Pollard and the Zionist Left

Eric Lee - Israel Horizons (NY) - Nov/Dec. 1991

It is time for the Zionist left, in Israel and in the Diaspora, to speak out on behalf of Jonathan Pollard.

In Israel the leading figure in the Knesset multi-party Pollard lobby has been right-wing MK Geula Cohen. In the United States, the organizations which have signed on their support for Pollard include Agudath Israel, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the American Section of the World Jewish Congress. Though there are Labor MKs in the Pollard lobby in Israel, and probably some left-wing supporters of Pollard among American Jews, the Pollard case has been adopted largely by the right.

I think there are two reasons for this, one tactical and one strategic.

The tactical reason is that the chairman of the Labor Party (and leader of Israel's left), Shimon Peres, was Prime Minister at the time of Pollard's arrest. Yitzhak Rabin was Defense Minister. The Labor leadership immediately offered its support to the American investigators who came to Israel, returned all the Pollard documents to the American government, and turned its back on the Pollards. Peres and Rabin bore responsibility for Pollard at the time he was caught; they were running the country when he was betrayed. In the Knesset investigation of the case, headed by MK Abba Eban, the Labor representatives led the way in support of the government decision to cooperate with the Americans, while it was the right wing which criticized that cooperation.

The strategic reason runs a little deeper. The Israeli left has, for several years now, been increasingly pro-American. As the left weakened from one Knesset election campaign to the next, disillusioned leaders of the peace camp began to talk openly of American pressure on the Likud government being the only way to push the peace process forward. Often it seemed as if the Labor leadership in Tel Aviv and the Republican leadership in Washington were singing a well-orchestrated duet. The revelation that Israel had recruited an American Jewish spy came as a severe blow to all those who were counting on Americans to replace the Israeli electorate as the driving force for peace in the Middle East.

Many Israelis argued - and I was one of them, in a column for the Jerusalem Post - that the Pollard operation was, from its inception, a stupid risk. The risk of being caught, we felt, was far greater than the possible rewards of the intelligence he provided.

We also argued that, in spite of the stupidity of the whole operation, it was Israel's responsibility to the Pollards to help get them out. Ann Pollard's appearance on 60 Minutes, with her re-enactment of how they were denied the safety of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, touched the hearts of many here in the Jewish state.

Looking back on the case six years later, it has now become clear that the Pollard operation may not have been the stupid risk we thought it was. One result of the Gulf war was the revelation that Israel was prepared for chemical warfare because of the documents Jonathan Pollard was able to provide. The Reagan administration would not tell us what Iraq's chemical and nuclear capabilities were. Jonathan Pollard told us that. Thanks to his information millions of gas masks and atropine needles were distributed in time. As one Israeli writing during the SCUD attacks put it, every time he went into the sealed room, Jay Pollard was there with him.

But even if one cannot condone the employment of an American Jew like Pollard, or thinks that this particular case was a stupid, unnecessary risk, the fact remains that Pollard was an Israeli agent risking his life and his freedom for the Jewish people. To make the point clearer, I think we can look at the issue of POWs and MIAs.

Americans were deeply divided over the Vietnam war. But when the war ended, and for the past 16 years, they have been united in their hope that any living POWs and MIAs who are still in Southeast Asia will be returned home. They all want the bodies of MIAs returned to the States. There is widespread sympathy for the families of MIAs. That sympathy extends to the most vigorous opponents of the Vietnam war.

Israel also has its own POW, and MIA problem - the seven Israelis who didn't return from Lebanon. Israel was also deeply divided over the Lebanon war. But all Israelis, left and right-wing, Peace Now and Gush Emunim alike, support our government's efforts to get our POWs and MIAs back alive. There is widespread sympathy for the families of those men.

The same logic applies o the Pollards. Even if one doesn't support or condone the employment of American Jews by Israeli intelligence to spy from within the intelligence community in the U.S. - even if one thinks that Israel's actions were criminal, stupid, or just plain wrong - the fact remains that Jay Pollard is sitting in an isolation cell deep underground in the K-block of the federal maximum security facility in Marion, Illinois. He has been in solitary confinement for more than four years. He has not seen the sun.

His wife, Ann Henderson Pollard, was treated brutally during her stay in American prisons and emerged, according to some press reports, a drug addict. She has been in and out of Israeli hospitals, her life and her health permanently destroyed. A Jewish family has been destroyed, and the Israeli government does nothing. Meanwhile, Jonathan Pollard's jailors continue to ask him to provide the names of other American Jews who were involved in espionage on behalf of Israel.

Enough is enough. Americans who spied for the Soviet Union have been in and out of jail in the time Jonathan Pollard has been sitting the his cell in Marion. His sentence is excessively long. President Bush has made it clear he has no intention of letting Pollard out. Israelis and American Jews, of the right and left, must make common cause to increase the pressure on both governments now. The Zionist left has a role to play and we must play it. We must do our part to get Jonathan Pollard out of prison and home to Israel.

Eric Lee, a member of Kibbutz Ein Dor, is a veteran socialist activist, an Oleh from the U.S., and an occasional contributor to IH.