Jonathan Pollard is in his twenty-third year in a federal prison, while George Tenet is making millions off his memoirs as CIA Chief. There is a close connection between these two circumstances. In the book, Tenet recounts how he blocked Pollard’s release during the 1998 Middle East peace negotiations at the Wye Plantation by threatening to resign if President Clinton acceded to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s linking of Israeli concessions to a presidential pardon, something the President had agreed to. Mr. Clinton backed down and, soon enough, so did Mr. Netanyahu, which is what he invariably does under U.S. pressure, albeit after making a show of independence and defiance.
That episode was Pollard’s best shot and perhaps last shot. The outcome was a personal tragedy for him and, as events showed just three years later, greatly harmful to American security because Tenet’s inept leadership of the CIA contributed directly to U.S. unpreparedness against terrorist attacks. He and his underlings misread or ignored intelligence reports pointing to the attack that on 9/11 changed America. Without a doubt, Tenet’s incompetence and perhaps negligence did far more damage to this country than Pollard’s ineptitude as a spy. Correctly, being inept at the CIA is not a crime, while espionage is.
We must make no excuses for Pollard’s wrongdoing, but his wrongdoing does not justify the multitude of wrongs that followed his arrest. These include the deceit of the prosecutor who handled the case, the excesses of the trial judge who sentenced him, the duplicitous jailing of his first wife, and the cowardice of Judges Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who upheld the draconian sentence despite a powerful dissent of the third judge who was not Jewish, demonstrating thereby that Jewish self-hate can attach as well to an ultra-conservative as to an ultra-liberal. Adding to the catalogue of wrongs is the exaggeration of the crime that Pollard did commit.
These exaggerations are not a trivial matter as is evident in the recent remarks of Richard Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, who told a Bar-Ilan University audience that Pollard is unlikely to be released and “the fact that he wasn’t executed is the mercy he received” suggesting that Pollard was guilty of treason. He also said that spying for Israel was a worse crime than spying for an enemy of the United States.
This is nonsense and Mr. Jones has apologized, explaining that his comments were “misinformed and misleading.” Therein lies the issue that is critical in the Pollard case, an issue that neither our government nor Jewish leaders have been willing to confront. Whatever the indictment said, Pollard’s actions were marketed as treason, thus the perception that he committed worse crimes than he did. His case demonstrates the perhaps startling circumstance that a guilty man can be railroaded.
Of course, people who are not guilty can be railroaded and that is what is happening more often than we are willing to acknowledge because we have come to treat the accused of being guilty until they are proven innocent and we allow too much discretion to prosecutors. We are witness to prosecutorial abuse and the attempted railroading of two innocent people in the charges brought against Steve Rosen and Keith Weisman, the ex-AIPAC staff members who await trial for the high crime of doing what hundreds do each day in Washington. I recognize that they may be convicted because prosecutors have an astonishingly high batting average as they engage in legally and morally tainted tactics, notably coercing persons who may have committed a crime to purchase their freedom by singing the tune that prosecutors have coached them to sing.
As with the Pollard affair, the case against Rosen and Weisman has induced verbal paralysis in our establishment, as organizational leaders that ordinarily are not given to silence have clammed up. If there would be a Dreyfus affair on these shores, it’s doubtful that we would rise to the defense of the victim by challenging those in authority who are responsible for the wrongful prosecution.
It is not only in high-profile real or imagined national security cases that we are the Jews of silence. We are meek and mute in ordinary cases, as when the New York Police fired a Bell-like fusillade that killed an Orthodox Jew in Borough Park or in the frightening Crown Heights anti-Jewish rioting as the police stood idly by. We could not find our communal voice.
I had a direct role eons ago in the establishment of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, a body comprised on the lay and professional sides of people whose goal was to be in the good graces of those who are in power.
We are afraid to advocate when advocacy means that we have to challenge governmental authority. Because we do not advocate, we allow wrongs committed against Jews because they are Jewish to go unchallenged. To an extent, in the Pollard and AIPAC matters our meekness is a by-product of the view that what we do or say on any issue relating to Israel must conform with Israel’s instructions. Since Israel is reluctant to challenge Washington, we are unable to challenge the treatment of Pollard or the wrongful prosecutions of Rosen and Weisman.
It may be that Pollard’s last hope for a pardon lies with George Bush. It is frightening to think that if the pardon does not come, Pollard will die in jail.