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August 3, 2015 1:25 pm

Did Jonathan Pollard Really Cause Antisemitism?

avatar by Rafael Medoff /

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Esther Pollard, wife of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, walks past a poster of her husband prior to speaking to press outside her home in Jerusalem on July 29, 2015. Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard will be released from prison after serving 30 years of a life sentence on November 20, the US Parole Commission announced. Photo: Flash90

Esther Pollard, wife of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, walks past a poster of her husband prior to speaking to press outside her home in Jerusalem on July 29, 2015. Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard will be released from prison after serving 30 years of a life sentence on November 20, the US Parole Commission announced. Photo: Flash90 – Did jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard’s actions provoke anti-Semitism in the United States?

In the days leading up to the July 28 revelation that the U.S. has granted Pollard parole and that he will be released from federal prison on Nov. 20, that charge was made by former State Department counsel Abraham Sofaer. Commenting on then-unconfirmed reports that Pollard would be paroled, Sofaer—who was part of the U.S. team that investigated the Pollard affair in the 1980s—claimed Pollard “created a terrible situation for American Jews who then obviously [were] all the more suspected.”

The fear that Pollard’s actions would cause antisemitism was articulated at the time of his arrest by many prominent American Jews, conservatives and liberals alike. Well-known political columnist William Safire wrote that Pollard had encouraged “antisemites who charge that Jews everywhere are at best afflicted with dual loyalty and at worst are agents of a vast fifth column.” Henry Siegman, the former director of the American Jewish Congress, charged that the affair had caused “discomfort” to U.S. Jews and left them feeling “compromised.”

Many Israelis, however, saw things differently. Shlomo Avineri, a Hebrew University political science professor who worked as director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry under prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, publicly deplored the “nervousness, insecurity, and even cringing” of U.S. Jews.

“Today, American Jewish leaders by their protestations of over-zealous loyalty to the United States at a moment when no one is really questioning it, are saying that America in the long run is no different from France and Germany,” Avineri wrote in 1987. “When you have to over-identify, there is no other proof needed that you think that your non-Jewish neighbors are looking askance at your Americanism. You are condemned by your own protestations of loyalty and flag-waving.”

Measured by the traditional method—the Anti-Defamation League’s annual tally of antisemitic incidents—there is no evidence antisemitism increased as a result of the Pollard affair. In fact, in 1986, the year following Pollard’s arrest, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. actually decreased by 7 percent. That figure increased the following year, and each year through 1991, but then in 1992 it decreased again (by 8 percent), before rising again in 1993. It is hard to see how Pollard could have had anything to do with this ebb and flow.

Measured another way, by the appointment of Jews to senior government policymaking positions, there likewise seems to be little evidence to confirm the Pollard-linked fears about Jews in government becoming distrusted. In fact, Jews became even more prominent in Israel-related positions after the Pollard arrest than before it: Daniel Kurtzer, Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller, Richard Haas, Martin Indyk, and others played significant roles in shaping American policy toward Israel throughout the 1990s and beyond. Evidently, their superiors felt they could trust them to faithfully implement U.S. policy—even when it involved tension with Israel—despite the fact that they were Jews.

So much for the dire prediction by American Jewish leaders made to the Jerusalem Post in 1987 that Pollard’s actions “might make it considerably harder for Jews to rise to high positions in the State and Defense Departments.”

Even many years after Pollard’s arrest, such fears lingered. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Sumner Shapiro, discussing the Pollard case with theWashington Post in 1998, complained, “We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, [only] to have somebody screw it up.”

But the idea that Pollard had “screwed it up” for other Jews in the U.S. government was more speculation than reality. Political scientist Daniel Elazar, in his analysis of American Jewish responses to the Pollard arrest, was “astounded” by “the level of American Jewish insecurity.” He found that the dual loyalty issue “was raised almost exclusively by Jews,” not by non-Jews. He noted that it was brought especially frequently by Jews in the media, “most of whom were highly assimilated but still apparently needed to demonstrate their ‘bona fides’ as Americans.”

Jewish activists in the U.S. during the Holocaust years encountered similar fears among Jewish leaders. The president of the American Jewish Committee tried to block publication of a Bergson Group newspaper advertisement in 1943, reasoning that sharply worded criticism of the Allies’ Jewish refugee policy “could well bring on pogroms in the U.S.” New York Congressman Sol Bloom sought to have the group’s leader, Peter Bergson, deported on the grounds that “he would eventually provoke sufficient antagonism among the citizens of the United States to cause antisemitic pogroms.” Prominent Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen S. Wise went so far as to claim that Bergson was “as great an enemy of the Jews as Hitler, for the reason that his activities could only lead to increased antisemitism.”

In the end, Bergson was not deported, the controversial newspaper ad (and nearly 200 others) were published, and the Bergson Group even organized a march by more than 400 rabbis to the White House. Yet no pogroms ensued.

Jewish fears of being seen as disloyal were just as misplaced in the 1940s as they were in the 1980s, and as they are today. Abraham Sofaer’s worries about Pollard are simply not supported by evidence.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and coeditor of the “Online Encyclopedia of America’s Response to the Holocaust.”

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  • shloime

    the idea that anti-semitism is caused by jews or their actions is a classic fallacy. jew-hatred is an internal condition, which can even exist in the total absence of actual jews.

    one consequence of this fallacy is the insecurity of the ghetto mentality, which is perpetually preoccupied with “not offending the goyim”. in the extreme case, this leads to dangerous absurdities, like not protesting the shoah, because it might have had “negative consequences”.

    another consequence is to blame the victims, rather than the perpetrators. if a jew cannot walk the streets of brussels wearing a kippah, the solution is not to stop wearing “symbols that provoke anti-semitism”, but rather to call out the hatred and violence of the anti-semites, and demand better police protection, and public education against racism. anti-semitism is caused by anti-semites, not by jews. otherwise, we let the racists off the hook and allow it to become socially acceptable to hate us.

    • Jan Grootenboer

      Old Jonathan causing anti-semitism?
      He is not that ancient, not by a long shot!

  • James ainoris

    Terrible…what our own people did to Pollard and Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson). The worst spies in America were Christians being Karl Fuchs,Walker and Aimes yet no one seems to care about them…this should have been used as a defense for Pollard.

  • William Northrop

    Did the Jonathan Pollard case really cause an outbreak of Anti-Semitism?
    The answer is an unequivocal NO. Even today in our advanced, liberal, politically-correct society, Anti-Semitism is sitting there waiting for Jews to arise every morning. So NO, the Pollard case did not trigger an outbreak of Anti-Semitism … any more than it triggered an outbreak of in-grown toe nails, incontinence or an onset of the “vapors” .
    As an example, a case can be made by comparing the Pollards to the Rosenbergs. As you will recall, the Rosenbergs, dedicated Communists, were the only spies ever executed in peace time in the history of the United States. While the Pollards, dedicated Zionists, were the only spies given maximum sentences for “friendly espionage” in our history. All four individuals were Jews. Of course, nothing is certain and America’s “official” Team Hebrew tends to view the mere hint of Anti-Semitism as outright heresy, which assumes it is possible to misunderstand if you are Jewish. But, the Pollard case, like that of the Rosenbergs, certainly “walks like a duck.”
    The legal case, US vs. Pollard (CR 86-207 AER), stands out one of the most horrendous “goat gropes” in the history of American jurisprudence. This thunderously tedious case can only be characterized with the liberal use of the word “cluster” and respected legal scholars of constitutional due process are going to have a field day once Pollard is released. This brings us to Abraham D. Sofaer who is quoted in the Algemeiner article as broaching the idea of Pollard triggering Anti-Semitism in the first place. One must remember that it was Sofaer who was the prime “architect” of the initial abandonment of the Pollards by Israel, resulting in the “Rogue Operation” scenario and the subsequent “plea agreement” disaster. One might speculate that ol’ Abe is indulging in a little misdirection prior to the onset of embarrassing revelations.
    Finally, the perceived appearance of “dual loyalty” is another Diaspora fear that plays well to our political correctness when, in truth, supporting Israel is a defining characteristic of American Jewry.
    William Northrop
    Author of SPOOK WAR,
    A Memoir from the Trenches

  • Barry

    Just by watching this current Administration in action one can easily imagine the unethical politics of the 1980’s with regard to the Bush Administration.
    See, America is no more just and ethical,and as bigoted as they come.

    • shloime

      we do have a pretty good idea of what pollard did, “spying for a friendly nation”. but why should this rate a much longer sentence than has ever been served for spying for a non-friendly nation? especially when the us had an agreement in place to share intelligence with israel? because casper weinberger and company were deliberately feeding israel disinformation, and pollard showed them up. (and his release could further embarrass official washington, if pollard sells his story to hollywood, or goes on the speaking circuit.)

      “embarrassment” is one thing, but what would it do to the credibility of all the intelligence-sharing agreements that america is peddling to iran’s neighbours, to try to reassure them about the mullahs’ nuclear programme?

      maybe by christmas, the whole iran thing will be over, or maybe america won’t be sharing data with israel any more, and it won’t make much of a difference…

  • Barry

    As we have seen lately, with Obama’s comments on those who oppose the Iran deal, there is the intimation of dual loyalty by Jewish groups.
    As with not speaking out against Hitler’s actions against Jews and requesting Roosevelt’s help in getting them out of Europe the Jews of America, in the majority, remained silent out of the fear of being targeted as being anti-American.
    It is about time that the Americans learned of the true actions of Weinberger and Baker with regard to Pollard, and especially with regard to to Lebanon in the early 1980’s.


    Why worry over something that did not happen?
    Pollard did not cause any more anti Semitis than was normal.
    Pollard may have been loyal to both Israel and the USA.

    Why has there not been an outcy over the other spies who gave their contacs names to the enemy, some were “eliminated”
    but served short sentences. Pollar has been suffereing for 30 years.

    Why has he been in prison for 30 years/ Because he Is Jewish. That is what one cn call anti Semitism.
    It was the judge who was the biggest Jew hater in US history.

    Nobody knows what Pollard did and what he gave to Israel. The USA have kept him in prison all these years, because he warned Israel of dangers to Israel, by the US government.

  • Robert Davis

    Antisemitism is NOT based on anything like that,spies,opinions etc. It is based on geopolitics, cowardice and the fact antisémites know they do not risk any retaliation which is what stops them from attacking other religious groups. Jews never understood the importance of violence in politics. If jews had used violence against “palestinians” the conflict would have been solved long ago but lefters ie communists are such hypocrits they mask their cowardice with all kinds of vague philosophical theories to hide it.

  • Peter

    Being anti Israel is not being antisemitic.

  • steven L

    The traditional antisemites failed to cash on “Pollard” crime. The democrats have at last revealed their true color: socialism. Socialists are by definition antisemites.
    So, The number of Muslims is slowly increasing and they may also contribute to increase antisemitism. NO there is no increase in antisemitism because of Pollard.

  • ART

    The Pollard case showed the anti semitism of the CIA, FBI and State Dept. as well as the hatred of Casper Weinberger . It is an interesting fact that Aldrich Ames was one of those who “evaluated” the damage Pollard did Using Pollard as a distraction to cover his own spying for Russia