Community's Silence in Pollard Case Evokes Memories of Dreyfus

Rabbi Gerald I. Wolpe - The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent - May 31, 1991

There is a footnote to the famous Dreyfus case that should cause unease. When Lt. Alfred Dreyfus was first accused of treason, there was little response from the leaders of rank and file of the French Jewish community. It is likely that few saw the events initially in a specifically Jewish context. Yet, even when it became apparent that there were dangerous anti-Semitic overtones to the case, most Jews preferred to avoid the issue.

After Dreyfus was convicted, members of his family, a significant number of French intellectuals and public figures risked censure by protesting against a miscarriage of justice. Yet, with few exceptions, the majority of French Jewry chose to remain silent. They were frightened by the implications of the trial and assumed that support of Dreyfus by their community would only direct acrimony toward them.

Dreyfus' innocence or guilt was not the issue; they were being totally defensive. They reasoned that if they would remain quiet, the whole thing would just go away. Recalling that aspect of the Dreyfus affair, I am beginning to see an uncomfortable parallels to the case of Jonathan Pollard. Obviously, the situation is not an exact parallel. Dreyfus was falsely accused of a traitorous act. He never handed French military documents to another nation. Pollard has admitted he gave classified documents to Israel. Still, I have serious problems with the unfolding of this tragic drama. [J4JP Note: Jonathan has also been falsely accused of treason.]

What is so unsettling is the nature of Pollard's trial, [J4JP Note: Jonathan never had a trial. See the Facts Page.] the response of the court and the extent of his punishment. Also, there is a strange silence of sensitive intellectuals who are usually so quick to protest similar miscarriages of justice, and there is once again a significant lack of response from the Jewish community.

The facts of the case are well-known. Those facts produce disturbing questions that should be addressed, if by no one else, then by Jews. The Gulf War was, in part, due to unwise policies by the U.S. government when it armed the forces of Saddam Hussein. There was the bizarre irony of our bolstering the very army we were later to fight.

Part of Pollard's action was his concern with this policy and the danger it posed to the State of Israel. Israel is America's ally, and yet it was not receiving information about the arming if Iraq, which was a major threat to its security.

Secondly, the severe sentence imposed upon Pollard for passing information to an ally stands in stark contract to the more lenient sentences imposed on traitors who gave damaging information to avowed enemies of the United States.

In addition, other miscreants at the fore of major scandals in this interplay received minor punishments. Oliver North was dismissed from his position, and Pollard was given a life sentence.

Alan Dershowitz, who serves as a counsel to Pollard, has said, "History provides at least some relevant parameters which allow one to conclude, with reasonable confidence, that if comparable information had been provided by a French American to France or a Swedish American to Sweden, it is unlikely that the sentence would have been so severe."

Elements of the trial are most suspect, including the unwarranted behavior of former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whose animosity to the State of Israel was constant. His volatile reaction to Pollard shows elements that go beyond a professional interest. Significantly, despite the extreme position taken by Weinberger, Pollard was never charged with intending to harm or injure the United States.

Finally, the vindictive stance taken against Pollard's now divorced wife, Anne, was totally out of proportion to her participation. Only when humanitarian reactions to her illness became public was she released from prison. One could go on and on about aspects of the tragedy that are most unusual and disturbing.

Despite many nagging questions, the organized Jewish community has avoided any involvement. It has been only recently that even the State of Israel has begun to react with some sense of responsibility. Pollard, his family and a few friends have carried the burden of bringing his story to the public.

It would seem that the cautious reaction of the Jewish community displayed during Dreyfus' ordeal is repeating itself. Pollard is seen as an embarrassment and, again, silence is viewed as appropriate and prudent.

I wonder about the absence of letters in the New York Review of Books, the Village Voice, et al., which constantly carry letters from academics protesting the bureaucratic fist against imprisoned individuals in Europe, Asia, Africa, Israel and the United States. I wonder about the silence of the pulpit. Rabbis are wont to use the text, "Justice, justice shalt thou pursue," and to claim that the repetition of the word "justice' is authority for the principle that just means must be used to achieve justice.

I wonder about the silence of our people toward the suffering of a young man who has paid a penalty for his concern and resultant misconduct, a penalty that is totally out of proportion with the crime.

Some time ago, Pollard's father, a noted scientist, spoke at Har Zion. I was deeply moved by his words and disturbed by much of the information he imparted. However, as with many others, I then went on to other issues that seemed to overshadow his son's dilemma. I apologize for my distraction. There is something so unsavory about the entire issue that it is time to resist comfortable silence and, as an organized community, protest an ongoing outrage.