New York – Editorial: Re-Examining the Pollard Issue


    Famous photo printed all over the world the arrest of Jonathan Pollard in 1986New York – This is yet another article that will probably generate controversy in some circles within the Jewish community. Our history, however, since the rise of the Talmud and before, has always been one of intense analysis, debate, thought and discussion. This political issue is no different, and it is perhaps time for another point of view to be presented.

    Pollard was a United States civilian intelligence analyst convicted in 1987 of handing over state secrets in spying for Israel. He was sentenced in March of 1987 to life in prison. Since then, numerous Jewish organizations have stood completely behind Jonathan Pollard – not just in terms of advocating for his freedom, but in actually advocating for his outlook and perspective as well.

    It could be reasonably argued that what has kept Pollard in jail for so long is precisely this outlook and perspective.

    Before we begin, it should be noted that on Nov 21st, 2015, Jonathan Pollard will be set free. The reason for this is a relatively little known clause in the federal sentencing guidelines that existed at the time of Pollard’s sentencing. The clause stated that in a life sentence where the defendant is eligible for parole, after thirty years and with good behavior – the defendant can walk out of jail a free man. At this point, Pollard has 5 and ½ years left to serve in jail.

    Those guidelines were changed in April of 1987. Pollard, however, was unaffected by the change. He still walks out a free man.

    It might also be argued that our Jewish organizations, caring and wonderful though they may be, have failed in their responsibility to tell Pollard that what he did was wrong, that he should express and demonstrate genuine remorse, and that he should appear before the Parole Board. Seeking parole was something that Pollard was eligible for since 1993. He has steadfastly refused to do so. Instead, he insist upon his receiving clemency.

    Pollard made some hefty decisions that were wrong – dead wrong. Handing over state secrets is a criminal act that constitutes something called “Moraid BeMalchus” (see Talmud tractate Shabbos 56a) – rebelling against the government. One might argue that, halachically,saving innocent lives takes precedence to the prohibition of rebelling against the government, but this is only the case when the saving of innocent life is direct. Here, however, there was no direct saving of innocent lives and, according to the government authorities, the Mardus against the government extended not just to assist Israel – but to other nations as well. According to government sources directly contacted by this author, Mr. Pollard also attempted to give away state secrets to South Africa and Pakistan, and wished to work out illegal arms deals with Afghanistan.

    In other words, what Mr. Pollard did was horrific.

    He violated the law by acting in a treacherous manner to the government of the United States. We, the Jewish community should be seeking his freedom after so many years of incarceration, but we should also tell him, “Jonathan – you were wrong and you should express real, genuine remorse. We appreciate your support of Israel but you stabbed your country in the back. You should not be holding out for clemency – you should beg for forgiveness before the Parole Board. You are not a hero and you should not construe what you have done as heroic. No good Jew would have done what you did, notwithstanding your love for Israel. Did your actions benefit Israel? Yes, absolutely. But going into Fort Knox, stealing American gold, and giving it to Israel, would also benefit Israel. It would also be very wrong and is inexcusable.”

    Some may argue, no Pollard – No Israeli attack on the Osirik Iraqi reactor. Inquiries with those who have an intimate familiarity with these things, however, reveal that this was not the case. Regardless, however, we should also be telling the State of Israel, “Much as we support you, what you did was endanger a great friendship and that was wrong.”

    Ahavas Yisroel and a love for humanity are central themes to who we are as Jews. A brotherly concern and a love of Israel are things that most Jews care for deeply. But it should not be to the point where we accept and rubber-stamp all behaviors, outlooks and attitudes.

    Now, should we be fighting for Pollard’s freedom? Yes, but only in the proper way. He has been in jail for too long, true, but only because of his obstinacy. It is an ancient tenet in Judaism (see Sefer Chassidim 26) that when a person has no mercy upon himself – we should not have mercy upon him. Pollard should ask for parole and should not spend the next five and ½ years in jail.

    Pollard has demonstrated an incapacity to see his own error and we have been afraid to tell it to him. He has become or has always been a hero in his own mind, and, ultimately, like the Shvatim when Yoseph declared to them, “I am Joseph..” – will be in a state of shock [or denial] when faced with the stark truth that the act was far from heroic.

    Instead of being heroic, he has endangered a precious relationship with the Jewish State. This relationship has been carefully forged for over six decades by some remarkably intelligent, patriotic, and caring people who serve this nation in government service, in the armed forces, and in the civilian ranks of this fine country that we live in. The United States of America is a country described by the greatest of our Rabbis as a “malchus shel chessed” – a government of lovingkindness – and one that we should surely appreciate.

    Pollard, unquestionably, threw back the status of Jewish people in this country a half century at least. There is distrust in the air because of Pollard’s actions. Jews are no longer trusted in the highest echelons in government because of Jonathan Pollard and because our Jewish organizations have behaved incorrectly in embracing Pollard’s delusional perspectives rather than convincing him, for his own good, to grow up and make things right.

    Sumner Shapiro, a Jewish Admiral that was the Director of Naval Intelligence in this country for many decades summed it up best when he told the Washington Post in 1998, “We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody “–“ it up . . . and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the “-“ out of me.”

    Not only was Shapiro right, but it very well might be our tacit acceptance of Pollard’s outlook and perspective that probably keeps him in federal prison – by backing up his refusal to even request a parole hearing.

    Pollard, his legal team, and spokespeople claim that the reason Pollard does not request a parole hearing is because it is certain that it will be refused. The rationale that they provide is that a definitive and certain “no” before a parole board will most assuredly jeopardize any future request for clemency.

    But is this really the case? Pollard gets out in five and one half years. How will this jeopardize a future request for clemency? It will more likely open up an entirely new venue for pressure – parole. Also, clemency is clemency and is not unduly subject to the thoughts of people on a parole board. It is more likely that the reason for Pollard’s refusal to seek parole is that it is “embarrassing” and not the hero’s release that Pollard wants.

    And we are all playing into this game. Like loving bubbies, who find no fault in their adorable grandchild, we are enabling him to remain confined in his prison, and at the same time create a new narrative for the events that have occurred – a paradigm that continues a cycle of mistrust, and of playing the anti-semitism card in inappropriate and wrong venues thus just causing more anti-semitism.

    A request for parole is a first step that must be taken in his genuine rehabilitation – in admitting error. The conventional thinking regarding clemency is that a sitting president might consider releasing Pollard in some sort of broad-sweeping Middle-East deal. A request for parole will make it easier, not harder for a president to do that – at least the person showed visible remorse.

    While we are at it, another one of our problems is our attempt to generate support within our own Jewish community, by not – at the outset – fully disclosing the facts behind the case. When we are all out there busily fighting for clemency for Pollard, do the Jewish organizations tell us that he has not even asked for a parole hearing? Do they mention the issues of spying for South Africa and Pakistan?

    Why is it that we Jews have to find these things out for ourselves, and not from the organizations that are requesting our support? Are we, the Jewish people so childish and immature that we cannot be trusted to make our own decisions with all the pertinent information? The best way to get Pollard released is to stop the obstinacy, to accept that what was done was genuinely wrong, to be truly remorseful, and to ask to be paroled.

    So as not to be accused of not hearing both sides and just hearing the side of the United States government, let us briefly look at all 54 statements about Pollard that are found on the website The reader is urged to independently look at the 54 statements and examine them. Here we shall just comment on a few of them them.

    Statements 1 through 5 are designed to appeal to our sense that Pollard was aware of information that directly put Israeli lives in danger and then went on to provide Israel with that information. This is information that comes directly from his side – and is clearly the best possible accompanying explanation to his behavior that is possible. Whether the progression of events actually occurred in this manner is highly questionable. The facts presented by the government employees show that he was giving information to other countries beforehand. Most of the material that he stole had nothing to do with Israel. His behavioral patterns both in college and in his career prior to his arrest are indicative of an unstable mindset – of a person obsessed with the intrigue of the world of espionage.

    But it is the attitude that is the point of concern. The attitude is a non-repentant one. It is an attitude that some of our Jewish leaders are, unfortunately, supporting.

    The website claims that the FBI concluded that Pollard acted for ideological reasons only. This claim was one that I could not verify. Also, after checking with government sources who are familiar with espionage trials, most judges do not fine spies. It just doesn’t happen.

    The government did believe that Pollard for the most part cooperated, but they also felt that he did not come completely clean in regard to his attempt to work out arms deals with Afghanistan rebels. They felt that there was a possibility that he may have divulged classified information. This could not be proven and the government attorneys chose not to pursue it. They believe that both he and Anne did cooperate.

    The government attorneys also said that there was never any recommendation that Pollard never be paroled. This is simply incorrect and misinformation. Not only that, but they never asked for a life sentence – only a substantial sentence.

    In short, Pollard should ask for a parole hearing. Jewish askanim, leaders, and organizations should help him, but not buy into the outlook and perspective that he has been promoting. What Pollard did was quite damaging to this country, to Israel, and to the Jewish community. Our approach in how we deal with Pollard has had some negative effects as well. The purpose of this article is not for the author to become the recipient of further hate e-mail and abuse. It is to spark discussion about this important issue. Perhaps it may even spark a new approach in how we should be dealing both with Pollard and with other issues that arise within the Jewish community. The approach must be to check whether the information we are receiving is not just the unfiltered, sanitized version of events from one side. Like the dayanim of a halachic judicial ruling, we should examine the evidence from all sides. We must do so independently. When we fail to do so and advocate political positions that cause intelligent people to turn their heads in bewilderment, we are not doing ourselves or anyone else justice.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

    Editors Note: You’re welcome to post your comments, please do so with respect.

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