Pol­lard the spy is no Zion­ist hero

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Miriam Sha­viv

EARLY THIS MONTH, Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres sent a per­sonal mis­sive to Barack Obama, ask­ing for clemency for con­victed spy Jonathan Pol­lard. The very next day, Obama re­jected the plea, prac­ti­cally by re­turn mail. Per­haps this was meant to make up for his re­ac­tion in Jan­uary 2011, when Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu is­sued Is­rael’s first for­mal ap­peal, and Obama never both­ered is­su­ing a re­sponse. Ei­ther way, his at­ti­tude, just like that of his pre­de­ces­sors, is per­fectly clear.

So why have the Is­raelis wasted pre­cious diplo­matic cap­i­tal on a sure loser? They are play­ing to the do­mes­tic au­di­ence. Sup­port for Pol­lard is a vote-win­ner, par­tic­u­larly on the right, where he is per­ceived to be a Zion­ist mar­tyr and vic­tim of an­tisemitism.

This is a re­sult of years of vig­or­ous cam­paign­ing by Pol­lard’s sup­port­ers. True Zion­ists, how­ever, should re­coil at the Pol­lard pub­lic­ity ma­chine, which makes a mock­ery of those who re­ally were will­ing to sac­ri­fice their lives and free­dom for Is­rael, such as the Soviet pris­on­ers or Is­rael’s miss­ing sol­diers.

Pol­lard was hardly an ide­o­logue — at least not un­til he was caught and needed the sup­port of Amer­ica’s Jews. He acted for money. His spy­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for Is­rael earned him tens of thou­sands of dol­lars and he ex­pected to earn up to half-a-mil­lion.

Nor did he care to which coun­try he sold Amer­ica’s se­crets. The Amer­i­cans al­lege that he at­tempted to pass doc­u­ments to Pak­istan, South Africa and Australia. Is­rael only be­came Pol­lard’s main client be­cause it alone would pay for his in­for­ma­tion.

So how was Pol­lard trans­formed into a Jewish hero? We are suck­ers for any nar­ra­tive in­volv­ing a Jewish con­vict for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons. His­tor­i­cally, pris­on­ers were of­ten sub­ject to mis­treat­ment and in­jus­tice — ac­cord­ing to Mai­monides, they may be “hun­gry, thirsty, un­clothed… in dan­ger of their lives” — so Jewish law made it a spe­cial mitz­vah to re­deem them.

Some­how, this im­per­a­tive, meant for kid­napped Jews in me­dieval times, has been trans­ferred to a man con­victed of ac­tual crimes in a coun­try ruled by law and or­der, the gold­eneh me­d­ina no less.

It was easy once the con­vict pro­fessed to have acted al­tru­is­ti­cally for the greater good of the Jewish peo­ple, styling him­self a vic­tim rather than a greedy crim­i­nal. The fact is, none of us knows the full ex­tent of the ma­te­rial Pol­lard be­trayed, where it ended up or whether it cost any Amer­i­can lives. As such, we are all in­her­ently un­qual­i­fied to state — as so many do — that Pol­lard has served “too much time” or “does not de­serve” the life sen­tence he was given.

For ev­ery ex­pert ar­gu­ing that Pol­lard has paid his dues, there is an­other ar­gu­ing the op­po­site. In any case, this is a red her­ring, as the Pol­lard cam­paign was go­ing strong be­fore he had been in jail for a decade. For some peo­ple, ap­par­ently, any jail time was too much.

Ul­ti­mately, if the Amer­i­cans de­cide to par­don Pol­lard, or re­lease him on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds, that is their af­fair. It is the turn­ing of him into a Zion­ist hero to which I ob­ject — as well as the price that Is­rael will be asked to pay for his free­dom.

Make no mis­take. If and when an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent does free Pol­lard, Is­rael will be asked to of­fer up some sub­stan­tial sac­ri­fice in re­turn — per­haps an­other freeze of set­tle­ment-build­ing or ter­ri­to­rial com­pro­mise with the Pales­tini­ans.

These ges­tures have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for Is­rael’s fu­ture, and the coun­try should only of­fer them in re­turn for ar­range­ments that in­crease its strate­gic ad­van­tage in the re­gion or make a gen­uine dif­fer­ence to the peace process. They should not be bar­gained away in re­turn for a James Bond wannabe who was will­ing to sell out to Pak­istan.

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