Opponents Of A Part
David Holzel, Editor - The Atlanta Jewish Times - March 10, 1995
I remember the exact moments I became a Jewish activist. I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan, and as I crossed the university's central square during a break between classes, I passed a knot of students who were agitating for the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. "Death To The Shah," I read on their placards as they circled past me,
"Death To Israel."
Israel had never really been a concern of mine. But at that moment, I connected these demonstrators' implied genocide against Israel with a threat against me. It's no secret that exposure to anti-Semitism is one of the surest ways to strengthen a Jew's identity. That's what happened to me that day. My quills went up and I became a Zionist.
I spent my remaining two years at U of M honing my skills as a propagandist for Israel. The Jewish state's numerous international adversaries gave me ample targets for my articles and pamphlets. Israel, circa 1980, was vilified in the Third World, demonized by the Arabs and twisted by the casuistry of the far left into a colonialist cancer.
Israeli public figures visiting the United States inevitably faced venom-dripping demonstrations of Arabs and their supporters.
From where we sit today, that world looks upside down. Thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent acceleration of the Mideast peace process, the pools of protest have largely dried up.
So much so that when Shimon Peres came to Atlanta during that bitterly cold 24 hours last month, the chanting, placard-carrying demonstrators were Jews.
Opposing a cautious peace process that is reaping rewards for Israel has a funhouse-mirror quality to it. Still, I'm too much a child of the 1960s to respond to these Jewish activists with "My country, right or wrong." Opponents of a part are not necessarily traitors to the whole.
The cause of Zionist was the only thing I've ever been completely sure about. I held to it in full confidence for nearly a decade, and spent part of that time living in Jerusalem. In those years, I identified totally with the rebuilding of a Jewish society in the Jewish hameland.
I don't believe it was the Jonathan Pollard fiasco that ended my fidelity to Zionism. It would be a neat bit of rhetoric to say that Israel's use and abandonment of its most fanatically loyal American Zionist broke the spell. Still, with Mr. Pollard serving a life sentence for his support of Israel it's clear that, even when it comes to Zionism, it must be every Jew for himself.
Like many of us, Mr. Pollard was raised to see Israel the heroic response to Auschwitz and insurance policy against future Hitlers. When he passed classified U.S. intelligence to the Israelis in that long-ago upside-down world, Mr. Pollard may have thought he was taking out a life-insurance policy for Jews everywhere. It turned out that Israel behaves like any other insurance company. When he became too great a risk, the Jewish state dropped him.
Friends, Jonathan Pollard could have been any one of us who ever felt that Israel's survival and prosperity equaled our own. So when I had a few minutes to speak with Shimon Peres last month, it was not merely journalistic interest, but my duty as a Zionist and Jewish activist, that led me to ask for his thoughts on Mr. Pollard, who has been in prison for a decade now.
I expected a measured, even canned, response from Mr. Peres: "Well, it's a thorny problem, and I can't be specific," I imagined him saying, "but we shall see to it that Mr. Pollard is released into freedom someday."
That's not what happened. Before I even finished my question, Mr. Peres, who until that point in the interview seemed half asleep, turned his head and glared at me as if I had just bombed his grandchildren's schoolhouse. "No, no, no," he said. "I shall answer some questions, not all of them."
It strikes me as odd that the Israel foreign minister, who even had good things to say about the Syrian dictator (Mr. Assad apparently has a rich sense of humor), had nothing at all to say about Mr. Pollard.
Among the rewards of Zionism is life in prison. For a Jew dedicated heart and soul to Israel, it's a bitter lesson - and a caution. But being a Jew means carrying on the struggle, even for a cause as prickly as Jonathan Pollard's For an unrepentant Jewish activist, it's simply too late to stop now.