Reprinted from The Long Island Jewish World of December 19, 1997
Now in his 12th year of a life sentence, Jonathan Pollard has already served more than twice as long as anyone who has committed a similar offense.
The government has tried to deflect criticism of the excessive and questionably motivated sentence by insisting that Pollard was a mercenary who passed classified material to Israel for monetary gain, rather than a Zionist ideologue distraught at his discovery of an undeclared intelligence embargo against the Jewish state. These allegations continue to influence Clinton Administration officials charged with making recommendations to the president on Pollard's fate. But a close examination of the facts raises questions about the motives of those making the allegations, not about Pollard himself.
It is clear that Pollard sought out the Israelis and volunteered to give, not sell, information to them. For approximately six and a half months, he worked without receiving any payment for the material he turned over to his Israeli contact. After that, Pollard was told by his handlers that if he wanted to continue helping Israel, he would have to accept money for operational expenses. Pollard protested, but the Israelis maintained that "changed circumstances" had dictated a modification of the original arrangement.
Contrary to what many people have been led to believe, all of the funds given to Pollard were strictly monitored, and amounted to less than $50,000. There were, however, some costs which Pollard was asked to cover on his own. Although this requirement eventually left him with a four-figure debt, Pollard nevertheless made it very clear to his Israeli contacts that there were limits on what he would provide them. Given the dangerous position Pollard was in at the time, his uncompromising stand on this matter totally refutes the government's distorted portrayal of him as a mercenary who was prepared to sell the Israelis literally anything for which they were willing to pay.
Former Deputy Attorney General Phillip Heymann raised this question with Israeli officials during his review of Pollard's initial commutation appeal, and was satisfied with their response. Pollard was an ideologically motivated spy who eventually and reluctantly accepted Israeli money. Government investigators also confirmed that there were, indeed, certain types of information which Pollard had absolutely refused to compromise, regardless of how much money he was offered. These reportedly included such things as U.S. war plans, codes and the identities of agents operating in Israel. A mercenary would never have drawn such red lines--quite the contrary!
Intelligence services know that it is extremely difficult to manage an idealist, and thus it is standard practice to use money to assert greater control over an ideologically motivated agent. This didn't exactly work as planned with Pollard. Much to the discomfort of his Israeli handlers, Pollard wrote a letter to them indicating his unequivocal intention to repay all the funds he had received. It came as no surprise, then, that Pollard's ideological bona fides were subsequently confirmed by numerous polygraph tests administered by the FBI-tests, it should be noted, which were "lost" days before Pollard was sentenced and, to this day, have not been recovered.
The sentencing judge, Aubrey Robinson, chose not to fine Pollard--a penalty typically imposed on individuals who have spied for mercenary reasons. Indeed, given Robinson's hostility towards Pollard, as evidenced by the life sentence, it is reasonable to assume that he would gladly have imposed the stiffest fine possible had there been any evidence even suggesting that money was a factor in prompting Pollard to spy for Israel.
To really appreciate the significance of the Judge's decision, though, one has to bear in mind that Robinson was fully aware of a controversial secret Swiss bank account which had been opened for Pollard by his Israeli handlers. This account always seems to be invoked by those who want to use it as proof of Pollard's venality. The judge, however, obviously viewed this issue within the context of Pollard's gradual transformation from a volunteer to a paid Israeli agent who had also been given an Israeli passport, a code name and a new identity. Pollard's intention to repay the funds he'd originally received from the Israelis was actually part of the man's desperate last-minute effort to clear his conscience before he assumed the role of a professional covert intelligence operative.
Granted, all this may seem extremely convoluted to those of us who are unacquainted with the murky world of espionage. But to the judge, at least, Pollard's motives were so unambiguously ideological that he simply refused to believe Pollard's genuinely heartfelt expressions of remorse. One can only imagine how devastated Pollard must have felt at sentencing when he realized the full implications of this Catch-22.
I suspect the whole controversy surrounding Pollard's character can be traced back to a number of problems with which the prosecutors had to contend. Foremost among these was the fact that they were unable to provide the court with concrete examples of Pollard having actually harmed our national security. The government's response to this potentially embarrassing situation was simple and effective: Intelligence officials merely made sure that the damage assessment of Pollard's actions was classified and inaccessible for public review. Thus shielded, the prosecutors were free to present the sentencing judge with a document that was more appropriate in a star chamber than an American court.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this submission was the fact that it was offered by then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whose hatred of Israel was almost out of control at the time. Consisting of a series of highly improbable worst-case scenarios, Weinberger's damage assessment was a thinly veiled attempt to portray Israel as a reckless and unreliable ally that would misuse the materials provided by Pollard, either to upset the Middle East balance of power or to purchase favors from the Soviet Union.
If this were not bad enough, Weinberger ended his diatribe by accusing Pollard of being a "traitor." Of course, the fact that this charge was totally groundless made little difference to Weinberger, whose public pronouncements on the matter were quickly followed by a rash of leaks from unnamed government sources falsely blaming Pollard for compromising the identities of numerous high-level Soviet informants, at least ten of whom were subsequently executed (their betrayal was later found to be the work of traitor Aldrich Ames). As far as the public was concerned, then, Pollard was not only a greed-driven traitor, but a murderer, as well.
Yet it would be a mistake to assume that Pollard was the principal target of this well-orchestrated disinformation campaign. After all, if Pollard were some sort of latter-day Benedict Arnold, who was the "enemy" he served? Israel, clearly. What is not so clear, however, is why so many people allowed the unwarranted trashing of Pollard's character to be used as an indirect means of undermining the perception of Israel as one of our country's most loyal and dependable allies. Did they fear that condemning the government's blatant misrepresentation of Pollard's motives would be misconstrued as endorsing what he did? Sadly, judging by the continued refusal to address these issues, it would seem that fear has indeed triumphed over common decency.
During the punishment phase of an espionage trial, a judge is supposed to weigh three critical factors: motives, harm and benefit. This is why morally corrupt individuals caught spying for hostile states are usually given extremely harsh sentences, even if the actual damage they caused wasn't that substantial. In Pollard's case, although the country he spied for was legally defined as a major non-NATO ally, the government's key witness, Caspar Weinberger, successfully maneuvered the judge into believing an extremely biased assessment of Pollard's actions which was more a reflection of the former secretary's animosity towards Israel than it was an objective appraisal of the facts.
But if it was this document-perhaps more than anything else-which prejudiced the judge against Pollard, it was the issue of motives which the defense and intelligence communities hammered away at in the press. And this, despite the fact that Pollard's indictment did not accuse him of intending to injure the United States. So what was it, then, that compelled these agencies to drag both Pollard and, by extension, his cause, through the mud?
Evidently, there were some powerful individuals within our national security establishment who felt that it was absolutely necessary to destroy Pollard's credibility as a witness to an undeclared intelligence embargo against Israel, which had been instituted by Weinberger and Bobby Ray Inman. The fact that mischaracterizing Pollard as a mercenary played on a dangerous anti-Semitic stereotype was of no concern to them. To the extent that Pollard could be seen as motivated by personal greed, his testimony concerning the existence of a covert policy of withholding vital information from Israel would be totally discredited. After all, who would be believed-a highly esteemed secretary of Defense, or a man who purportedly sold his soul to Mammon?
Now that this false portrait of Pollard has finally been exposed, one can only hope that government officials will no longer try to use Pollard's supposed moral turpitude as a means of obscuring their anti-Israel agenda.
Pollard was guilty of a crime and deserved to be punished. That much we can all agree on. But his actions, however misguided, did not harm the United States and were motivated solely by his concern for Israel and the Jewish people.
It is high time, then, that those who believe in justice should bring an end to his unjustified ordeal. If we refuse to do this, then it will be our collective character that history will condemn, not Pollard's deed.
Rabbi Avi Weiss is National president of Coalition For Jewish Concerns. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman is Chancellor of Bar Ilan university of Israel.