Spying For A Democratic Ally Is Not The Same As Spying For A Totalitarian Regime
October 15, 1997 - Dennis Prager - Prager Perspective - Issue 30
Imagine it is 1940, and Great Britain is fighting Hitler's Nazi Germany
almost alone. Imagine further that an American who loved both America
and England and hated the Nazis worked in American Intelligence and had
access to secret files concerning Germany that, for whatever reason, the
United States had not shared with Great Britain. This American gave the
secrets to England and was caught.
This spy had, of course, violated both American law and the trust that
its intelligence agencies had placed in him. Now, the question is what
should be done to him? Specifically, should we regard him morally or
legally as the same as an American who spied for Germany?
The answer is so obvious that only in a morally confused age such as
ours would the question even be entertained. Yet this is precisely the
question to be asked with regard to Jonathan Pollard, the American who
spied for Israel.
Let us review the parallels to the imaginary situation outlined earlier.
Israel has been at perpetual war for its survival (a threat that England
never faced against Germany, which wanted to vanquish, not end, its
existence). An American who loved both America and Israel, used his
access to American intelligence on those Arab regimes and passed it on
to Israel. He spied on behalf of America's most loyal allies, not on
behalf of any of America's enemies, and he gave away secrets about Arab
regimes devoted to Israel's destruction not, to the best of our
knowledge, about America. And, unlike spies whose espionage cost the
lives of American and pro-American foreign agents, we know of no
American and pro-American foreigner who lost his life because of
Yet Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence in prison - more
punishment than some Americans who have spied on behalf of America's
enemies, and certainly more punishment that nearly all the murderers in
America; and he has now languished in prison, often in solitary
confinement, for 12 years.
The argument that Pollard was a spy, and that is all that matters, may
be legally valid, but it is not morally valid. The argument that "spying
is spying" is no more moral than "killing is killing". Circumstances
always determine the morality of an act. Just as most of us distinguish
morally between terrorists killing innocents and anti-terrorists killing
terrorists, most of us morally distinguish between spying on a
democratic ally, especially one fighting for its existence, and spying
for an anti-democratic enemy such as the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the
United States spies on Israel and probably on most of its other allies.
Last year, for example, Germany expelled an American for spying on
None of this is meant to defend what Jonathan Pollard did. Unless he
actually saved Israel from something as awful as an Iraqi biological or
nuclear attack what he did is unjustifiable. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg
recently wrote, "Pollard's good intentions paved the way to political
hell." I am writing only to morally evaluate what he did in light of the
suffering he has endured, and to compare his punishments with those
given to other American spies and to violent criminals.
He is largely a broken man who suffers alone, and who, for reasons that
are not our business but that compel our compassion, has also suffered
family crises. His continued suffering serves no good purpose. Again as
Rabbi Greenberg, one of the most credible voices in American Jewry, and
someone for who, in his own words, "was not one of those who expressed
sympathy for him when the case first broke," wrote, "I have come to the
conclusion that enough is enough...It is time to extend mercy to
Jonathan Pollard....(There has been a) relentless parade of parallel cases
in which far more damaging and dangerous spies received milder
We quickly learn of the damage done to America by those who have spied
on behalf of America's enemies, and no damage has been revealed in
Jonathan Pollard's case. It makes one wonder why former Secretary of
Defense Caspar Weinberger so vociferously sought to keep Pollard in
prison. Two reasons suggest themselves. One is that, for whatever
reason, Mr. Weinberger has a particular loathing for Pollard; the other
is that he may fear that if Pollard is released, Pollard will reveal how
much sensitive data about Israel's enemies the Weinberger Defense
Department kept from Israel. I have no proof for either claim - I hope
they are untrue. But neither Mr. Weinberger nor anyone else, including
the entire American Media has offered any data that argue for the
treatment Pollard has received.
Enough is enough. As I watch America release thousands of murderers and
child molesters after a few years in prison, and give a spy for Saudi
no prison term at all, I get progressively more disturbed and
curious as to why Jonathan Pollard is still in prison.