My note on Jonathan Pollard has produced a larger number and more varied responses than is usual. Most support his release. Several accuse me of being hard hearted and distorting the record. One doubts the wisdom of relying on Wikipedia. One from a Jewish friend of long standing reports that there had been a willingness in his family to pull the switch if the traitor had been sentenced to death.
Some of those supporting his release admit the seriousness of his crimes, but feel he has been punished enough. A number identify the problems of a Pollard free to roam and speak. One respondent would prevent him from entering Israel. Another would forbid any public comments.
Several mention the anti-Semitism of the American establishment, as well as the disproportionate nature of Pollard's punishment.
One noted Barack Obama's sensitivity to African-American interests ("If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon") far out of proportion to his concern for Pollard.
Pollard is like other symbols that generate feelings that go far beyond the details. He serves a variety of functions, some of which have no connection to what he may have done. He reminds me that Jesus would not choose to be a Christian, that Karl would reject the label "Marxist," and that a book called a classic is one that everyone quotes and no one reads.
Pollard's case bears some resemblance to that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The details differ, not only in the crimes they were said to commit, but the punishments. However, the parallels involve all three being Jewish, the divisions in the American Jewish community about the severity of their punishments, continuing disputes about the accusations, and allegations that the punishments were excessively severe in order to deter other Jews from the temptations of double loyalties, or greater loyalty to a foreign government than to the United States.
Pollard's life sentence, rather than the death penalty that was considered, may reflect the lesser nature of the allegations against him compared to the Rosenbergs, the greater reluctance to impose the death penalty that developed over the span of 40 years between the two cases, and/or the increased weight of Jewish opinions in American politics.
Pollard's case also recalls that of Mordecai Vanunu. He was a technician working at Israel's facility at Dimona, who passed photographs to foreign journalists purporting to show the production of nuclear weapons. Mossad agents lured him from Europe onto a ship with the promise of something sexual, drugged and brought him to Israel, where he was tried and served 18 years in prison. Since his release he has been subject to restrictions against speaking to journalists and traveling outside of Israel, and has been re-arrested several times for violating those restrictions.
Like Pollard, Vanunu was recognized as something of a kook by co-workers and superiors, who later regretted that he had been allowed access to sensitive materials. And like Pollard, Vanunu has supporters who accuse authorities of imposing overly severe punishment, as well as being kidnapped, tried behind closed doors, and subject to severe post-release restrictions of his personal liberties.
While Pollard lives as a religious Jew, Vanunu has renounced Judaism as well as Israel. He converted to Christianity, and has sought refuge in a church. He claims that conversion adds to the animosity shown by Israeli authorities.
Vanunu's problem is that he is in Israel, and violated one of the country's most sensitive taboos, i.e., selling information about its nuclear activities. Pollard, in contrast, is in the United States, but is widely viewed with sympathy in Israel.
In this case and others, I find Wikipedia useful to refresh my memory about names, dates, details, and spelling. It is generally reliable and well edited, with comments in numerous articles indicating that one or another section is weak, needs further detail, or lacks appropriate citations. The article linked to my note on Pollard is well documented with an impressive collection of footnotes. I followed some of them to their sources, and found them to be genuine. I wrote only that the details in Wikipedia were disturbing to anyone whose information was limited to the campaign in behalf of Pollard, without asserting the truth of one narrative or another.
The comments received led me to recall my own apparent connection to the Pollard affair. I say "apparent." The linkages appear to be likely, without absolute confirmation.
Sometime in the mid-1980s I was invited to lecture at the US Military Academy at West Point. It went well enough so that my hosts asked if I'd be interested in spending a year there as visiting professor. I was due for a Sabbatical from the Hebrew University, and gave my assent. Sometime later I was invited back for another lecture, and the opportunity to check out the housing accommodations.
I found long faces on my arrival. My file had worked its way up the chain of command, was bumped to the White House, and came back with negative instructions. I asked one of the colonels in political science what happened. He did not want to talk about the details, but indicated that it had to do with my address.
The year was 1986, between the time of Pollard's arrest and his sentencing.
In previous years I had lectured or participated in seminars at a number of US military installations, including some of the most senior staff colleges where my participation required a security clearance. My overseas travel documents listed my rank as equivalent to Lt. Colonel. By 1986 I was a only a private in the IDF lecture corps. I doubt that it was my rank that prevented my service at West Point.
At the time West Point was making an effort to attract Jews. Studies undertaken after the end of compulsory conscription indicated that virtually the only Jews in the military were physicians, dentists, attorneys, and accountants.
My guess is that the aura surrounding Pollard led military and/or political officials to look negatively at the prospect of a Jew who had left the US for Israel teaching cadets at West Point.
At about the same time, I passed on to a Jewish faculty member at West Point a family story that gets to the point of dual loyalties. It involves Varda's Onkel Albert, who was a sniper in the German army during World War I, posted somewhere opposite my father, who was on the Western Front in an American uniform.
One morning Onkel Albert had a French soldier in his sights, and was about to fire when he heard the enemy begin his prayers: ". . . שמע ישראל".
Albert did not shoot.
Here the story resonates positively. My experience is that it is likely to trouble Americans. The Jewish faculty member at West Point did not like it.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at April 12, 2012 04:16 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem