanced T-72 tank. This saved American spy agencies many billions of dollars.

Some Israeli military officials wondered why there was a Pollard affair in the first place. During the Lebanese war, an American Jew who had risen through the ranks of the Israeli army was caught spying for the United States and secretly shipped back to his birthplace. In the wake of the Pollard case, it was revealed that American youth had been recruited in the United States to gather information on Israeli military installations while serving in Israel in a special unit for Israeli and non-Israeli teenagers called Gadna. In two instances, Israel has caught American spies, but in both cases it chose not to humiliate its closest ally.

Israeli intelligence makes mistakes, but its relentless pursuit of terrorists has strengthened the security of democracies around the world, which depend on it to warn them of impending operations. In return for services rendered, Israeli agents are almost always forgiven infractions of the laws of the of the nations in which they operate in.

For example, three Mossad agents killed an innocent Moroccan waiter in Norway after mistaking him for one of the planners of the Munich Olympics massacre. The Norwegians tried the three, but within two years they were returned to Israel. If, in fact, Israeli intelligence is too important for other countries to want to embarrass it, why was such a huge exception made in Pollard's case?

The Israeli press asked the question, and often the answer was: Caspar Weinberger. It seems Pollard had the ill luck to end up the victim of a vendetta by the secretary of defense.

Weinberger began his term of office as such a vociferous critic of Israel that his president asked him to tone down the rhetoric. Later the rhetoric went, but the style remained, as the secretary fought all Jewish and other objection to the sale of sophisticated AWACS spy planes to Saudi Arabia

No one in the American Jewish community dared to present Pollard's side of things for fear of dual-loyalty charges and a return to the early '50s, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and executed for passing vital nuclear data to the Soviets. It was clear, from articles in the American Jewish press, that many Jews thought Pollard was being set up in part as a scapegoat, but no organization or influential individual demanded to know why Pollard received a life sentence for passing intelligence data to a close ally.

In Israel, things were different. Tens of thousands of Israelis have already sent letters of support to the Pollards.

Israelis know that morality is not an overwhelming priority in intelligence gathering. The goal is increased security. By increasing Israeli knowledge of Arab intentions, Pollard quite likely prevented terrorist attacks against Americans. If this argument seems strained to the American reader, it is very real to the Israeli, who lives in daily gratitude to his security services.

Israelis view Pollard as a dedicated hero who attempted to break down a prejudice against them in American intelligence circles and who is paying far too high a price for his actions.