Pollard and Jewish Disunity
Jerusalem Post - February 28, 2000 - Rabbi Stewart Weiss
WE ARE ONE! So proclaim the signs in front of virtually every Jewish
Federation in America, spotlighting the ideal of Jewish unity as the
and CAUSE CELEBRE of the current Jewish establishment.
But is the slogan a call to action, or just wistful, wishful thinking
totally detached from any semblance of reality? Even the most cursory
examination of the present state of Jewish affairs reveals wide and deep
divisions among our people, in virtually every sphere of existence.
On the religious front, there has been no respite in the Rabbinic Wars
perpetually occupy the pages of the Jewish media and the halls of
synagogues everywhere. Orthodox Jews are seen by the non-Orthodox as
dogmatic, uncompromising and out of touch, while the non-Orthodox are
considered illegitimate perversions of the true faith, responsible for
assimilation and Jewish decline of Shoa-like proportions. The two camps
meet on only the most innocuous of issues, if they meet at all.
I experienced just how deep this sentiment runs when I recently
a small Orthodox group on a Kosher cruise. On Shabbat morning, we were
short of a minyan. Seeking one more Jew from among the general
I saw a fellow on deck whom I had met previously, who had proudly told
of his long association with his local congregation. I asked him to join
for a few minutes, so that the mourners present could at least recite
"Take down your antiquated Mechitza separating the sexes, and I'll join
you," he defiantly proclaimed. We never said the Kaddish, but death was
On the political and social level, we have virtually no common ground.
any candidate or any issue, and Jews will eagerly line up on opposite
sides. From Hillary to McCain to Haider, from abortion to euthenasia to
parochial school vouchers, Jews have definite - and rival - opinions.
pour millions of Jewish dollars into the campaigns of Liberal Democrats,
only to find that an equal sum has been given to Conservative
Is there ANY issue upon which we Jews CAN agree, as a bloc? Should or
should not Jews accept money from Holocaust perpetrators now
belated guilty conscience? Should Jews stay in Eastern Europe and build
Jewish infrastructure, or should they make Aliyah? Should Israel be the
focal point of Jewish education, and, even if it is, should we speak
Sefardic or Ashkenazic pronunciation? For G-d's sake, the raging
controversy over the merits or demerits of Brit Milah suggest that we
no longer even agree that our sons should be circumcised when 8 days
Even in those rare instances when we DO seem to find consensus among the
rank and file on a particular issue, Jewish leadership often remains in
obstinate opposition. Take, for example, the case of the missing Israeli
soldiers. It has been 18 years now since Zach Baumel, Yehuda Katz and
Feldman were captured in Lebanon and paraded on Syrian TV. In 1993,
Arafat handed the late PM Rabin half of Baumel's army dog tag, and
to supply, within two weeks, further information as to his whereabouts.
promise was never fufilled.
The Israeli public is virtually unanimous in its belief that the issue
the MIA's must be tied to the peace process and the release of
prisoners. Even the U.S. Congress voted in 1999 - without dissent - to
economic assistance for Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority to
their cooperation in the search for the 3 soldiers and airman Ron Arad,
captured in 1986.
Yet the Israeli government has consistently refused to adopt legislation
that would satisfy the public will and force the Arab parties to tell
they know about our captives. Defying the popular will, the members of
Knesset will not "have their hands tied" by submitting to dictates from
very electorate which placed them in office. And so we gnash our teeth
frustration as PLO terrorists triumphantly go free, and our brave young
Perhaps most tragic is the ongoing tragedy of Jonathan Pollard. When
Pollard was first convicted of spying on America for Israel fifteen
ago, virtually no one would take up his cause. I recall hosting
parents at a lecture in my Dallas synagogue, which was boycotted by the
Jewish establishment. Only an impassioned appeal by myself and the local
Reform Rabbi brought out the Jewish population.
What they heard that evening about Pollard was far different from the
"official" version carried in the media. They learned that Pollard had
compromised no strategic U.S. secrets or agents, but had shared with
vital information on Iraqi poison gas capabilities, information that
have been given to Israel in the first place. They learned that Pollard
admitted his crime, waived his right to a trial, and agreed to a plea
bargain on the one count of sharing classified information with an ally.
And they learned that the government had cynically reneged on the plea
bargain, sentencing him to life in prison in a maximum-security
Today, more than a decade and a half since his conviction, Pollard still
languishes in jail, having served more time for espionage on behalf of
ally than any man in American history. He has watched on numerous
occassions as others convicted of spying for America's enemies - doing
infinitely more harm to U.S. interests than he ever did - either go free
are given the lightest of sentences. And we now understand that it was
Pollard's information which helped Israel weather the Iraqi Scud attacks
preparing hundreds of thousands of gas masks, thus easing Israeli
and helping America keep its Gulf War coalition intact.
In the course of these 15 years, the Jewish People has come together
the Pollard case. More than 250 Jewish organizations have now officially
petitioned the U.S. government to free Pollard for time served. These
organizations include men & women; Liberals and Conservatives; Sefardim
Ashkenazim; Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Rabbinates; right-wingers,
left-wingers and moderates.
The only seeming holdout in the equation is the Israeli government.
finally being forced to admit Pollard was an Israeli agent, and then
him Israeli citizenship, the government has been conspicuous in its
inaction. PM Barak has refused to unequivocally demand Pollard's release
part of any MidEast pact, and has gone so far as to shrug his shoulders
say that "Pollard is an internal U.S. issue that has no bearing on the
peace process." Pollard - who has received none of the financial,
or legal services promised to him by Israel - has thus been forced to
the government for abandonment. Once again, the Jewish world has reached
the brink of unity on an issue of major importance, only to break down
Diversity of opinion, when accompanied by respect and comraderie between
the parties, can be healthy, even stimulating and productive. But when
debate becomes rancorous, unmoving and malicious - taking no prisoners -
polarizes us into a house divided and shows, to our great shame, that we
are anything but ONE.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss is the executive director of the Jewish Outreach
Center in Ra'anana, Israel.
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