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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.

Many people, myself included, are pondering whether last week’s report that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard will be paroled from prison 30 years into his life sentence is actually part of the administration’s campaign to gain support from the Jewish community following its Iran deal. Tablet Magazine’s Lee Smith recently published an article on this topic which raises some serious concerns regarding the political underpinnings of Pollard’s case.  


As you may know, Pollard was arrested in 1985 for selling American secrets to Israel.  No one denies that spying against one's country is a crime that necessitates serious jail time. Notwithstanding this fact, Pollard has faced a much harsher punishment than others who have committed similar offenses. Smith begins by comparing the punishment of Pollard’s crime, giving secrets to an American ally, to that of Alrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, two high security officials who were caught spying on behalf of the Soviet Union.  


Ames and Hanssen—the first was responsible for CIA counterintelligence in Europe; the second was responsible for FBI counterintelligence at home—handed over the names of American spies in the Soviet Union, where they were then taken out and shot by the KGB. At the time, however, there was speculation that Pollard had given those names to the Israelis, which they then traded to Moscow in exchange for Soviet Jews. The reality of course is that Pollard was an analyst and would never have had access to that sort of information. This fact didn’t stop then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger from writing a secret memo to the sentencing judge incorrectly claiming that Pollard had committed high treason. It is partly because some in the anti-Pollard camp still believe he caused Americans and U.S. allies to be killed by the Russians that they want to see him rot in prison.


The article then explores some of the other sentiments surrounding Pollard’s lengthy life sentence:


Others, including many in the U.S. intelligence community, hate Pollard because he represents a failure on their part. Pollard had mental health issues and was a drug user, which is why he was stripped of his security clearances. After his clearances were restored and he was caught selling secrets, it highlighted yet another American counterintelligence failure. In both cases, the source of the decades-long vendetta against Pollard can fairly be described as a case of bureaucratic cover-ups run amuck. There are also those inside and outside the intelligence community who apparently wanted to teach “the Jews” a lesson by locking up Pollard and throwing away the key. As well, there are those in the pro-Pollard camp who believe he’s a hero for his service done to the Jewish state.


Smith then explains the political factors and ramifications involved in Pollard’s early release:


The White House is correct in perceiving that the Pollard case represents an enormously emotional issue that strikes a raw nerve with Jews and non-Jews alike. And it could be that this is why Pollard will be released in the Fall—to highlight the dual loyalty theme as the White House pushes the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) through Congress. They are possibly looking to communicate the following message: When you see opposition to the Iran deal, remember that American Jews have betrayed their country in the past and Israel has been disloyal to its superpower patron before. Get in line behind the Iran deal—unless you want to tar yourself as a traitor, like Jonathan Pollard.


However, the reality is that Pollard cannot and must not be defended as a Jew. Indeed, the paradox of the Pollard case is that to understand it as a special instance—e.g., he deserves especially harsh treatment in order to show that American Jews have no love for Jewish spies, or a special get-out-of-jail-free card for helping Israel—only feeds the flames of the noxious dual loyalty issue. Accordingly, the Pollard case should be properly understood in terms of American national security and the American justice system. It is right that he was sentenced to prison for breaking the law, but it is wrong that he has been forced to pay a much higher penalty than others who did the same. Pollard deserves fair treatment. Anything else is a problem for American Jews- and for America as a whole.


It would be most troubling if the White House is deliberately attempting to turn the debate about the Iran deal into a debate about the influence of rich, powerful Jews with suspect loyalties to their home country. The Iran deal shouldn’t be considered bad because Israel says so, but only because it’s bad for America. One has to be very careful when he or she allies their country with an obscurantist, anti-Semitic, criminal regime, not to adopt some of their tactics.


Have a great Shabbat!