Pollard and the Great Jewish Divide

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The rift between Israeli and American Jews is palpable almost everywhere you turn today. The most glaring disparity surrounds how they view President Donald Trump. The vast majority of Israelis adore Trump. The vast majority of American Jews despise him.

But Trump isn’t the only thing or even the main thing that separates them. The main issue that separates Israelis from American Jews is the issue of exile. Israelis by and large hold to the traditional Jewish view that all Jewish communities outside of Israel are exile – or diaspora – communities. American Jews, by and large, believe that the exile exists in all Jewish communities outside Israel except in America. This disagreement is existential. It goes to the heart of what it means to be a Jew.

The divide between Israeli and American Jews is more apparent today than it was in the past but it has been around since the dawn of modern Zionism. But if one date marks the point it became an irreversible rift it was November 20, 1985, the day Jonathan Pollard was arrested outside Israel’s embassy in Washington, DC.

From the day of his arrest, Pollard became both the symbol and to a degree, the cause of the divide. That divide was unmistakable on Wednesday morning when the news broke that in the middle of the previous night, Pollard and his wife Esther had landed in Israel.

Israelis celebrated the Pollards’ arrival. Many wept watching the footage of Pollard kiss the ground on the tarmac.

In contrast, American Jews bristled both at the news and the happiness with which Israelis greeted Pollard’s arrival.

One writer angrily wrote on Twitter, “As an American Jew this isn’t a bit exciting. He spied on America. There’s no reason to celebrate this.”

Once Pollard’s parole restrictions were removed in November, it was a foregone conclusion that he would quickly make aliyah. Many Jewish officials in both the Trump administration and previous administrations expressed concern about the upcoming event that resonated with the angry poster on Twitter.

“I really hope you Israelis aren’t going to turn his arrival into a carnival,” one said recently, in a burst of frustration.

What explains their anger and frustration?

The facts of Pollard’s story are well known.

In 1984-85, as an intelligence analyst in the US Naval Intelligence, Pollard transferred highly classified information about the military capabilities of Arab militaries to Israeli intelligence officers in Washington.

After Pollard’s arrest, US and Israeli officials agreed to deal with the incident quickly and quietly. Pollard would confess in a plea agreement to transferring classified information to the US ally for the benefit of the ally. Israel would return all documents it received from Pollard. For their part, federal prosecutors would not request the maximum sentence for Pollard’s crime.

The plea bargain, both sides agreed, would save Israel and the US the embarrassing spectacle of a drawn-out trial. Pollard and the Israeli government were led to believe that he would serve something along the lines of the average prison term meted out for US citizens who transferred classified information to US allies – 2-4 years.

But after Pollard fulfilled his part of the bargain and pled guilty, and Israel returned the documents, then secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger changed the administration’s position on Pollard. In three secret memos to the sentencing judge, that last of which he delivered the morning of Pollard’s sentencing, Weinberger claimed Pollard had caused egregious harm to the US, endangered its forces in the Middle East and weakened its ties to Arab states. In his final memo Weinberger accused Pollard of “treason.” Since Pollard had waived his right to a trial, he had no meaningful opportunity to defend himself from Weinberger’s explosive claim.

On the weight of Weinberger’s accusation, the sentencing judge disregarded the recommendation for leniency and sentenced Pollard to life in prison.

In the decades that followed, several senior national security officials and lawmakers who reviewed Pollard’s classified file rejected Weinberger’s claims. They argued that based on the evidence, the initial plea bargain was accurate. While Pollard had helped Israel, he hadn’t harmed America. He had not committed treason. His punishment did not suit his crime. Weinberger himself admitted in a 2002 interview that the Pollard case was a “relatively minor matter” and “it was made much bigger than its actual importance.”

Most Israelis looked at these facts, and the vitriol with which Pollard was castigated by senior officials and concluded he was unjustly persecuted because he was a Jew who supported Israel.

In private conversations, many American Jews admitted the logic of the Israeli position and even agreed with it. But all the same, aside from a small minority of groups who worked tirelessly on Pollard’s behalf, keeping the story alive throughout the years, the community at large failed to demand justice for Pollard. Instead, they lashed out against him and against the Israelis who supported him.

They did this not because they were blind to the anti-Semitic nature of his treatment but because they were aware of it and feared it. They despised and resented Pollard because his plight reminded them of their weakness. The fact that he was unduly punished for passing information to the Jewish state brought home the fact that despite America’s warm welcome to the Jews, America wasn’t the new Promised Land. The Israelis had a point about the diaspora.

Even now, after Pollard has finally arrived in Israel, evidence abounds of the continued power and prevalence of the double standard. And to find it one need look no farther than the tragic tale of Larry Franklin.

Today, Franklin, a 74-year-old Irish Catholic lives in abject poverty with his invalid wife Patricia in West Virginia. Due to their indigence, they survive on food that Franklin finds in dumpsters behind local restaurants. Last month, the couple were hospitalized for several days after contracting food poisoning from spoiled scraps Franklin fished out of a trash bin.

16 years ago, as an Air Force colonel, Franklin served as the Iran desk officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In what became known as “the AIPAC spy scandal,” Franklin was arrested together with two AIPAC lobbyists. Franklin was accused of transferring classified information about Iran to the lobbyists. They were accused of transferring classified information to Israeli Embassy officials and to a Washington Post reporter.

The story was a bombshell. But once the dust settled, and the details emerged, it worked out that Franklin, a decorated intelligence analyst and operative, was the victim of an anti-Semitic plot. In 1999, the FBI opened an investigation of AIPAC employees and American Jewish Pentagon officials on suspicion of spying for Israel. The suspicions had no basis in fact. But that didn’t stop the investigators from searching under every rock to find a Jewish spy.

Franklin, who served as the Air Force attaché at the US Embassy in Israel in the 1990s, believed that Israel was the US’s most important ally in the Middle East. He viewed AIPAC, an organization dedicated to expanding the US-Israel alliance, as a positive force for good in Washington.

In 2003, Franklin became convinced that Iran was the primary threat to US forces in Iraq. He was concerned that the data he was seeing that led to his conclusion was not being adequately communicated to then-President George W. Bush. So he spoke of his concerns in general terms with the two AIPAC lobbyists and asked them to share them with their contacts at the National Security Council in the hopes that they in turn, would communicate those concerns to Bush.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about Franklin’s behavior. Government officials hold similar discussions with lobbyists, reporters and think tank scholars thousands of times a day, every day in Washington, DC. For government officials, such conversations are a legitimate means to advance their desired policies in the expansive process that surrounds American policymaking.

What Franklin didn’t know was that by speaking to the AIPAC lobbyists he had caught the eye of the investigators.

When FBI investigators first reached out to Franklin, he had no idea he had reason to worry. He met with them ten times without an attorney. But as the meetings proceeded, it dawned on him that the investigators were obsessive anti-Semites. One bragged that his uncle served as a Nazi general in World War II. Another insisted Hezbollah wasn’t a terror group.

And after he recognized he was sitting with stone-cold bigots, he also realized that they were waging a witch hunt against Jews in the Pentagon. They demanded that he help them “get the Jews.” When Franklin refused, they arrested him, along with his two colleagues from AIPAC.

Initially, AIPAC defended its employees. But after a threatening meeting with investigators, AIPAC crumpled. The pro-Israel lobby fired and denounced their long-serving loyal lobbyists.

It took a drawn-out, five-year battle, but in 2009, charges against both men were dismissed. Unfortunately, in the meantime, Franklin had already been destroyed.

Within a few months of his initial arrest, Franklin went bankrupt and had no option other than pleading guilty to something. During a search of his house, investigators found a classified document that he had brought home to work on while he cared for his wife. So he pleaded guilty to mishandling classified documents. As for his meetings with the AIPAC staffers, Franklin pleaded guilty to discussing a classified subject, (but not sharing classified information), with unauthorized persons.

“Crimes” like Franklin’s are committed thousands of times a day every day in Washington. Given their prevalence, the Justice Department’s decision to selectively prosecute Franklin for them was a gross injustice. All the same, the court initially sentenced Franklin to 12 years in prison. After the charges were dropped against the AIPAC staffers, his sentence was reduced to a 10-month suspended sentence. But Franklin was still undone. His felony conviction stripped him of his military and civilian pensions and barred him from working either in intelligence or in academia. Broke and denied all professional opportunities, Franklin was reduced to menial labor. He cleaned septic tanks, washed dishes, hauled furniture and parked cars. Now at 74, with his health failing and his wife incapacitated, Franklin has been reduced to eating scraps from dumpsters.

Last month, Franklin’s pro-bono attorney submitted a request for a pardon and restoration of his pensions to President Trump and his family and friends are praying Trump will grant it.

Franklin’s suffering is a product of the hostile climate that greets American Jews who support Israel in Washington, DC. The FBI’s ambush of a devout Catholic for his “crime” of not being an anti-Semite and for treating Jewish pro-Israel lobbyists as other lobbyists are treated, sends the message to Jews and non-Jews alike. Not only must they be careful of speaking with Israelis. They must be careful about speaking to American Jews who support Israel.

The Pollard saga, which finally ended this week, exposed a much larger tale. It is the tale of exile in America, the land that exile was not supposed to touch. And it is the tale of the divide between the Jews who accept this truth and those who do not.

Originally published in Israel Hayom.

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