This article appeared in the Messianic Times under a different title.
To some, he was simply a loyal patriot caught in a political crossfire. To others, he was a bumbling and perhaps compromised idealist. Still others considered him a lying traitor. Regardless of one’s opinion, Jonathan Pollard has now been languishing in American prisons for over 20 years, with no end in sight. His charge was one count of passing classified information to Israel, an American ally. Now MK Zevulun Orlev wants to initiate a debate in the Israeli Knesset over Israel’s failures to get Pollard released.
Jonathan Jay Pollard (b. 1954) grew up a musical child prodigy in an affluent American Jewish family. From a young age he had a love for Israel, instilled by tradition, and affirmed by the Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. He studied philosophy and history at Stanford, and later law at Notre Dame. His dream, however, was to find a way to work for Israel - so much so he was known even to tell tales to his schoolmates that he already did work for Israel.
After Pollard was rejected for a job with the Mossad (Israeli Intelligence), he eventually landed a low-level position in the United States Intelligence, as part of their Naval Investigative Services, in the Anti-Terrorist Alert Center (ATAC). In the course of his work, Pollard came into information, incidental to his job, which he thought Israel should know, but wasn’t being told - for example, plans for an Iraqi weapons facility. A meeting with an Israeli government contact through mutual friend turned out to be his opportunity to spy, and during this time he eventually passed on many thousands of classified documents onto his handlers in the Israeli government.
Biographers of Pollard, like Wolf Blitzer (who wrote Territory of Lies), note that he was bound to get caught, but he expected in such an eventuality that he would be protected by Israel. When that day came in 1985, he did what his Israeli contacts had told him to do, speeding off with his wife to find asylum at the Israeli embassy in Washington. To their shock, they were forcefully turned away. He pled guilty as part of a plea bargain, with the assumption of leniency. The prosecutor recommended a life sentence, in violation of the plea bargain, and far over the median 2-4 years for those convicted of the same charge. His wife also served three years on the count of aiding him, being released on parole in March of 1990.
What happened? John Loftus, in his fascinating book The Secret War Against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People, speculated on the reasons behind his harsh sentence. On America’s part, there was indignation, and hence a desire to never see it happen again. Then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger wrote that it was difficult “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 United States and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel” - this written in a brief the judge had read before deciding Pollard’s sentence. Many also suggest that Pollard’s defense team simply did not do its job. On the part of Israel, who did not come to Pollard’s aid, there was understandably much embarrassment that Pollard had been caught spying for them. The Mossad, who refused to hire him for any position because they considered him a “loose cannon,” “simply washed its hands and walked away.” Loftus even wrote that in the view of his sources, “Pollard screwed up their relationships with American intelligence and they hate him. The last thing the Mossad wants is for Pollard to be paroled, immigrate to Israel” - from which he has now received citizenship - “and write a book exposing even more American secrets.”
The situation is undoubtedly complex. Many have made the point that it is incorrect to consider Pollard a traitor, since by definition treason is must be aid given to enemies, not allies. The information Pollard delivered to Israel - including PLO headquarters in Tunisia, Syrian chemical warfare facilities, and Soviet Arms shipments - is undoubtedly important to a degree that is not always possible to ascertain from the outside. But one must also consider the plausible damage that his espionage caused to American security interests. Though the information itself was passed to an American ally - one who was entitled by a prior agreement to have information vital to its interests - it is impossible to know to what degree Pollard’s espionage may have compromised sources for American reconnaissance in countries not friendly to Israel.
Still, after 22 years, how long is long enough? Rabbi Russ Resnik, head of the UMJC, pointed out that while “there is much we do not know about this case,” nevertheless “it seems clear that Pollard has been imprisoned long enough and should be released.” “The Messianic Jewish community,” Rabbi Resnik noted, “should be concerned over the treatment that Jonathan Pollard has received, especially his disproportionate sentence and the Israeli government's lack of support for his release.” In light of the recent development with MK Orlev initiative, he affirmed that it was “appropriate for the Knesset to investigate the reasons for that lack of support.”