A Lincoln Look at Pollard

February 9, 1995 - Bruce Brill - Washington Jewish Week

Jonathan Pollard. Perceived by the American public as a traitorous spy. Engenders uncomfortable whispers of dual-loyalty in the ears of the American Jewish community. Seen by the courts as a violator of the Secrecy Oath. An unfortunate embarrassment to Israel. Wouldn't it be convenient if he could somehow disappear. Or, since he refuses to disappear, be magically transformed from the treasonous criminal that he is perceived to be by the public and added to the long and distinguished list of Jewish American heroes?

Heroes like Asher Levy whose defiance of Peter Stuyvesant's tyranny won religious liberties for Americans of all religious persuasions. David Frank, Gershon Seixas, Haym Salomon risked life, limb and fortune to support the American Revolution. Francis Salvador was known as the Jewish Paul Revere, and Benjamin Nones as the Jewish Lafayette. Judah Touro, and Uriah Levy in the War of 1812, Mordecai Noah in the campaigns against the Barbary Pirates, David de Leon and Judah Benjamin in gray and Abraham Jonas in blue during the Civil War, Adolph Marix in the Spanish American War, all won renown for their distinguished service. Almost ten thousand Jewish American officers served in World War I. Three Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor and one hundred and fifty were given the Distinguished Service Cross, not to mention nearly three thousand who made the ultimate sacrifice. Among the 550,000 Jewish servicemen in World War II, more than 10,000 gave their lives from over 35,000 casualties. Over 61,000 awards were given to Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen. Too, the number of Jews in the armed services was in greater proportions than the general population. This is a legacy American Jews can be proud of.

It would be impossible to imagine Pollard's name with these noble heroes ... or is it?

Aaron Pareira. A soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was an only son whose mother requested him at his dying father's bedside so that he could say first kaddish. His request for furlough denied by his captain, he slipped away to be with his parents. And although he returned to his base after his absence without leave and reported directly to his captain, he was court-martialed for desertion and faced the firing squad. The courts would not grant his appeal. He was perceived by the courts and the public as a deserter. His harsh punishment would serve as an example to discourage the increasing number of Union army desertions. Only his mother's direct petition to Abraham Lincoln himself could save her son's life through a Presidential Pardon. The President granted Mrs. Pareira a hearing. After reviewing all details of the case, Mr. Lincoln discerned an element of the heroic in Aaron Pareira's behavior: He had risked the certainty of severe consequences to do what his conscience dictated was the right thing to do.

In spite of tremendous public, military, and judicial pressures, Lincoln granted Pareira this exceptional pardon. Abe Lincoln's judgment was not faulty. Pareira served with devotion, advanced to become an officer and was decorated for unusual bravery in action. His name stands in history with the other great Jewish American heroes.

Pollard's case is not totally dissimilar. The dissimilarities in fact make the case even stronger for including Pollard's name in the exclusive list. In Pareira's time the very existence of the Union was in jeopardy; today the US is the unquestioned economic and military power in the world. Pareira disobeyed specific orders; Pollard abided by the compelling letter and the-even-more-compelling spirit of two US pronouncements: The 1983 Israel-US Intelligence Exchange Agreement and the Judgments of Nuremberg.

The Nuremberg Judgments are very clear in stating the responsibility of the individual in not acquiescing to participation in acts of inhumanity ... even under orders. Jonathan Pollard saw a crime -- withholding vital information from Israel-- and acted on behalf of the potential innocent victims. Guilt should be shouldered not by Pollard, but by his supervisors, who were culpable in not passing on such essential information to an ally (by the 1983 treaty). In light of Nuremberg, Pollard certainly acted correctly ... if not heroically.

The main function of security briefings, a regular and frequent rite in the intelligence community which each intelligence worker is required to attend, is to drive home the inevitability of security compromises being discovered, and the fearful consequences to the perpetrator. They leave little doubt in the mind of each intelligence worker of the seriousness of a security breach. In fact the continued drumming of the theme can and does enter the subconscious of the individual. Recurring nightmares on security themes are known to be experienced even by ex-Agency employees many years after their disassociation from intelligence work. It is known that longtime friendships have been unceremoniously broken off if the Agency worker feels the association might be construed as compromising by Agency security officers.

As he understood the un-American character of not passing along vital information to an American ally, Jonathan Pollard also realized very well the probability of getting caught in doing what his conscience dictated was right, and the severe consequences he would have to bear were he caught.

Accusative fingers, Jewish sooner than gentile, are pointed at Pollard for taking money from his Israeli operators. The uninitiated simply do not understand the basic rules of covert intelligence operations. As strange as it may sound, accepting money was the price Pollard had to pay to pass on the information his conscience knew was vital to an American ally. Now, after the fact, it doesn't look so good and this complicates the true nature of Jonathan Pollard's selfless and heroic act.

Transferring Jonathan Pollard's name from the list of America's villainous to America's valorous is clearly justified ... and long overdue.

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