Jonathan Pollard Is No Prisoner of Zion

Let's reserve the celebratory receptions and torch-lighting honors for our real heroes.

Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus
Israelis hold placards depicting Jonathan Pollard during a protest calling for his release from a U.S. prison.
Israelis hold placards depicting Jonathan Pollard during a protest calling for his release from a U.S. prison.Credit: Reuters
Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus

Jonathan Pollard, who is to be paroled in November after 30 years behind bars, is no prisoner of Zion, much less a national hero. I have no desire to cry over the long prison sentence he received. If there are any tears to be shed, they should be over the stupidity and irresponsibility of the people who recruited someone like him into Israel’s celebrated intelligence service.

Israel may have changed his name from Jonathan to Yonatan and given him an Israeli ID card while he was still in prison. But that doesn’t make him a selfless Israeli patriot. He was a small spy who was originally rejected by the Mossad, and was willing to work not only on Israel’s behalf. After his first meeting with the Israeli representative, he told his wife at the time, Anne, about the financial arrangements. She said it was insufficient and that he could do better. She knew what she was talking about: In one of her first meetings with a senior Israeli officer who was posted to Washington at the time, she received an expensive fur coat as a gift.

Rafi Eitan – who recruited Jonathan Pollard for a position that was beyond his jurisdiction as head of the Bureau of Scientific Relations – later claimed that Pollard provided Israel with astonishing materials. Incidentally, not one person in the corridors of power in Israel questioned their provenance. It was not by chance that Joseph E. diGenova – the prosecutor in Pollard’s case – declared, after leaving the courtroom where he had just seen him sentenced to 30 years in jail, that Pollard would never see the light of day. The administration was furious not only about Israel’s chutzpah, but also over its own security failure.

Pollard had an excellent memory, and his assignment to a library filled with highly classified documents turned him – in the eyes of American security officials – into a “walking library.” He didn’t need to leave the office with briefcases filled with documents; his memory was sufficient. If they could, the Americans would have kept him in prison until his dying day. As a result of Pollard’s actions, the entire intelligence operations of the U.S. Navy had to be turned upside down, and it cost a fortune to repair the damage. That’s also the reason why, even after serving 30 years in prison, Pollard will be barred from leaving the United States for an additional five years. They want to continue to keep an eye on him.

Back in the day, David Ben-Gurion set down an ironclad rule according to which no Jew was to work as a spy within their own community – as a way to head off anti-Semitism. Had that rule been adopted, the Pollard affair would never have happened. Both of the deputy attorneys general who served under U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, and who dealt directly with the Pollard case, were Jews. One of them, who at the time was celebrating a grandson’s bar mitzvah, told Israeli representatives that if Israel were to object to the imposition of an appropriate sentence on Pollard, a cloud of anti-Semitism would hang over America.

Israel erred when it argued that Pollard acted solely out of concern for Israel’s security, and that he stole “only documents connected to Israeli security.” It erred when it waged a campaign against the U.S. justice system, and when it claimed that Pollard was imprisoned six times longer than any other spy. Eitan erred when he yielded to the temptation to use Pollard in the first place, without considering the damage that would be caused to American Jewry if he were caught.

Eitan presumably realized the gravity of his error when Pollard sought asylum from the FBI in the Israeli Embassy in Washington – and Eitan used the hotline to order the embassy not to let him in. Eitan has never expressed regret about that difficult decision. Such is the spy’s fate: to be denied by his masters if he is caught.

Eitan, now 88, has done well for himself, transitioning from espionage to business in Cuba, from which he brings fine cigars for his friends. He even chalked up a stint in Israel’s cabinet, representing the Pensioners Party. Pollard might be having slightly less fun, but he’s not a prisoner of Zion, an Israeli hero or Dreyfus. Let him stay in the United States, and we’ll reserve the celebratory receptions and torch-lighting honors for our real heroes.

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