Time to Review The Pollard Case

Robert A. Cohn, Editor - St. Louis Jewish Light - March 27, 1991

The aftermath of the Persian Gulf War and the lessons it provided offer an opportunity to review the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for turning over classified information to Israel while he was an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy.

There should be no mistake about the fact that Pollard knew he was violating the law when he engaged in espionage for Israel and that he deserves to be punished. There should also be no mistake that the government of Israel was extremely unwise to engage the services of an American Jewish citizen for such activities. At the same, there should be no mistake that the life sentence given to Pollard for spying on behalf of a friendly nation is totally out of balance to the relatively lighter sentences given to such spies as John Walker, who provided extremely sensitive information to the Soviet Union when the USSR was the principal adversary of the United States in the Cold War.

Pollard recently has written that he was motivated to provide information to Israel about the destructive weapons systems being developed by Syria and Iraq when he became convinced that such information was not being shared by the United States with Israel despite the formal strategic cooperation agreement signed by President Ronald Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

The information included the locations and capacities of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons facilities in Syria and Iraq, two regimes which have been implacable and sworn enemies of the Jewish State.

Pollard became convinced that the 1981 Israeli destruction of the Iraqi nuclear weapons facility of Osirak prevented the brutal regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. He became convinced that Israel needed detailed information on such facilities in the event of another threatened Arab-Israeli war. One could hardly imagine a more deadly scenario than if Saddam Hussein had been able to threaten Israel and the U.S.-led multinational force in Operation Desert Storm with nuclear weapons.

Pollard said in a recent letter published in the Wall Street Journal that "appeasement of Iraq made me a spy" and pointed out that he wanted to give Israel the information it needed so it could launch a "preventive attack on the Iraqi chemical-arms factories before they had become fully operational."

In other words, Pollard was motivated by concern for the security of America's one dependable ally in the Middle East, the State of Israel. To be sure he should not have committed espionage to provide Israel with the information. But he was right to believe that such information should have been made available to a friendly government.

Pollard received a life sentence, which he is now serving at the maximum security federal prison in Marion, Ill. The harsh sentence goes beyond even what was sought by the prosecution and violates the terms of a plea bargain with Pollard before the trial. There is strong evidence that the life sentence in part results from an extremely vindictive off-channel memorandum to the judge from the Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, the most anti-Israel member of the Reagan Administration, who maintained that Pollard should be sentenced to death.

In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War in which Israel showed remarkable restraint in the face of 39 Iraqi Scud missile attacks, and at a time when U.S. Israel relations are improving, another look should be taken at the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard. At the very least, his sentence should be reduced to be more in line with other spy cases. And in the spirit of Passover and in the interest of removing an issue that creates friction between Israel and the United States, consideration should be given to permitting Pollard to serve out the rest of a reduced sentence doing community work in Israel.

This year, for the third consecutive year, New York Rabbi Ave Weiss will conduct a "Freedom Seder" for Pollard at the Marion prison. If his prayers are answered and if fairness prevails, perhaps the next such seder will be celebrated next year in Jerusalem.

Editor's Note

: The views in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the St. Louis Jewish Light.