Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving and Jonathan Pollard

Jonathan and Esther Pollard - after his release
I’m usually in agreement with Rabbi Benjamin Blech. I believe  we tend to see things from the same perspective. But I am disappointed in an article he wrote for the Aish website on the subject of Jonathan Pollard’s release. 

First let me say that I am happy Jonathan Pollard has finally been released from prison. The former naval analyst has in my view long ago paid for his crime of spying against his country. Even though he was spying for Israel, a friendly nation, it was still a crime. The US government rightly claimed that any classified information that is released is compromised even when it is given to a friendly country. In Jonathan’s case the government said the information was so vast and so sensitive that the government claimed it put Americans serving in foreign countries at risk.

There has been some controversy about the accuracy of that claim. It appears that the damaging information attributed to Jonathan’s spying may have come from other spies who were caught much later. Whether that’s true or not, in my view Jonathan’s life sentence seemed unjust. Especially after he was promised a lighter sentence in a plea deal in exchange for cooperating. Which he did.

But I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt to prosecutors who claimed that his crime was so terrible that if he were to be released early it would have a most demoralizing effect on all agents working in the CIA and like agencies. 

On the surface it was hard to fathom how any information he stole from the US to give to Israel was that devastating. But since I am not privy to the exact nature of what he stole, and the fact that all Presidents since he was sentenced have refused to grant him an early release, a pardon, or to commute his sentence to time served - I have to believe there was more to the story that we just don’t – and for reasons of security – can’t know about.

Looking at it from a human standpoint, it was hard to see a man being punished so severely for spying for a friendly country. And as a Jew whose support for Israel is so strong, it was doubly difficult for me to see something like this happen. Nevertheless, it always troubled me that so many well intentioned people tried to put an antisemitic spin on this.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no evidence of that. I doubt for example that Presidents Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, and Obama were all so antisemitic that they would overly punish someone who didn't deserve it. All of them refused to grant Jonathan any kind of clemency. So I have always chalked this up to simply not knowing the classified details of his crime.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t support efforts to get him released early after a while. I did. After 20 years of his life was spent in prison and it was rumored that he was ill - I saw releasing him as a humanitarian gesture. He wasn’t released. But was it because of antisemitism? I just didn’t see it.

In any case now after 30 years he was eligible for parole. Last Friday he was released from prison. Apparently the guidelines of his release are such that he will be under a version of house arrest for a period of 5 years. Which limits what he is allowed to do, and when he can leave his home. He has also been denied a request to immigrate to Israel as per these guidelines.

I understand the disappointment he must feel. His wife Esther has been living there and he wants to live there with her.  But this overlooks the very positive news that he is finally out of prison and living with his wife in New York right now. He is basically a free man albeit with a few restrictions. And yet some, like Rabbi Blech are Kvetching about it. And saying that the government decision preventing him from moving to Israel reeks of hypocrisy! 

I cannot understand him. Why is he stirring the pot? Jonathan is a free man. Being forced to live in the United States for a few years is not the end of the world. In fact it’s a pretty great place to live. I know that Jonathan is not well. But to the best of my knowledge he does not have a life threatening illness.

Why not just celebrate his freedom now …and celebrate it exactly the way it is now? With no fanfare. No parades. No speeches about the injustice he suffered. Celebrate the fact that he is free and living with his wife. Let us celebrate quietly with him. He is a man who paid his debt to society. This is as it should be.

Making noise about the injustice of America not letting him move to Israel is the wrong move. It serves no purpose. And it is unbecoming of a rabbinic figure like Rabbi Blech to do so just before Thanksgiving. A day where we ought to instead be thinking about the meaning of day we celebrate. Thinking about ways to express Hakoras HaTov - giving thanks to this great country and more importantly to God for the privilege of living here in the 21st century.