OpEd: Who Cares About Jonathan Pollard?

Kenneth Lasson - The Baltimore Jewish News - June 9, 2006

Who wants to hear anything more about Jonathan Pollard?

Not the government of the United States, or its criminal justice system, which long ago convicted Pollard of passing classified information to a foreign government - an offense normally punished by brief incarceration - and sentenced him to life in prison. Pollard is now serving his twenty-first year behind bars.

Not the government of Israel, to which Pollard gave data about its enemies' military capabilities. Although there have been numerous opportunities for Israeli prime ministers to raise their voices in Washington on the behalf of its acknowledged agent, not one of them - with the notable (and failed) exception of Binyamin Netanyahu - has ever done so.

Not the American Jewish establishment, which early on in the Pollard saga saw fit to muffle itself, out of both high embarrassment and fear that to protest Pollard's mistreatment would subject it to the traditional anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty.

Not the American people, who are (perhaps understandably) preoccupied with the excesses of and plummeting confidence in the Bush Administration - its conduct of the war in Iraq, its use of torture, its domestic spying, its failed immigration policies - not to mention the cost of gasoline, the hype over The Da Vinci Code, the plight of an injured horse, or the size of Barry Bonds' head and ego.

No, the only people who seem to care about Pollard nowadays are those who always have, but with virtually no power to do anything for his release: his wife, a few scattered activists - and the rank and file of American and Israeli Jews.

Our highly flawed intelligence community knows full well that Pollard's misdeeds pale in comparison with those of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanson, to name just two whose perfidy actually cost American lives and seriously compromised national security. The State and Justice Departments' refusal to come clean about the facts smacks of little more than sophisticated anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, many law professors and libertarians have taken up the cudgels for Pollard because they truly believe that American justice requires them to make things right when the system goes wrong. That Pollard is Jewish and his goal was to help Israel are beside the point: anyone subjected to the same unfair treatment, in which a plea agreement was blatantly abrogated in favor of a shockingly disproportionate punishment (the average sentence for his offense is 2-4 years), deserves redress. Most objective observers agree with the assessment of federal judge Stephen Williams, the lone dissenter in one of Pollard's appeals, who characterized his plight as "a gross miscarriage of justice."

The American Jewish establishment should be ashamed of itself for being ashamed of itself. While the Pollard case may have stained the image it has of itself and strained its exceptionally cordial relationship with their government - if our leaders were truly confident of their place in American society they should make loud and clear demands for fair treatment. Yet at the recent national plenum of Jewish Communal Professionals in Washington, D.C., in response to the question "What if anything is being done about Jonathan Pollard?," the answer was "He is not on our radar screen."

This, while children and teachers in Jewish day schools across the United States are saying special prayers for pidyon shivuyim - the redemption of a captive that the religion considers to be a positive commandment. And while in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, private citizens regularly demonstrate at the Knesset and the Kotel on behalf of Jonathan Pollard.

That's what happened several weeks ago, on Yom Yerushalayim, in response to a statement issued by Pollard addressed to "My Brothers and Sisters, the whole House of Israel," which described the past 21 years of his life. He said that it has never been easy for him to get a message out from within his prison walls, but that he has "always deliberately avoided using the limited opportunities to communicate with the Israeli public to talk about my own private hell"; that he has "preferred to forego expressing my feelings of isolation, betrayal and abandonment; or speaking about my deteriorating health and the life-and-death nature of my daily existence"; that, instead, he has chosen to focus on the moral obligation never to abandon a wounded soldier in the field.

Israeli officials, he said, who for years claimed to be using "quiet diplomacy" for his release, while waiting for time to take its own effect, never imagined that the "Pollard problem" would still be around after all this time.

Israel's callous disregard for one of its agents is unconscionable. Pollard remains a Prisoner of Zion despite, if not because of, his very Zionism. Only Netanyahu, who said that he participated in and signed the Wye Plantation Accords with the explicit understanding that Pollard would be released, recognized that sad irony. Put plainly, Netanyahu was double-crossed by Bill Clinton.

What has kept Pollard going all these years is largely the support and encouragement of his wife, Esther; his rabbi, Mordecai Eliyahu (the former Chief Rabbi of Israel); and a small cadre of supporters around the world.

But now, he said, time is running out. With his U.S. legal appeals exhausted, he places responsibility for his fate squarely on the government of Israel. "My brothers and sisters! My desperate situation, the result of the Government's treachery and abandonment, is a chillul HaShem that screams to the Heavens. Where is the Nation? I cry out to you from the depths of my soul: Zion, hallo tishalee eht shlom assiraych? Zion, won't you seek the welfare of your captives! I do not fear for my own fate. Whatever Heaven decrees for me I will accept with love. But I am filled with dread for the fate of the Nation which I so love [which] continues to . . . ignore the divine commandment: 'Do not stand idly by your brother's blood . . .'

"I do not know how much time is left. I only hope and pray with all my might, for the sake of the Nation of Israel, that we will all wake up and do what needs to be done, now, before it is too late!"

Kenneth Lasson is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.