Misguided Support for Spy With Misguided Loyalties

Despite the gravity of the crime, many American Jews and Israelis still plead for Pollard's clemency

IT'S time for the Israelis to stop whining about Jonathan Jay Pollard, the United States Navy civilian intelligence analyst who was caught spying for them 10 years ago.

Mr. Pollard was arrested Nov. 21, 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, where he had gone in an unsuccessful quest for asylum. He pleaded guilty to espionage and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The United States was angry, and Israel was embarrassed, but that's not unusual when friends spy on each other, as they do, despite protestations to the contrary. If everyone had shut up, that would have been the end of it.

But after an initial period of confusion, the Israelis have refused to shut up. One prime minister after another has badgered American presidents (both Bush and Clinton) for clemency. Members of the Israeli parliament have signed petitions for clemency. And most recently, on the 10th anniversary of Pollard's arrest, the Israeli government made Pollard an Israeli citizen, though he remains in a federal prison cell in Butner, N.C.

This constant agitation not only rubs a raw spot in US-Israeli relations, it overlooks the gravity of what Pollard did. In little more than a year, he delivered to the Israelis a 10-by-6-by-6-foot pile of classified documents. The Israelis paid him $45,000 in cash and promised him $300,000 more.

In 1985, this was the most massive compromise ever of US classified documents. There was material with code-word classifications more sensitive than top secret. There were descriptions of covert intelligence programs, the identities of undercover agents, and a manual on US capabilities to intercept and decode communications of other countries. Some of this was possibly passed on to other countries. Its sensitivity is highlighted by the fact that it was withheld from Israel under a long-standing intergovernmental agreement to share intelligence.

Still spying

Pollard is more than unrepentant: Even from prison, he tries to continue his espionage. The Defense Department has caught him including more classified information in letters he writes from jail.

This should be enough to convince any skeptics. But first Pollard and later his supporters in the American Jewish community and the Israeli government have tried to twist the case to play down the enormity of the offense and to emphasize the enormity of the punishment. A second theme has been introduced: It is argued that the offense is mitigated because the espionage was for a friendly country, Israel, and Pollard is a Jew.

Pollard's interest in this distortion is understandable. He's grasping at straws to avoid spending the rest of his life in a federal prison. Others involved should think further about the implications of what they are doing.

Claiming no harm to the US

In an interview while he was in jail, even before he was sentenced, Pollard asserted the curious point of view that although he had committed a crime, he had not hurt the US. This is essentially the same argument that Oliver North made in justifying his illegal activities during the Iran-contra scandal.

Pollard also said he was a "loyal son" of Israel. He felt abandoned by the Israeli government and the US Jewish community.

Every spy knows he will be abandoned if he is caught; that's one of the rules of espionage. What makes Pollard different - being a Jew? And where is the US Jewish community's loyalty supposed to run - to the US or to a spy who betrayed the US and who happens to be Jewish?

Proclaiming one's loyalty to a foreign country is a peculiar way to approach the US government with a plea for clemency. But Pollard is getting support from elements in the Jewish community.The World Jewish Congress has called for his sentence to be commuted to time served. There have been full-page ads in The New York Times, one signed by 1,000 rabbis, in which the American Zionist Movement and others pleaded for "justice."

Symbolic citizenship

And now Pollard is an Israeli citizen. This has no legal effect on his status in the US, but its symbolic effect is enormous. In 10 years, the Israeli government has moved full circle from disavowal to support.

Hyman Bookbinder, a respected American Jewish elder statesman, put the matter in the proper perspective when the Pollard case was still relatively new: "If it was perceived in America that we had come to the defense of Pollard because he's a Jew, our credibility as a Jewish community would be down to zero overnight and Israel would be the loser." And the Jewish community itself would be tainted by its misguided support of a spy with misguided loyalties.

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