THE BLOG
04/09/2013 01:19 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2013

'He Shall Dwell in Isolation': Jonathan Pollard, Espionage and the International Jewish Community

In the Torah portions of Tazria-Metzora, we learn that one who has leprosy should be separated from the community: "He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp" (Leviticus 13:46). The rabbis teach that this spiritual sickness and the necessary isolation from society are due to the wrongful use of words (see, for example, Leviticus Rabbah 16:1).

Jonathan Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was found to have spied on his country, and in so doing he violated his oath to secrecy, jeopardized American security, and contributed to straining relations between Israel and America while receiving thousands of dollars for his work. According to one estimate, he would have earned about $600,000 over the 10-year period had he evaded capture. Once again, Pollard made both sides believe that he was a patriot instead of a gun for hire. When Pollard misused his words, he did great damage.

Anyone who engages in international espionage breaks his or her home country's laws in an effort to benefit another country. They know that if they are caught there will be severe consequences.

Pollard pleaded guilty to espionage, and it appeared that a plea deal might be on the table. However, Pollard proceeded to give an interview to the Jerusalem Post in which he cited classified documents and defended his behavior. The federal prosecutors regarded this as a violation of the plea deal, and in early 1987, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger gave the court a classified document detailing the damage that Pollard's espionage had done. As a result, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.

Pollard has served 26 years in prison as part of a life sentence handed down in 1987, and is in declining health. After such a long time, it can be argued, that deterrence has been more than demonstrated, and that Pollard should be released. Pollard, however, has never expressed regret for, or even acknowledged, damaging American intelligence, and he did not apply for parole when he was eligible.

Israeli and American Jewish groups have pleaded with every U.S. president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama to grant Pollard a pardon. Recently, 175,000 Israelis signed a petition calling for his release and Israeli Prime Ministers -- especially the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu -- have used precious political capital to try to secure his release.

jonathan pollard

The Israeli government and the international Jewish community should not be spending its precious time, energy and resources rallying for Pollard's release. Let him serve his sentence and then rejoin the community. Due to a stipulation in American law, Pollard will actually be automatically eligible for parole in November 2015, when it is reported he will undoubtedly be released.

For decades, Jews and Catholics have been unjustly accused of subordinating their loyalty to America through loyalty to a foreign country or leader. In September 1960, Catholic Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy had to give a speech before Protestant clergy in which he stressed that he would serve his country loyally, never taking orders from the pope in Rome.

As American Jews, we have loyalties both to the United States and to Israel. One loyalty does not and should not automatically trump the other. We are grateful for and bear responsibilities toward both countries. We operate on moral principle, not by fear-based loyalty. We reject the idea that loyalty to one nation precludes loyalty to the other.

Pollard's example, unfortunately, gives support to those who would question our loyalty as Jews to the United States, and our community must repudiate his example. The United States and Israel are strong allies, and there is no reason for one to act against the other. Given the realities of realpolitik, however, this is bound to happen. When it does, there are consequences.

Our punitive justice system in America is too harsh and needs serious reform but that is a systemic issue, not a case-by-case issue. When we pick out one Jew to defend and leave the others hanging, we cheapen our voice and do a great disservice to the integrity of our causes. There are thousands of Israeli heroes to be celebrated, but many have made a mistake by trying to hold Pollard up as a hero.

One writer for Haaretz suggested that "The 'Free Pollard' campaign ahead of Obama's visit is a disgrace to American Zionists and U.S.-Israel relations. The bare truth is that he committed espionage for financial gain and glory." Pollard is not "in captivity" as Gilad Shalit was, as many have claimed, and we do a tremendous disservice to those who are in dire straits and imprisoned unjustly when we merely defend every Jew who is imprisoned.

The spiritual leprosy case as described in Tazria-Metzora reminds us of the Jonathan Pollard case. There are times we must separate from people we care about. While we would certainly encourage that he receive all necessary physical, mental or spiritual care, he must dwell outside of our community until he completes his sentence, while we commit our communal resources to pursuing crucial issues that enable the Jewish people to survive and thrive. There are too many life-and-death global issues for us to waste our limited political capital on defending one guilty individual who has unfortunately caused damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, the Founder and C.E.O. of The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute and is the author of "Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century." In 2012 and 2013, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America."