Yoaz Hendel

Our collective shame

Op-ed: Pollard’s ongoing incarceration should prompt protest by all Israelis, not just rightists

The Pollard affair is our collective shame. A huge stain in the State of Israel’s history which proves that mutual responsibility is only appropriate as long it’s commensurate with certain interests. Israel not only abandoned Pollard in an outrageous manner when he was detained in 1985 at the locked entrance of the embassy, it continued to abandon him for more than 25 years since then.


The above is a factual description that appears to be beyond dispute, and now we must ask how it happened. How could it be that in a democratic state where so many groups show care for the suffering of the other, a state where men of letters sign petitions in favor of releasing terrorists, Pollard’s release only comes up for discussion after his father passes away?



How can we explain the fact that in a pluralistic society that specializes in pressure groups, media spins and organizing anti-government protests, Pollard remained out of the main discourse for all those years?


Ironically, the answer has to do with his identification with us; his attachment to the State of Israel, and mostly the cultivation of his Jewish identity in prison. Pollard, who entered prison as a secular Jew, turned into an Orthodox Jew with a kippah and beard. A sort of classic stereotype within Israel’s discourse for a religious rightist. In a divided society such as ours, this has lethal significance.


If that wasn’t enough, the protesting voices were also seemingly painted in a political shade. In the days when Israel’s government treated Pollard as a regrettable event that is better ignored and US Jews avoided the issue of “that man whose name must not be mentioned,” the only ones who spoke out and voiced their protest were Jews who looked just liked him – Jews with a beard, kippah, and a demonstrative Jewish identity.


Rightist bear hug?

Indeed, over the years, behind the scenes, Israeli officials here and there attempted to convince the Americans to do us a favor and release him, yet in the absence of public pressure it was convenient for everyone to receive a polite decline. Only few journalists dealt with the matter openly over the years, and few senior Israeli officials dared mention Pollard’s name openly. Only few Israelis truly cared.


The group fighting for Pollard’s release may have been wrong to affiliate itself with Israel’s religious Right so easily instead of trying to make the issue one that cuts across political camps. It is possible that within Israeli society, where stereotypes dictate thinking, good intentions that come from the religious rightist camp have a tendency to turn into a lethal bear hug. It is also possible that those among us with a shtetl mentality were “careful” all those years not to spoil the American master’s mood. Everything is possible, yet this does not serve to downplay the shame.


One does not need to be affiliated with a certain political camp to realize that Pollard is paying an illogical personal price. If you remove his beard and kippah and ignore the sight of his longtime supporters, you will discover a simple humanitarian problem. A Zionist Jew who is rotting in jail as result of decisions taken in Jerusalem. A Zionist Jew who thought that he was working for all of us and in return was abandoned and ignored.


We cannot atone for those years, yet we can certainly undertake a genuine effort to change the present. This protest must not be shared by only few people and must not be reserved for humanitarian cases. The US Administration sees, reads and hears the Israeli public, and the same is true for American Jewry. Joint protest by the Left and Right has power, just like disregard has a moral price.



פרסום ראשון: 06.23.11, 17:22
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