Growing up in the fairly right-wing Orthodox community of Midwood, Brooklyn, during the immediate post-9/11 era, there were a number of active political causes that did not sound quite right to my young self. Through that potent combination of intellectual curiosity and adolescent rebellion, I began to define myself as a liberal, a rather dirty word in some parts of the country during the mid-aughts. For several months in 8th grade, I wore an orange ribbon from the American Civil Liberties Union to show my support for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay; my poor rebbe thought I was identifying with Gush Katif.
But there was only one communal cause I can remember that I not only disagreed with, but made me feel actively uncomfortable as a Jewish child in America: They were the periodic campaigns to free the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, whose parole conditions expired on Friday, allowing him to move to Israel.
Opinion | I’m glad Jonathan Pollard is moving to Israel. He doesn’t belong here.
The cause felt wrong to me even before I learned the dirty details that unsurprisingly never made it into the messages disgracefully calling him a “Prisoner of Zion” — details like Pollard’s megalomania, his cocaine use, the offer to spy for Pakistan’s intelligence agency before Pollard turned to Israel, the sheer damage done to American intelligence capabilities. I felt that Pollard was no hero but a millstone bearing down on the necks of American Jews still dogged by the antisemitic accusation of “dual loyalty.”
Even if it was true that Pollard received a disproportionately harsh sentence, which he did, I thought his was a struggle that should not be taken up. He betrayed his country, and by doing so, he betrayed American Jews.
I would not have objected to the U.S. government releasing him from prison early, as the conservative writer Bret Stephens did in an acerbic and controversial 2013 column. But I was determined not to lift my finger an inch for him. If there was no higher honor for an American Jew than to honorably serve their home country, then Pollard’s perfidy was an embarrassment — even a heavy burden — for American Jews who aspired to join the U.S. defense or intelligence communities, as it was for people who wanted to legitimately advocate for Israel, then and now an American ally.
Unlike Dreyfus, Pollard was not a victim of a libel. He was guilty as charged. And while it’s true that antisemites who allege dual loyalty are responsible for the hatred and suspicion they produce, as well as for the harm they do to their victims, it is impossible for me not to believe that Pollard shoulders at least some responsibility for the endurance of the dual loyalty myth in America.
Perhaps most maddening of all, Pollard had the potential to be an exemplary citizen, someone we could’ve been proud of. He was born into a prosperous American family; his father was a microbiologist at Notre Dame. And he passed through America’s most august institutions, including Stanford University and U.S. Naval Intelligence. By almost all accounts, Pollard is a brilliant man.
In an alternative universe where Pollard received the mental health care he so obviously needed early on in his life, one could imagine him rising to become the first Jewish director of the CIA. Or, if he was truly committed to living the Zionist dream, he could have made aliya and served Israel in an honest capacity that did not harm his community, as many American Jews have done and still do.
Instead, we live in this universe, the one where Jonathan Jay Pollard sold us out for drug money.
Still, despite the anger I felt toward him and still feel, I am happy Pollard will now be allowed to relocate to Israel. It is clear the intelligence Pollard collected is either no longer relevant or no longer secret, and I do not believe in lifelong punishments.
After 33 years, he should be allowed to move on.
But most of all, I am happy Pollard will not be in the U.S. He does not belong here.