Tuesday, July 31, 2001

The Abandonment of Jonathan Pollard

The Pollard case is not the American Dreyfus affair. Jonathan Pollard is guilty of serious crimes, which is why the comparison made by some of his supporters is way off the mark. Another reason is that this case has no Emile Zola, no journalist with the courage to fight through bureaucratic mazes to get at the truth.

Unwittingly and perhaps in some Kafkaesque fashion, Pollard is heading toward martyrdom. This is a fate that he does not deserve because he isn’t a martyr and because he should have been freed by now. He soon shall begin his third decade in prison and right now there is no exit. Incredible as it once seemed, Pollard may die in prison or come close.

This is one of the epic stories of the entire American Jewish experience. The case continues to sear the emotions of many American Jews. It’s time for a full account – or at least a better account than we now have – although if Jewish journalism continues its somnambulant ways, we will have no more than the early, incomplete tale provided by Wolf Blitzer.

Washington’s claim that Pollard caused the U.S. great harm never passed the smell test, not even when we recoiled in anger and disbelief from the revelations of his spying for Israel. There were too many informational gaps, too many question marks and then there was the all too overt double-cross by Joseph E. diGenova, the pit bull-style U.S. prosecutor, as well as the never released sentencing memorandum prepared by Caspar Weinberger, himself soon to be a convicted felon.

As I wrote in one of the first of these articles, Washington is a town that leaks, even or especially when it comes to sensitive matters. In view of private assertions that Pollard did worse things than spy for Israel, it is astonishing that we have learned so little about his allegedly darkest misdeeds. I believe that if Pollard had spied for enemies of this U.S. or had truly undermined American security, in some fashion the facts would have been made available.

It has been said, for example, that Pollard spied for the Soviet Union. Is it credible that verification would not be available, especially after the collapse of the USSR and the opening of KGB files, as well as the publication of the memoirs of Kremlin spymasters and what has been revealed in the Ames and Hansen cases?

While we know no more about the Pollard case than we knew early on, we now know a great deal more about ineptitude and worse at both the CIA and FBI. We have had a steady supply of reports of missing files, doctored information, prosecutorial abuse. Just about every important federal case in the recent period is submerged in question marks. I would imagine that this alone would arouse the interest of Jewish journalists who might want to see whether any of what has been recently revealed has a bearing on Pollard.

The Ames and Hansen cases should add to our sense of discomfort. Both of these traitors were far higher than Pollard in the intelligence echelons. Both spied for the Soviet Union and the actions of each directly resulted in the deaths of U.S. agents and seriously compromised American security. Even the most unfavorable assessment of Pollard that we have does not place him in their league. Their wives, who knew of their espionage, have done rather well and neither has been criminally charged.

As an article in the New York Times put it regarding Mrs. Hansen, “despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars the Russians are have said to have paid him, Bonnie Hansen will be allowed to keep the couple’s suburban home, rather than seeing it forfeited, and will receive share of his pension.” The following chart illustrates the Pollard/Hansen contrast:

Jonathan J. Pollard Robert P. Hansen

Spied for: Israel Soviet Union

Was paid: Tens of thousands of Hundreds of thousands o
dollars dollars

Publicly claimed: No agents killed At least 2 agents killed

Wife: Sentenced to prison Goes free, financial
left penniless comfort

Whose idea of justice is this? Is it necessary to insist on Pollards innocence or to be at the brink of communal paranoia to believe that something is terribly amiss, that Pollard may be a victim of injustice?

For all of the epic nature of the Pollard story and the glaring question marks, American Jewish journalists have taken a rain check. They may be waiting for hard-hitting investigative reporting, something like a breathless front-page story alleging that an Orthodox institution fired a woman because of her inappropriate dress.

As for Pollard, there has been occasional Jewish media attention to the minutiae of his situation. Who has visited him and the like. The larger story remains unprobed, I think because of the endemic laziness that is a hallmark of our journalism. This laziness isn’t of the customary physical variety, such as an aversion to pounding pavement to get the facts. Rather, there is intellectual laziness or numbness, a failure to see major developments in Jewish life. Our reporters tend toward yenta journalism. They write about things that are close to them and rely on the gossip of those who are eager to talk.

Pollard isn’t on their radar screen and therefore he is scarcely on the community’s radar screen. He languishes in prison, not expecting or waiting for Emile Zola. An ordinary investigative reporter will do.

Sunday, July 01, 2001

July 2001 - RJJ Newsletter

We expect or at least hope that our schools will teach students midos and proper behavior and values. That’s part of their core mission. We certainly do not think that our schools will have the reverse effect, although there is always the possibility that this will happen in unintended ways. In institutions where discipline is lacking, it’s likely that children will be schooled in improper conduct. Still, that is different from a situation where a school deliberately inculcates in the young wrongful behavior. It’s hard to imagine a Jewish school that as a matter of policy would misguide the children in its care.

Or, perhaps, the possibility is not so farfetched. If, for example, students are exposed to lying and cheating by school officials or teachers, they are being given a message that such behavior is appropriate. If a school plays loose with proper standards when dealing with governmental programs, there is a good prospect that older students will know what is happening and they will be influenced by the experience.

Another example occurred to me a while back when I visited a non-Orthodox day school – it may be the most overrated Jewish school in the country – and was surprised and chagrinned to hear students address their teachers by first names. The students were acting in compliance with school policy, a policy that is both wrong and harmful, although such conduct is in tune with much else that is happening in the contemporary period. During a recent trip to Israel, I read that the new Minister of Education is acting to reverse the policy directive mandating that teachers be addressed by their first names.

We have reached a point where progress is defined as rejecting tradition and as downplaying respect for authority. Such respect is too often regarded as a relic from a misguided past. In many “progressive” homes, children now use names and nicknames when speaking to their parents. It has become uncool to employ language indicating that the generational gap is more than a matter of years, but also a circumstance that should generate respect from the young toward those who are older.

It is small wonder that as society seeks to narrow the generational gap by promoting familiarity in parent-child relationships, the end product is often contempt, conflict and, at times, even worse.

Jews are supposed to be a distinctive people, which is to say that there are times when we buck the trend, when we cherish the old and reject the new. This is what keeping Shabbos and kosher is about, as well as our distinctive dress and practices that set us apart and sanctify us. We have an obligation to maintain this distinctiveness, surely not as a mark of superiority but as a mark of spiritual strength and discipline in service to G-D. We are strengthened by the mitzvos, specifically including those that obligate respect for authority.

When Jewish children are taught to adopt the low standards of contemporary culture when they speak to their parents or teachers, for all of the company they may have, they are being taught to violate values that are central to Jewish living.

We often hear the phrase “Tikun Ha-olam” – improvement of the world – employed by people who cling to it almost desperately as their virtually last Jewish lifeline as traditional Judaism recedes from their consciousness. It apparently does not occur to the tikun ha-olam crowd that we cannot better the world by borrowing society’s worst practices and then integrating them into our outlook and behavior. The sad fact is that too many Jews are leaving the world a worse place, in some measure because they have enthusiastically endorsed that which is antithetical to our traditional standards.

Instead of tikun ha-olam, whatever the words may actually mean, let us first work on self-betterment, on improving our lives and our community. A good place to start is by rejecting ideas that reject tradition and respect, ideas that come with the questionable label claiming that they bring progress. Progress in Jewish life always consists of maintaining that which has maintained us as a people.