Why Jonathan Pollard is a national hero in Israel
On July 13 of this year, the municipal government of Jerusalem honored one of Israel’s most popular national heroes, a man who had suffered and sacrificed his all for the Jewish state, and is recognized by practically everyone as not only a hero but a modern exemplar of Zionist virtue. As evening fell, lights illuminating the walls of the Old City were dimmed “as a gesture of solidarity with convicted spy Jonathan Pollard,” reported Ha’aretz. “As part of Tuesday’s event, a special message calling upon US President Barack Obama to release Pollard will be projected onto the darkened city walls.” July 13 marked the 9,000th day of his incarceration.
Yes, in Israel they’re counting the days until this traitor is released, and their message – hand the traitor over – is now being projected by Israeli negotiators, who are pressing the US for Pollard’s release in exchange for yet another temporary halt to their aggressive “settlement” building campaign. The settlements have become a big sticking point obstructing the peace process, with unelected Palestinian “President” Mahmoud Abbas threatening to walk if the Israelis don’t lay off.
This illustrates what I call the Pollard principle: whenever there’s a showdown between the US and Israel, a difficult negotiation involving some concession the hard-headed Israelis refuse to budge on, the Israeli side always raises the Pollard issue. It was raised during the Wye negotiations, and Bill Clinton toyed with the idea until then CIA chief George Tenet and a whole raft of intelligence and military officials threatened to resign in protest.
The enormity of Pollard’s crime is largely forgotten, today, but several former US government officials have testified to it, including Caspar Weinberger, who wrote in a 46-page memorandum detailing the damage done by Pollard’s treason:
“It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,’ to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in the view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”
Seymour Hersh got the goods on Pollard in a 1999 New Yorker piece in which he reports two schools of thought within the intelligence community on the Pollard case: those who believe “the Israelis repackaged much of Pollard’s material and provided it to the Soviet Union in exchange for continued Soviet permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel,” and those who “go further,” and point out that a great deal of Pollard’s thievery – directed, as it was, by his Israeli handlers – involved information valuable only to the Soviets.
This suggests active Israeli-Soviet collusion, a case made by CIA director William J. Casey, who, reports Hersh, “stunned one of his station chiefs by suddenly complaining about the Israelis breaking the ‘ground rules.’ The issue arose when Casey urged increased monitoring of the Israelis during an otherwise routine visit, I was told by the station chief, who is now retired. ‘He asked if I knew anything about the Pollard case,’ the station chief recalled, and he said that Casey had added, ‘For your information, the Israelis used Pollard to obtain our attack plan against the U.S.S.R. all of it. The coordinates, the firing locations, the sequences. And for guess who? The Soviets.’ Casey had then explained that the Israelis had traded the Pollard data for Soviet emigres. ‘How’s that for cheating?’ he had asked.”
Cheating – and chutzpah: that just about sums up the Israeli perspective in a phrase, with the latter now coming to the fore as Laura Rozen reports:
“Israeli officials are mulling a possible deal under which Israel would extend a partial West Bank settlement freeze due to expire later this month in exchange for the U.S. releasing Jonathan Pollard, serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, Israel Army Radio News reported, via the English-language Israeli Press Review”
“’Officials in Jerusalem are examining an initiative in which the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria will be extended in exchange for the release of the Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard, from prison in the U.S. The proponents of the initiative assess that this would enable many of the right wing ministers to swallow the bitter pill, as they put it, of extending the freeze.”<
“A political source said that this possibility also arose in a discussion held by the Prime Minister’s Bureau, but said that it was one of many ideas. A private source, who has ties with Palestinian and American officials, says that a few days ago an associate of the prime minister asked him to check secretly and unofficially with administration officials whether such an initiative was feasible. The source conveyed the request, but it is not known how, if at all, the Americans responded to the idea. In addition, various sources say that in public opinion polls held recently by the Prime Minister’s Bureau, the respondents were asked whether they would support an extension to the freeze in exchange for Pollard’s release.’”
In a later update, Rozen reported a US official saying: “”Israeli officials have inquired about Jonathan Pollard before and have again.” Yes, and they’ll continue to inquire about Pollard until he’s released, because for them he is a real national hero, a living martyr to the extremist idea that Zionism means putting Israel first, over and above the interests and security of one’s own country. That’s why they lionize him, and continually demand his release: it reinforces the idea of dual loyalty as a political and even a religious duty – a nutty concept overwhelmingly rejected by the vast majority of American Jews, and ironically embraced by anti-Semites.
I don’t think President Obama is going to be so foolish as to even consider releasing Pollard or otherwise ameliorating his current status as a lifer: this White House is in enough trouble with the military, what with don’t-ask-don’t-tell, and releasing Pollard runs the risk of an open rift – although I’m sure Leon Panetta wouldn’t even consider resigning over it.
What’s interesting about this latest wrinkle in the Pollard saga is the reality it drives home to us: how the rise of a virulent Israeli nationalism has made an American traitor into a national hero. Here, after all, is a man whose actions cost the lives of American agents inside the Soviet Union. By all rights, he should have been executed, but there he is today, a living breathing example of Israel’s transformation from unpredictable ally to rogue state.
That they are using Pollard to hold the peace process hostage points to the utter contempt the Israelis have for the whole procedure. It dramatizes not only the intransigence and rising ultra-nationalism of the Israeli body politic, but also underscores its militant anti-Americanism. – and flatly contradicts the Israel lobby’s fanciful picture of the US and Israel as brothers joined at the hip.
What I want to know is this: how did Pollard, a relatively low-level cog in the US national security bureaucracy, even gain access to the crown jewels of the US intelligence apparatus, without having access to information that was well above his pay grade? Some theorize he was being directed by an administration insider with access to the coding system that was key to fulfilling the Israelis’ very specific intelligence needs. Somehow, Pollard always knew just where to look to find what his Israeli paymasters wanted, a fact that convinced US intelligence officials he must have had an insider accomplice, and the hunt for “Mr. X” seems to be a project ongoing even to this day.
Which raises an interesting possibility. We should offer to let Pollard go – on the condition they deliver “Mr. X” to our tender mercies. And, if not, who knows, we might even re-start the quashed investigation into this aspect of the Pollard affair, and make the results public. I wonder what that would do to Israel’s approval ratings: probably nothing good.
What the Israelis are depending on, as they spy on us, and otherwise abuse our generosity and naivete, is the power of their American lobby to bring pressure to bear where and when it’s needed. In the past, the success of what amounts to an Israeli fifth column in Washington – made possible, in large part, by the enormous flow of practically unregulated money that the lobby has been able to legally direct to its favored candidates – has been virtually unchallenged. Today, however, there is growing awareness of the distorting effects the Israel lobby has had on the American political process, and the tide is beginning to turn.
The turning of that tide can in large part be credited to – or blamed on – the tin ear of the Israeli government and its US cheering section when it comes to influencing American opinion. At a time when the memory of the Gaza aid flotilla is barely faded from memory, and the ongoing victimization of the Palestinians is daily dramatized in the headlines, do they really want to re-open the Pollard case? Is that really the smart thing to do?
In Israel, they’re equating Pollard’s continued incarceration with the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. From the perspective of the crazed radicalism that is increasingly a power in the land of Israel, they are equivalent, because the US is considered as much an enemy as Hamas and the Palestinians. Anyone and everyone who stands in the way of Greater Israel is considered the enemy: their extremist worldview, rooted in ultra-nationalism and religious fundamentalism, pits Israel against the whole world. In this sense, the campaign to free Pollard is an extreme expression of the general principle underlying Israeli foreign policy and the official ideology of the regime, which has increasingly taken on the characteristics of what US policymakers would normally call a “rogue state.”
The “free Pollard” campaign also raises another question, and it is this: if the Israelis have valorized Pollard, a convicted spy and a traitor to his own country, to this extent, and made such a diplomatic and domestic issue out of his fate, then what does this say about the current extent of Israeli spying on and in the US? How many more such “heroes” are doing their dirty work on US soil?
Justin Raimondo is a regular contributor to The American ConservativeChronicles magazine. In addition to his thrice-weekly column for antiwar.com, he also writes two columns a month for Taki’s Top Drawer. He is the author of several books. This article first appeared in Antiwar.com