January 23, 2006

Jonathan Pollard is My Hero

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:31 pm by yisraelmedad

Earlier this month, a small get-together was held for the members of the Israeli intelligence operation in Egypt who were incarcerated there for 13 years. They obtained their release to Israel only following the Six Day War. The operation, actually quite unintelligible in hindsight, was dubbed the “Dirty Business” [and later, “the Lavon Affair”] when no one came forward to take responsibility at the time. Subsequently, the government fell. In the 1960s, when David Ben-Gurion reopened the investigation into the affair, it tore Mapai apart and led to recriminations that reverberate to this day.

At this month’s gathering, Meir Amit, former Mossad head, stated that the release of the Egyptian Jewish victims of a botched operation could have been effected sooner if not for “neglect and idleness.” His words are a woeful condemnation of the mindset and the insular thinking which marks the peculiar character of the average Israeli politician as well as our own special brand of civil servant.

Coincidentally, this month also marked a date linked with another Israeli security operation with unsympathetic parallels (not to mention a possible rerun of the political fall-out). On March 5,1986, Jonathan and Anne Pollard were sentenced to terms of life and five years imprisonment respectively, for their roles in providing Israel with highly sensitive American intelligence data relating to Arab military buildup. Many of the details have undergone purposeful misinterpretation, such as the impression that Ann Pollard was a spy – which she wasn’t.

Be this as it may, Jonathan is in his fourth year of solitary confinement. Ann is the sole female resident of the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota. She weights 89 pounds, down from 165, and an esteemed gastroentrologist of 30 years practice termed her condition behind bars as “lethal” and “malignant.” Her prison doctor has taken away all medication to prevent addiction. Magistrate Janice Symchych refused her a medical furlough to obtain private care.

Having been involved with the Pollards for some time, I think that Purim is a particularly poignant time to reconsider some aspects of their tribulations. In fact, I consider Jonathan Pollard my Purim hero.

In the Meggilah, Mordechai does not mince words in making it clear to Esther that her position as queen is not for her own personal convenience. Her silence in the face of a threat to the Jewish people will not only be unhelpful in the extreme but it will not aid her either: “Do not imagine that you will escape…for if you are quiet…you and your father’s house will perish.” (4:13-14)

Jonathan Pollard was not silent. Reviewing the material that passed through Naval Anti-Terrorist Intelligence, and knowing the less-than-enthusiastic appreciation some of his fellow workers had for Israel and Jews, he decided to do something. Rereading his letters and memoranda contained in the book, “Pollard: The Spy’s Story,” as well as the letters he sent me, it is obvious that for all his amateurish espionage habits, Jonathan Pollard is acutely aware of the historical dimensions of what it means to be a Jew.

Indeed, Jonathan is a “Prisoner of Zion” in the keenest ideological sense of the expression. Zion had made him its prisoner. The Zion of Jewish survival, the Zion of the centrality of Israel to Jewish existence, had placed upon his shoulders the awesome responsibility of circumventing laws to assure that chemical weaponry data, among other items of security intelligence withheld from Israel despite a signed American-Israeli agreement, would get to Israel.

Without the information supplied by Pollard, Israel would have been offset in the battle against the PLO – the same group Secretary of State James Baker is nudging us to negotiate with. It was Jonathan’s initiative, and he had no illusions as to the gravity of his actions.

However, now that he is a prisoner, Israel’s official policies seem so inadequate, so unconcentrated, that the Zion of Jonathan’s vision has become an active partner in keeping him a prisoner, rather than gaining his early release, and, at the very least, halt the terrible physical waste US prison and Justice Department officials are bringing down on his wife, Ann, which MK Rabbi Eliezer Waldman witnessed in his visit to her on March 9 in Rochester.

Indeed, Israel’s silence, despite its private humanitarian appeals on their behalf, is unworthy of Jonathan’s very public suffering. The rejection of his request for Israeli citizenship bordered on the callous.

An exegetic interpretation of another verse of the Meggilah may provide the direction for a reordering of priorities. Chapter Five opens with the words: “Esther donned royalty.” A jaded eye might have expected to read that Esther would prefer a ecdysiast duplication of Vashti to attract the king’s favor. My reading, though, is that the message is that it is useless to shed any outer layers or to bend the knee. To stand tall with all the Jewish finery one possesses – to don royalty – is the proper response.

Jonathan Pollard’s prison clothes as well as the bars on his cell and walls surrounding him are all external. Jonathan is garbed with an internal suit of belief, commitment and faith. His actions were a donning of royalty.

Will we in Israel, the cause of his privations and object of his sacrifice, learn to dress in the correct fashion?

Purim is not only a happy holiday but a heroic one as well. Simply put, Jonathan Pollard is our hero.

(published in The Jerusalem Post, March 1989, on Purim)

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