December 15, 2018

Justice for Jonathan Pollard

Imagine that it is 1940, and Great Britain is fighting Hitler’s Nazi Germany almost alone. Imagine, further, that an American who loves both America and England and hates the Nazis works in American intelligence and has access to secret files concerning Germany that, for whatever reason, the United States has not shared with Great Britain. This American gives the secrets to England and is caught.

This spy has, of course, violated both American law and the trust that its intelligence agencies had placed in him. Now, the question is what should be done to him? Specifically, should we regard him morally or legally as the same as an American who spied for Germany?

The answer is so obvious that only in a morally confused age such as ours would the question even be entertained. Yet this is precisely the question to be asked with regard to Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel.

Let us review the parallels to the imaginary situation outlined earlier. Israel has been at perpetual war for its survival (a threat England never faced against Germany, which wanted to vanquish, not end, its existence). An American who loved both America and Israel used his access to American intelligence on those Arab regimes and passed it on to Israel. He spied on behalf of America’s most loyal allies, not on behalf of any of America’s enemies, and he gave away secrets about Arab regimes devoted to Israel’s destruction not, to the best of our knowledge, about America. And, unlike spies whose espionage cost the lives of American and pro-American foreign agents, we know of no American and pro-American foreigner who lost his life because of Pollard.

Yet Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence in prison — more punishment than some Americans who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and certainly more punishment than nearly all the murderers in America; and he has now languished in prison, often in solitary confinement, for 12 years.

The argument that Pollard was a spy, and that is all that matters, may be legally valid, but it is not morally valid. The argument that “spying is spying” is no more moral than “killing is killing.” Circumstances always determine the morality of an act. Just as most of us distinguish morally between terrorists killing innocents and anti-terrorists killing terrorists, most of us morally distinguish between spying on a democratic ally, especially one fighting for its existence, and spying for an anti-democratic enemy such as the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the United States spies on Israel and probably on most of its other allies. Last year, for example, Germany expelled an American for spying on Germany.

None of this is meant to defend what Jonathan Pollard did. Unless he actually saved Israel from something as awful as an Iraqi biological or nuclear attack, what he did is unjustifiable. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg recently wrote, “Pollard’s good intentions paved the way to political hell.” I am writing only to morally evaluate what he did in light of the suffering he has endured, and to compare his punishments with those given to other American spies and to violent criminals.

He is largely a broken man who suffers alone and who, for reasons that are not our business but that compel our compassion, has also suffered family crises. His continued suffering serves no good purpose. Again, as Rabbi Greenberg, one of the most credible voices in American Jewry and someone who, in his own words, “was not one of those who expressed sympathy for him when the case first broke,” wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that enough is enough…. It is time to extend mercy to Jonathan Pollard…. [There has been a] relentless parade of parallel cases in which far more damaging and dangerous spies received milder sentences.”

We quickly learn of the damage done to America by those who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and no damage has been revealed in Jonathan Pollard’s case. It makes one wonder why former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger so vociferously sought to keep Pollard in prison. Two reasons suggest themselves. One is that, for whatever reason, Weinberger has a particular loathing for Pollard; the other is that he may fear that if Pollard is released, Pollard will reveal how much sensitive data about Israel’s enemies the Weinberger Defense Department kept from Israel. I have no proof for either claim — I hope they are untrue. But neither Weinberger nor anyone else, including the entire American media, has offered any data that argue for the treatment Pollard has received.

Enough is enough. As I watch America release thousands of murderers and child molesters after a few years in prison, and give a spy for Saudi Arabia no prison term at all, I get progressively more disturbed as to why Jonathan Pollard is still in prison.

To contact Justice for Jonathan Pollard, call (416) 781-3571; fax (416) 781-3166; or e-mail The web site is