The Strange Campaign to Secure the Release of Convicted Spy Jonathan Jay Pollard

By Allan C. Brownfeld

September 1998, pages 52-54

After a decade of denials, the government of Israel in May officially recognized Jonathan Pollard as an Israeli agent.

The decision was welcomed with “relief and gratitude” by the American-born former U.S. government employee, who was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel and sentenced to life in prison. “This step encouraged me to believe that the [Israeli] government will now do whatever is necessary to bring this agent home,” Pollard said from the Butner Correctional Institution in North Carolina. “It brings honor to the government and the nation. It reassures our people that the state will honor its obligation and protect and defend all who serve it.”

The Israeli government’s move was brought about by Pollard’s own relentless campaign to secure his release during the 13 years he has been in prison. Pollard’s attorney petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice, demanding that the government recognize him as an agent. He demanded that the court order the Israeli government to reveal who was in charge of his case and what steps had been taken to secure his release. Pollard’s aim was to force Israel to renounce its earlier claims that he was part of a “rogue operation.” On May 11, the Israelis acknowledged him as an agent and in return Pollard’s petition to the High Court was dropped. Now, the Israelis have mounted a campaign to convince American authorities, and especially President Clinton while he remains in office, that the punishment meted out to Pollard was excessive.

Pollard was working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he was recruited by the Israeli Defense Ministry in the mid-1980s. He delivered suitcases full of military intelligence to Israel, including satellite photos and information on Soviet-built Arab military systems. So damaging to U.S. security was Pollard’s role that Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne in 1987 that Pollard should be executed.

Joseph di Genova, the prosecutor who handled the Pollard case, said that the damage he did to U.S. security was “beyond calculation.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Leeper declared, “The defendant has admitted that he sold Israel a volume of classified materials 10 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet.” Leeper said Pollard provided Israel with thousands of pages, including secret information on the location of American ships and training exercises.

In Leeper’s view, “The deterrent effect of imposing a severe sentence in a case such as this is absolutely critical. Otherwise you will have supposedly well-intentioned American citizens making judgments about foreign affairs, rationalizing their conduct because it is, after all, an ally they are assisting.”

“Pollard called the U.S. a ‘foreign’ country in a January interview.”

Several U.S. intelligence specialists believe that documents stolen by Pollard were handed over to Moscow by Soviet moles within the Israeli intelligence services. Neil Livingston of Georgetown University stated: “There’s no question that Mossad’s penetrated. A lot of what Pollard stole wasn’t related to Israeli security. Israel is a great trader of intelligence. To get an advantage someplace, they get something someone else wants and they create indebtedness.”

In an affidavit, Secretary Weinberger said: “It is difficult for me, even in the so-called year of the spy, to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S. and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”

Pollard reported that one of his Israeli “handlers” sought details of the National Security Agency’s electronic eavesdropping in Israel as well as names of Israelis spying for the U.S. Pollard contends that Israel’s raid on the Tunisia headquarters of the PLO was aided by the materials he passed along.

The U.S. government said that the damage resulting from Pollard’s spying exceeds that caused by Ronald W. Pelton, a former NSA employee, who was convicted in 1986 of selling classified electronic surveillance secrets to the Soviet Union. “Pelton compromised specific intelligence-gathering methods in a specific area, and damaged the U.S. position relative to the Soviet Union,” the prosecutors said. But, they added, “Pollard compromised a breadth and volume of classified information as great as in any reported espionage case and adversely affected U.S. interests vis-à-vis numerous countries, including, potentially, the Soviet Union.”

High Expectations

They also disclosed that Pollard, who was paid more than $50,000 by the Israelis, expected to earn “ten times that amount” for continued spying.

Ronald Pelton was sentenced to three life terms plus 10 years for selling secrets to the Soviet Union about electronic eavesdropping that he learned in 14 years as an NSA technician. A memorandum prepared by U.S. government prosecutors Leeper and David Geneson said: “Pelton disclosed no classified documents to the Soviet Union. Rather, following his retirement, he met with Soviet agents on approximately nine occasions over a five-year period during which he orally relayed classified information he could recall.”

In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin urged President Clinton to shorten Pollard’s prison term. This was rejected. Since then, a vigorous campaign has been mounted to secure Pollard’s immediate release from prison. Leading American Jewish groups, which originally were sharply critical of Pollard, have been enlisted in this effort. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says, “There is a new feeling in the Jewish community. After the Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty, the world and the Jewish community reconciled with Yasser Arafat. In light of that, at the very least, one should be able to consider commuting Pollard’s sentence.”

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, president of the Synagogue Council of America, states that, “Virtually every major American Jewish organization has asked for his [Pollard’s] release.” Full-page advertisements in be-half of Pollard have appeared with the support of such leaders as Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Gerald Zeller, president of the Rabbinical Assembly. The New York and Chicago boards of rabbis have called for Pollard’s release.

Recently, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), and Rabbi Raphael Butler, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, wrote a letter to President Clinton which said: “We—the representatives of the broadest spectrum of the American Jewish community—come together in the spirit of unity and out of a clear sense of friendship and brotherhood to raise Jonathan’s plight with you once again.”

The rabbis said that while they did not condone Pollard’s actions, “his sentence is grossly disproportionate with his crime.” They said that “it is wrong for American justice to treat Pollard, a contrite offender, as you would those who committed high treason against our nation.”

The fact is that Pollard is not “contrite” at all. In recent interviews with selected Israeli and Jewish media, Pollard has indicated that he still sees himself, as he told an Israeli interviewer last year, as “a front-line soldier, forgotten deep in enemy territory, taking a last stand on a small hill.” Earlier he told Wolf Blitzer, then a correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, that, “I am as much a loyal son of the country [Israel] as anybody has ever been...I did my best.”

In 1993, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik visited Pollard in prison and helped him write a letter of contrition to President Clinton. In this letter, Pollard acknowledged that his actions were “repugnant not only to American law, but equally repugnant to God’s Torah.” Later, however, Pollard’s personal rabbi, Avi Weiss of New York, said that Pollard disavowed the letter.

Rabbi Weiss has charged that Pollard “remains incarcerated because of improprieties, prejudice, downright anti-Israelism and elements of he has become a political prisoner.”

The fact is that the campaign to free Pollard represents not only a dangerous confusion of religion and politics—one in which spiritual leaders, somehow, think it is their role to defend a man who spied against the U.S. for a foreign country—but beyond this, has entered the fanciful world of false charges of bigotry and anti-Semitism in a case in which Pollard has admitted his guilt.

One group, the Justice for the Pollards Committee, portrayed Pollard as a victim of an anti-Semitic Justice Department. “We have before us a new Dreyfus Affair,” says a newsletter put out by the committee. The charge was repeated in the book by Ann Pollard’s father, Pollard, which calls him an “American Dreyfus.” The book ignores the fact that Dreyfus was an innocent man falsely charged with a crime while Pollard pleaded guilty to the charges against him.

Another Pollard defender, columnist Anne Roiphe, writes, “While Mr. Pollard remains in Jew can place complete trust in this country.”

Many Jewish Americans have been sharply critical of the effort on behalf of Pollard. Michael Ledeen, who was a consultant to the National Security Adviser to the president and the undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department and to the secretary of defense from 1982 to 1986, says: “American Jews who are mounting an impassioned campaign on behalf of Jonathan Pollard are making a big mistake. The man deserves everything he got, and more, both for the despicable acts he committed and for the damage he did to the American Jewish community...His oath didn’t give him the right to decide when...or to whom he could divulge our secrets. Moreover, while there is no doubt Israel ‘ran’ Pollard, he could not have been certain that his controllers were actually who they claimed to be. If the KGB had set out to recruit an agent like Pollard, they most likely would have pretended to be officials of the Mossad...Actions in support of Pollard only reinforce the deadly stereotype of the Jew as a fundamentally unreliable citizen. So let the Israelis worry about Pollard. They masterminded this supremely stupid operation. Pollard should be considered one of their men. He’s certainly not one of ours.”

At the time of Pollard’s sentencing, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who is Jewish, declared: “There is no excuse for Pollard to accept money from Israel for spying on America and no excuse for Pollard to give Israel American codes...I think he deserved the punishment he got.”

Rear Admiral Sumner Shapiro, U.S. Navy (Ret.), who was director of naval intelligence when Pollard began his work with that organization, sharply criticizes those Jewish groups seeking his release. Admiral Shapiro, who is Jewish, declares: “I am thoroughly familiar with his personal and professional history. I am fully acquainted with the deeds and circumstances for which he was tried and convicted. I am also aware of the continuing efforts by him and his apologists to mislead the Americans—and the Jewish public in particular—into believing that it was only his love and concern for Israel that motivated him to betray his country. I know, based on irrefutable evidence, that Pollard was arrogance and greed.”

E.V. Kontorovich, a contributing editor of Forward, a widely read Jewish newspaper, sharply criticized those Jewish groups working on behalf of Pollard’s release and, in particular, the charge that he is the victim of anti-Semitism.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Kontorovich notes that, “Jonathan Pollard has become the Jewish Mumia Abu-Jamal. Or rather, the campaign to commute the life sentence of the intelligence agent turned spy—which has gained considerable impetus in recent weeks—has all the hallmarks of the ‘Free Mumia’ movement on behalf of the Black Panther propagandist turned cop-killer. Both movements rely on inflammatory appeals to ethnic solidarity and groundless charges of bigotry in the criminal justice system....Jews of all stripes and persuasions have rallied to Pollard’s defense. Now, 13 years after his imprisonment, the movement for his release has reached a fever pitch...The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, representing more than 50 groups, signed on recently...”

The fact is, Kontorovich declares, that “Pollard got well over $60,000 in cash and jewels for his perfidy. The intelligence community says that Pollard did real damage to U.S. security...He seemed proud of his actions, and considers himself a martyr...He called the U.S. a ‘foreign’ country in a January interview....It’s striking that the American Jewish establishment has come together in favor of leniency for this spy. This seems to be yet another manifestation of the culture of victimhood pervading the country. Identity politics makes criminals into symbols of the larger social bias against their particular group...By becoming the poster boy for a new victimhood delusion...Pollard may be doing more lasting harm to America than he managed in his short career as a spy.”

Norman Polmar, an intelligence specialist and co-author with Thomas B. Allen of Merchants of Treason and Spy Book: The Random House Encyclopedia of Espionage, argues that those who urge Pollard’s release “conveniently ignore key facts of Pollard’s plight. First, Pollard was a spy: he sought to spy for South Africa (which told U.S. officials), and then the Mossad (which rejected his efforts), before being accepted by Lakam, a small Israeli intelligence unit charged with protecting nuclear secrets, that was attempting to expand its venue (it has since been abolished). Second, he spied for money. The Lakam paid Pollard $2,500 per month (tax-free, of course). When arrested he was in the process of asking the Israelis for an increase. In addition, the Israelis gave his wife a $10,000 engagement ring plus between $10,000 and $12,000 for their trip to Europe. Additional funds—$30,000 annually for 10 years—were to be paid into an overseas account in Pollard’s name.”

Polmar argues that Pollard’s “sentence was not disproportionate compared to those meted out to other Americans convicted of spying...Pollard is one of 13 Americans to be sentenced to life in prison for espionage-related activities since 1953. Some of these men did not even sell any secrets, but simply attempted to do so and were found out...While Israel has admitted that Pollard was an agent, neither Israel nor Pollard has identified all of the classified documents he stole. Further, the Israelis, after initially agreeing to do so, have not allowed U.S. intelligence officers to interview all who dealt with Pollard....Pollard has not expressed remorse for his crime. He has stated repeatedly that he is a patriot, not a criminal.”

Reasonable Differences

It is certainly a legitimate position to believe that Pollard has served a sufficient portion of his term and should be released either at the present time or at some time in the future. Reasonable men and women, after all, may differ about particular sentences and court actions. In the future, our judicial system will deal with this matter. For Jewish religious groups to mount a crusade in behalf of an admitted spy and to charge that he is in prison because of bigotry is something else again. It tells us more about the priorities and interests of such groups than it does about the merits or demerits of Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence for espionage. There is no evidence that such groups represent any broad consensus of opinion among American Jews, and much evidence that they do not.

We can see, however, the reason for some Zionist groups to rise to Pollard’s defense. For many years they have preached that Israel is “central” to Judaism and to the life of American Jews. They have urged American Jews to make “aliyah”—to abandon their own country and immigrate to Israel. They have declared that all Jews living outside of Israel are in “exile.”

Jonathan Pollard is one of the few young American Jews who heard all of these things and really believed them—and acted upon them. In this sense, he is something of a tragic figure. He was confused about where his real loyalties rested, and most of that confusion was based upon an upbringing in which he was told that Israel was meant to be the “center” of his life.

Pollard has described his childhood as “very politicized, principally from a Zionist point of view,” noting, “It was with me every waking moment. The first flag I remember was the Israeli flag. I started learning Hebrew at a very early age...All the time growing up, all I heard was stories of individuals we knew...who had performed what I call a racial obligation. This is a term with which I grew up.”

Leonard Fein, a former editor of Moment magazine, columnist for the Forward and a leader in Reform Judaism, declares that, “In a perverse sense, Jonathan Pollard is an American Jewish success story. We’ve raised our young people to place Jerusalem above all else. We have to sort out our loyalties.”

Discussing Pollard’s early religious training, Peter Perl, writing in The Washington Post Magazine, reports that, “Jay, an excellent student, took daily refuge at the Sinai Synagogue Hebrew School in South Bend...A charismatic rabbi and several enthusiastic Hebrew school teachers sang the praises of the biblical homeland and preached that Jews had the obligation to make aliyah, to go live in Israel....At 16, Jonathan Pollard made it to Israel, attending a summer camp...He was enthralled with the youthful, pioneering spirit of the country and told his parents he was ready to make aliyah. He wanted to serve in the Israeli army. His parents, however, convinced him that he could be of more service to Israel if he first got a college education. So he grudgingly went off to Stanford University. But he had already absorbed a prophetic message that his mother impressed upon him once....She had told him, ‘Jay, you must remember this is a Christian country, and the only way you will be happy is in Israel.’”

At the time of Pollard’s trial, columnist Richard Cohen expressed a widespread view when he wrote: “Israel’s behavior smacks of arrogance...There are signs that Israel is taking both the U.S. and its Jewish community for granted. The Pollard case in particular is a nightmare-come-true for American Jews. In Pollard, the Israelis created an anti-Semitic stereotype—an American Jew of confused loyalties who sold out his country. Indignation and shame are felt in equal measure.”

Those groups—from the Orthodox Union to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations—-which persist in defaming the American judicial system and which continue to promote false claims of religious bigotry in the case of an admitted spy, represent an affront to millions of patriotic Americans of the Jewish faith who are repelled by those who have embraced Jonathan Pollard.

These groups and individuals would do well to re-think their loyalties and their priorities. Jonathan Pollard, who has done our country serious harm and is worthy of contempt and not the embrace he received from so many misguided men and women, is perhaps an inevitable product of the Zionist education he received. It is the very Zionist conception of Judaism as being an ethnic association devoted to the interests of the State of Israel, rather than a religion dedicated to God, which must be brought into question. Jonathan Pollard, sadly, is where such a philosophy can lead

Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.