From the Archive: When Jonathan Pollard was sentenced

After Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life, in March 1987, differences and tensions emerged among Israeli and American Jewish leadership. (Wikipedia)

After Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life, in March 1987, differences and tensions emerged among Israeli and American Jewish leadership. (Wikipedia)

Freeing Jonathan Pollard, the 59-year-old American in prison for spying for Israel, has been discussed as a possible element of a deal to reignite the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

A former civilian naval analyst, Pollard pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison 27 years ago, on March 4, 1987 (his then-wife, Anne, was sentenced to two consecutive five-year terms for being an accessory). At the time, American Jews and Israelis differed in their reactions.

Israelis tended to be more sympathetic to the Pollards and more worried that the incident would adversely impact U.S.-Israel relations. The “overriding consensus is that Israel has painful lessons to learn from the episode and that it must punish those involved with Pollard in what the government claimed from the outset was a ‘rogue operation,’” JTA reported.

In contrast, American Jewish leaders, JTA wrote, “expressed little sympathy for Pollard” but did not expect Pollard’s sentencing to “basically alter the close relations between the United States and Israel” or to “create a feeling in the country that Jews have dual loyalty.”

A point of tension was that the two Israelis — Col. Aviem Sella and Rafael Eitan — who controlled Pollard’s espionage activities were initially promoted, angering both the Reagan administration and American Jewish leaders. (In the months that followed, however, Sella resigned his position, and the Israeli government named a committee to investigate the Pollard case.)

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The post-sentencing tensions between American Jewish leaders and Israelis were exacerbated when Israeli academic Shlomo Avineri accused American Jewish leaders of displaying a “galut” attitude in their reactions to the Pollard affair and their fears of being charged with dual loyalty.

JTA wrote:

Avineri, a Hebrew University professor, historian of Zionism and a world-renowned authority on Marx and Hegel, made his charge in an “open letter to an American friend” which appeared in The Jerusalem Post a week ago.

Theodore Mann, president of the American Jewish Congress, in a letter of reply to Avineri, declared that the Jewish reaction in the U.S. “emanates from anger at Israelis, and not from fear for their own security.”

“…That Israelis, believing that American Jews are vulnerable to the ‘dual loyalty’ charge, should nevertheless have proceeded to recruit an American Jew as a spy, and that no one was punished for this (quite the contrary), shows a disdain for American Jewry by Israeli leadership that is profoundly insulting,” Mann wrote.

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Julie Wiener Julie Wiener is a features writer for JTA. Previously, she was the associate editor of The New York Jewish Week, where she wrote about education, food and assorted other topics along with intermarriage.