American Jewish leaders are walking a thin line between expressing faithful support for Israel and overtly criticizing Israeli actors in the Pollard spy case. The issue is topping the agenda of this week's talks between Israeli leaders and a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations. The American Jewish leaders have taken a public stand in support of Israel's investigation of the Pollard affair and say they do not intend to dictate policy to Israel. But privately, they are reportedly pushing the Israeli government to take more corrective measures.
The delegation has been generally well received by both Israeli officials and the public. It is widely understood here that the Jewish leaders are echoing real security concerns they have heard from top United States officials, and not just their own worries over the Pollard case. Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American Jew and Navy intelligence analyst, was sentenced in Washington to a life term this month for spying for Israel.
Israeli receptiveness to American Jewish opinion has been enhanced by widespread concern over possible damage to American Jews' standing.
There has also been some criticism of the extent of American Jewish condemnation of Mr. Pollard. Hebrew University professor Shlomo Avineri, a former director of the Foreign Ministry, wrote in the Jerusalem Post daily that American Jews were running scared in the aftermath of the Pollard trial.
The loud condemnation of Pollard by American Jews, Mr. Avineri wrote, showed that they were afraid of anti-Jewish feelings. The special effort to criticize Pollard, he continued, betrayed a ``diaspora mentality'' of insecurity in the gentile world, despite claims by American Jews that they were an equal and integral part of American society.
Conference chairman Morris Abram told a press conference yesterday, after he met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, that Israel had made a serious error in promoting two of Pollard's handlers. Col. Aviem Sella, who has been indicted in the US on espionage charges, was recently named head of a major Israeli air base. Rafael Eitan, who headed the Defense Ministry unit that ``handled'' Pollard, was appointed head the state-run Israeli Chemicals firm.
``The placement of Colonel Sella in command of that air base was a serious and irresponsible act,'' Mr. Abram said. ``The Eitan act was a damaging act.'' Abram said the appointments were ``a grievous matter'' and a ``very deep wound that needs to be addressed.''
However, Abram expressed confidence in the Israeli probes of the case being carried out by an investigation team and a parliamentary subcommittee. He compared the inquiries to US legislative investigations of the Iran arms deal, though the Israeli investigators cannot subpoena witnesses or have them testify under oath. ``I believe both of these great functioning democracies will have the self-correcting mechanism of faith, credibility, and responsibility...,'' Abram said.
Abram's comments appeared designed to dispel the impression that American Jews were uneasy about a possible anti-Semitic backlash. He said his delegation had come to Israel ``as secure and confident Americans,'' adding that he was concerned solely about the effect of the Pollard case on Israel, not on American Jewry. He repeated his previous condemnation of Pollard, who he said ``showed no mercy for the US ... and has not shown deep concern for any other than himself.''
Abram said he did not believe Washington was conducting a vendetta against Israel. In the long term, the Pollard case would be only a ``bump on the road'' of firm US-Israeli relations.
Reuters reports: US Army Secretary John Marsh is on a week-long visit to Israel. The trip is seen aimed at reaffirming military ties while spelling out US concern over the Pollard case. Mr. Marsh will meet officials, but avoid Sella, who heads Israel's second biggest air base.