US Jews still haunted by Pollard affair
Three decades have passed since the Israeli spy's conviction, and American Jewry is still finding it difficult to recover from the embarrassing affair. 'Voicing an opinion on the issue could help anti-Semitic bloggers seeking to question US Jews' motives,' says pro-Israel activist.
Three decades have passed since Pollard was convicted of spying for Israel, and it seems American Jewry is finding it difficult to recover from the embarrassment and conflict which divided it over the affair. His release last weekend, which was widely covered in Israel, created a very small buzz among the US Jewish community.
The 5.3 million Jews of the world's strongest power are caught in the middle of the restrictions imposed on Pollard by the US authorities upon his release and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warm welcome of the release. The conflicts presented by the Pollard case and the "dual loyalty" issue are still haunting them to this very day.
"It’s not considered such a big deal here," Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt tells Ynet. His colleagues in the American media, he says, prefer to focus on the Islamic State and the primary elections. "I think that the way people respond to the Pollard story is a bit like the Rorschach test, it defines, more or less, what they feel about many other issues related to Israel."
The embarrassed liberals are the majority
According to Rosenblatt, when the affair broke out most US Jews experienced "feelings of anger and great embarrassment over his actions, mainly because it led to the perception of US Jews as more loyal to Israel than to their state.
"It was reflected in a lot of things written in the Jewish media 'at the time.' Deep concern for the way US Jews may be seen in America."
The embarrassed, angry, liberal Jewish public, according to Rosenblatt, is still the overwhelming majority of the Jewish American public today.
Rosenblatt adds that, on the other hand, "there was a very involved group which claimed that, at the end of the day, Pollard had spied for a friendly country, and that his long prison sentence was unjustified, especially considering parallel cases of spying for Russia, for example.
"Their approach was that no matter what he did, he shouldn't have to 'sit' for so long, whether out of feelings of mercy and whether out of a sense of criticism against the injustice in his case, as the secrets he apparently knew in the early 1980s are no longer relevant in any case."
'An extremely significant blow to US Jews'
It should be noted that upon his arrest, Pollard saw Jewish American media personalities as a tool in his battle, and newspaper editors used to get regular phone calls from him.
The conversations, which lasted no more than six minutes (the restricted time) focused on Pollard's endless complaints about his imprisonment terms and about the American legal system's injustice towards him. In the conversations, Pollard mainly sounded like an intelligent person in serious mental distress. These appeals eventually stopped, and it is still unclear why and how.
"The Pollard affair was controversial among the US Jewry, but did not create a long-term problem in the relations between the State of Israel and the American society," former Jewish American Senator Joe Lieberman said this week at a conference organized by the Ruderman Family Foundation to strengthen the bond between Israel and the US Jewry.
The huge embarrassment which is still felt by many American Jews at the sound of Pollard's name can also be heard between the lines from Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, and one of the most prominent activists for Israel-US relations. The damage suffered by the US Jewry at the time, he says cautiously, was extremely significant.
"I have no proof and I am voicing my personal opinion here," he says, "but I believe that hundreds of American Jews who served at the time in the army, Pentagon and State Department were hurt by the Pollard affair. I am sure that many careers were destroyed because of him.
"It's a much bigger story for you than it is for us," he adds. Ruderman believes that the "dual loyalty" issue is the reason why Pollard's name still makes many in the world's large Jewish community shift uncomfortably in their chairs. He doesn't believe, however, that the affair's return to the headline will affect the US Jewry in any way.
The anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments raging in US campuses today, he says, are thriving regardless of the Pollard affair, and today's American society is capable of containing the reality in which "Jews can love Israel as a historic homeland and support it, and at the same time love the US - the leader of the free world - and be loyal to it."
Abraham Foxman, who headed the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for many years, appears to represent the most militant stream in Jewish American society, which is not afraid to voice its firm opinion on the way the American administration treated the Jewish spy.
"He broke the law. He had to pay a price," Foxman says. "He paid his price to society, and now it's time to put it behind us. But unfortunately, the issue remains in front of us."
"That's for history to tell. I don’t understand. I mean, I understand the anger of the United States which discovered a spying ally. I understand the punishment, but I don’t understand the nature of the punishment, its level. It may be a message to all our allies: We'll treat you like enemies. It's painful, it's angry, it's vindictive, and it shouldn’t be that way between two countries which are so close."
The fact that most of the Pollard case still remains confidential makes it impossible to judge the entire affair, according to both Rosenblatt and Ruderman. "None us of us knows exactly what he did, because everything related to this trial is classified," says Ruderman.
"All I know that during the talks with the Palestinians in Camp David, (then-CIA Director) George Tenet informed (then-President Bill) Clinton that if he released Pollard from prison, he would region. There is a very clear approach here of the American intelligence community about what he did, and how unforgivable it may be as far as they are concerned."
Rosenblatt says that "people have different theories and speculations about the reason for the harsh treatment Pollard received. There were rumors about the motive - was Israel's welfare the actual story here? So it's very difficult to express an opinion on whether he was a victim of injustice or not. We are simply unaware of the full picture."
'Mistakes have been made on both sides'
Foxman rejects the "we don't know the facts" argument: "We are not rushing into conclusions. He served his punishment in jail for 30 years. I don’t think there is anything else we need to know. The fact is that the court knew, he was punished - and it was serious. No one doubts that."
"I protest the way he is still treated even today. After 30 years, he is forced to wear an electronic tag, he is not allowed to go wherever he wants, and he is basically under house arrest. He is being treated like the last despicable criminal. I think it's above and beyond what he deserved.
"Why are you still making such a big deal about it?" Foxman asks, referring to the American motive. "Let it end, leave him alone! Enough is enough."
Eve Stieglitz, a pro-Israel activist and founding executive member of the Jewish Rapid Response Coalition (JRRC), was only born when Pollard turned into the nightmare of Israel-us relations. She represents the young generation which is unthreatened by the echoes of the past and cares mostly about the present.
Accordingly, she is reluctant to trust the hints spread by American intelligence officials. "After 30 years in prison, regardless of how serious his acts were, we must remember that at the end of the day we are talking about espionage by a friendly country," she says. "While he was rotting in jail, the American administration released thousands of terrorists. So yes, it does raise questions."
Stieglitz hopes that the American administration will eventually let Pollard immigrate to Israel. She says many US Jews who hold key positions are afraid to speak openly about him.
"Voicing an opinion about him or about his punishment could be perceived as loyalty to Israel at the expense of the US," she says. "It's a tool used by many anti-Semitic bloggers in the country, who want to question US Jews' motives."
"Mistakes have been made on both sides," says Foxman. "We will never know what would have happened if we had kept quiet and not said a word. Perhaps we would have woken up one day and he would have been in Tel Aviv.
"There is a catch 22 when it comes to this story. The less we talk about it, the issue is neglected. On the other hand, the more we talk about it, it's allegedly harder to solve. It may be time for both sides to leave the past in the past, once and for all."