COMMENTARY by Martin Bernstein

Heritage Southwest Jewish Press
Originally Published October 2, 1998


The debate waxed hot and serious. Adjusting his yarmulke, one of the participants said, "Jonathan Pollard deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail!" Almost in unison, two women shouted, "Right, he deserves to..."

Those sentiments were echoed by quite a few in the audience of leaders of Jewish Organizations gathered to vote on a community resolution requesting clemency for America's longest-incarcerated spy for a friendly nation.

It mattered not to most of these leaders that Pollard is a Jew who gave information to Israel and caused no harm to our country. If nothing else, where was their feeling of rachmonis (pity) for another Jew? And why did they not have such pity?

What makes Woody Allen, Phillip Roth, even Thomas Friedman run? It's perplexing.

There are various types of Jew, as there are many types in all nationalities and religions. We, however, have a category others are fortunate not to own. In the past, the ghetto and shtetl were our homes. And today, many Jews - especially in the Eastern United States - still live in areas akin to Beverly-Fairfax or Pico-Robertson, where most of their acquaintances are Jews.

Dwelling among their own creates a ghetto mentality -the galus mentality, railed against by the original Zionists, who believed it would be eliminated by a Jewish State.

It is this ghetto mentality which creates the Jew who doesn't feel quite comfortable with the majority population. He is somewhat in awe of them - he doesn't belong. He feels slightly inferior. No matter his economic or professional success, secretly, in the inner recesses of his soul, he is ashamed of what he is, and he wishes he could be a member of the majority.

Thus we find Woody Allen depicting his own people as gross characters; Roth writing in a most condemning way of his own people; and Friedman bending over backward to be laudatory toward the Arabs while denouncing the Israelis.

Because of latent feelings of inferiority, this variety of Jew must show the non-Jew that he is truly a righteous person, a good - nay, super American. As the ancients vied to throw the first stone at the scapegoat to rid themselves of their guilt, these Jews believing that they belong to an underclass of society attempt to outdo each other intheir zeal to denounce their own.

It is interesting to see the behavior of other groups as opposed to our own. Blacks will support their own regardless of their acts, even murder. Arab Americans stand up for the Palestinians despite their slaughter of innocent Israeli children. Christian Americans petition for clemency for a murderer who "found religion" in prison.

However, many Jews reprove their own. Pollard committed a crime against our country. Then no matter the justification, no matter the mitigation, no matter how grossly disproportionate the sentence he received, they must condemn him so that they might wear the robes of the "good American". They strive to show the rest of the nation that "we" are not like those "objectionable ones", therefore we will speak despairingly of them.

The insecurities of some of our people are played out on the American stage in a drama which damages the rest of us. And no matter how these self-hating Jews try to distance themselves, they are demeaned as well.

Martin Bernstein is a political/legal writer based in Los Angeles.