The expressions of shock and indignation that accompanied Edward Snowden’s revelations that the United States uses signal intelligence assets to spy on its allies were more than a little disingenuous. Everybody knows that everybody spies on everybody. If Germany’s spy agencies can, they are most certainly listening to the cellphones of friendly leaders from Washington to Paris. Allies routinely use signals intelligence, and human intelligence and everything in between to uncover information that their allies seek to keep from them.
In the case of the US and Israel, US government agencies have been involved not merely in spying against Israel, but in bids to undermine American public support for Israel almost since the establishment of the Jewish state.
According to a new history of the CIA’s involvement in the Middle East, America’s Great Game, reviewed this week in The Wall Street Journal, in 1951 Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA’s operations chief in the Middle East set up a fake anti-Israel lobby in Washington called American Friends of the Middle East. Its job was to weaken popular support for the Jewish state. The CIA’s anti-Israel front group operated for 16 years, until the fact that it was a CIA front group was exposed in 1967 by the far-left Ramparts magazine.
And this brings us to Jonathan Pollard, the American Jewish naval intelligence analyst who is now serving the 28th year of his life sentence for transferring classified materials to Israel.
Snowden’s revelations and the story of the CIA’s anti-Israel front group in Washington make clear that US indignation over Israel’s fielding of an agent in Washington was equal parts self-righteousness and hypocrisy. There was nothing extraordinary in Israel’s efforts to gain information that its American ally didn’t wish to share with it. Allies spy on each other. And they use sympathetic locals to achieve their ends. South Korean Americans have been caught spying for South Korea. Taiwanese Americans have been caught spying for Taiwan, and so on.
US prosecutors prosecuted, and US judges convicted these agents of friendly countries for their criminal activities. The average prison term meted out to such agents of friendly governments runs from four to seven years. Their average time served in prison is two to four years.
Pollard was different not because of what he did, nor even, necessarily because he transferred classified information to Israel rather than to Britain. Pollard was unique because he was an American Jew transferring classified information to Israel. And the discriminatory treatment he has received from the US government owes entirely to the same institutional anti-Jewish bias that caused the CIA to form the first anti-Israel lobby in Washington, just three years after Israel gained independence.
As former CIA director R. James Woolsey explained to National Public Radio in March, “I really take the view now that if someone says [Pollard] should not be released after 28 years, just pretend that he’s a Filipino American or a Greek American and pardon him. I see no reason why people should treat a Jewish American who spied for Israel on those grounds more harshly than they treat a Filipino American who spied for the Philippines or a South Korean American who spied for South Korea.”
Pollard’s prolonged imprisonment, and the fact that the criminal justice system has been used against him in such a profoundly discriminatory manner have brought about a situation where his only chance of early release is through a Presidential grant of clemency.
On Tuesday, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson – a close supporter of President Barack Obama – became the latest in a long line of senior US officials from both parties who have called for Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.
In his letter to the president, Richardson wrote, “In my view, there is no longer a need for a discussion today. Virtually everyone who was in a high position of government – and dealt with the ramifications of what Pollard did at the time – now support his release.”
Given the gross anti-Jewish prejudice at the heart of the US government’s mistreatment of Pollard, every additional day he remains in prison is an attack on the freedom and security of the American Jewish community. As long as an American Jew is held in prison so unjustly – and in failing health – simply because he committed his crime as an American Jew, the American Jewish community is being discriminated against as a community. Pollard received, and continues to receive unequal treatment under the law because he is a member of the American Jewish community.
The state of the American Jewish community is far weaker today than it was when Pollard was railroaded into his life term in 1986. Amid the mass assimilation rates reported by the recent Pew survey of American Jews, characterized among other things by weaker levels of communal identification, anti-Semitic attacks against Jews is on the rise. And with an increasingly fragmented community, it is becoming more and more difficult for American Jews to defend their communal rights as Jews to equal protection under the law.
According to FBI data, Jews were the target of nearly two-thirds of religiously motivated hate crimes carried out in the US in 2012. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the FBI data actually understated the problem because less than 75 percent of the law enforcement agencies in the US provided the bureau with their hate crime data. The ADL’s data show a 28 percent rise in anti-Jewish attacks in New York during 2012.
And it’s not simply that violence against Jews is rising. The rising violence is being met by unprecedented silence or even support of the violence by American leaders. In recent months, Jews of all ages have been the victims of the so-called “knockout game” in which groups of black Americans walk up to an unsuspecting Jew and sucker punch him or her. The same Obama White House which has placed itself at the center of several cases of perceived abuse of African Americans has remained silent about clear cases of African American hate crimes against Jewish Americans.
Even worse, at least one politician has made statements defending the anti-Jewish violence. In a Facebook post on the rash of anti-Jewish attacks by blacks in Crown Heights, Laurie Cumbo, a recently elected New York City Council member from Crown Heights justified the attacks.
She wrote, “Many African American/Caribbean residents expressed a genuine concern that as the Jewish community continues to grow, they would be pushed out by their Jewish landlords or by Jewish families looking to purchase homes.”
Cumbo’s remarks received wide coverage, and a week after writing them, she apologized. But her dim view of Jews, and others who work hard and succeed may well be shared by New York’s mayor elect Bill de Blasio. During the 1980s, de Blasio worked on behalf of Nicaragua’s Communist Sandinista regime. He supported them even as they led a concerted campaign against Nicaragua’s Jewish community, expropriated Jewish property, firebombed a synagogue and transformed it into a Sandinista youth center as the Jews of Nicaragua fled to Florida.
The American Jewish community faces these increased levels of attacks at a time when radical leftist Jews are using the fact of their Jewishness to attack the very notion of Jewish rights. Consider a recent event at Swarthmore College.
On Sunday, the board of Swarthmore College’s Hillel unanimously agreed to defy guidelines set by the national Hillel organization barring campus Hillel’s from hosting or otherwise giving assistance to anti-Zionist organizations. Rejecting Hillel’s positions, the Swarthmore Hillel board declared, “We do not believe it is the true face of young American Jews.”
Congratulations for the board’s decision streamed in from Jewish leftist groups at Harvard and other institutions.
Hillel’s national organization did not take Swarthmore’s Hillel board’s decision lying down. Tuesday, Hillel’s new president and CEO Eric Fingerhut informed the Swarthmore branch that it cannot continue to refer to itself as Hillel if it goes forward with its resolution rejecting the organization’s guidelines.
Fingerhut’s swift rebuke and warning to the Swarthmore branch must be applauded. Both in passing the guidelines and in standing up for them, Hillel has made clear that being a Jewish group claiming to speak for Jews has to mean something.
Zionism is the Jewish national liberation movement, and Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. To be an anti-Zionist is to reject the right of the Jewish people to freedom. To be anti-Israel is to be anti-Jewish. And a Jewish group cannot support an anti-Jewish group without losing its meaning, and betraying the Jewish people.
Likewise, the American Jewish community cannot remain a community in any meaningful sense of the word if it does not defend Jewish rights.
And this brings us back to Jonathan Pollard, in failing health, in his 28th year in prison. Committed American Jews, among them are many Jewish leaders that have been grappling since Pew published its findings in October, with the question of how to inspire the community to revitalize itself and recommit itself to Jewish continuity and Jewish rights.
The answer may very well be: By standing up for Pollard and demanding his immediate release from prison.
Pollard’s plight can and should serve as a lightning rod for communal action because there is no clearer case of anti-Jewish discrimination by the US government than his continued imprisonment.
Pollard’s case is meaningful because it is hard. It isn’t easy to defend Pollard. He betrayed the US government. But the government’s disproportionate and unjust treatment of him owes entirely to the fact that he is an American Jew. Until he receives justice, no American Jew can be certain that his or her constitutional right to equal protection under the law will be respected. Defending Pollard means defending Jewish rights. And defending Jewish rights also involves communal identification in a deep and significant way.
Moreover, at a time when increasing numbers of assimilated American Jews disassociate with Israel, standing up for Pollard will relink the community with Israel in a profound and meaningful way.
Finally, Pollard’s case is a good case to take up as a communal cause because there is every reason to believe that such communal action can succeed. As Esther Pollard wrote in The Jerusalem Post this week, during the White House Hanukka party, Obama said that clemency for Pollard is “under consideration.”
Nothing breeds success like success. A successful American Jewish campaign to secure Pollard’s release could serve as a building block to a communal revitalization and renaissance. That is, the worst act of governmental discrimination carried out against the American Jewish community could serve as the basis for a renewal of the community at a key moment in its history.