Don’t Give Jonathan Pollard a Hero’s Welcome
Leave Jonathan Pollard alone. With his release imminent, that is my advice to American Jews—and American Jewish organizations—soon to confront the reality of Pollard living in their midst, probably in the New York City area.
No grand celebrations. No dinners in his honor. No major communal embrace. No hero’s welcome.
Mr. Pollard and his wife are entitled to their privacy. They will want to get their lives in order, and they should be given the space to do so. If individuals choose to visit them, fine, and the Pollards will be free to receive them if they so choose.
Still, the real question here is the collective response of the American Jewish community to Mr. Pollard. And the fact is that he should not be welcomed as a hero because he is not a hero. And we should not treat him as one.
The Pollard affair will be remembered as a shameful episode in Israel’s history. Since his apprehension more than 30 years ago, Pollard has been eccentric, erratic, and seemingly unstable. Israeli intelligence agents made the colossal mistake of paying this individual money to spy for the Jewish state. Pollard’s actions violated the law and had the potential to undermine American security; whether they did, or the extent to which they did, remains unclear.
But what is crystal clear is that this affair was injurious to Israel’s well-being. American Jews are fully aware of just how foolish and destructive Pollard’s Israeli handlers were. These handlers both took advantage of a problematic individual and acted in a way that might have seriously compromised Israel’s relations with her most important ally.
Despite their revulsion at Pollard’s crimes, American Jews eventually came together in calling for his release, especially once he became eligible for parole. They noted that Pollard was ill; that he had served much longer in prison than others who had committed comparable crimes; that he had eventually expressed remorse; and that he had been acting on behalf of an ally and not an enemy state.
Some Jews tried to claim that a massive anti-Semitic conspiracy kept Pollard behind bars, but this is absurd. Nonetheless, it did become apparent that the personal vindictiveness of Caspar Weinberger toward Israel was a factor in the harsh sentence that Pollard received. And this helped to convince both Jewish and non-Jewish leaders to appeal for Pollard’s release.
In a brief private conversation with President Barack Obama in 2011, I asked the President to take another look at the Pollard question. And in that same year I participated in a much longer meeting of a half dozen Jewish leaders with Vice President Joe Biden, appealing to him to help us on the Pollard question. Biden has impeccable pro-Israel credentials, and the meeting was friendly. The Vice President listened carefully to our concerns. But it was not a one-way meeting, and we heard the considerations that were guiding the government. While I did not agree with a great deal of what was said, I left with a much better sense of why five administrations, Republican and Democratic, had resisted calls for clemency.
Still, all of this is now history. The long-awaited release is about to happen, and the key is to deal with it in a way that reflects what most American Jews are now feeling: unequivocal condemnation of Pollard’s crimes and compassion for the broken man who committed them.
In a bit of an ironic twist, Pollard is being released at a moment when the American people, never very favorable to Pollard, are likely to be even less so. The terrorism in Europe has led to calls for increased intelligence gathering so that terror might be combatted more effectively. Under these circumstances, Americans will hardly be sympathetic to an American citizen who accepted money for passing sensitive intelligence information to a foreign government, even if that government was, and is, an ally.
This is yet another reason why the Jewish community should not glorify Pollard. It is also a reason why, in the unlikely event that Pollard should be allowed to go to Israel immediately, the government of Israel should act with discretion and follow our lead.
Still, American Jews have no need to check the opinion polls. We remember Pollard as someone who violated our values and our trust. We will not defend him; he does not deserve it. Nonetheless, he has paid for his crimes, and he is entitled to live his life in peace. In other words, this is a time for American Jews to demonstrate some respectful silence and restraint.