Truth, consequences and Jonathan Pollard

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Jonathan Pollard at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Dec. 30, 2020. (Photo: GPO)

Jonathan Pollard was back in the news this week because he announced his plans to get married. Many Christian supporters of Israel have expressed warm feelings of love and admiration towards Pollard, and I think that this is deeply inappropriate.

Here’s why.

I first heard Jonathan Pollard’s name when I was in college about 25 years ago. A Jewish Agency representative came to our modest campus one day to talk about all kinds of things she thought young Jews like us should care about and be interested and involved in. That included efforts to “Free Jonathan Pollard” and the story she told us that day went a little bit something like this.

When Jonathan was a young man, he had been serving honorably in the US Navy intelligence service when he discovered, quite by accident, some material that the Pentagon was supposed to be sharing with Israel, which was vital for the security of Israel, but for some reason (the rep strongly hinted that anti-Semitism was to blame) the material wasn’t being passed on to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as it should have been. So Pollard, overcome with concern for his fellow Jews living in Israel, took it upon himself to bring this material to the Mossad, starting in June of 1984 and continuing until his arrest by the FBI in November of 1985.

There are a few different versions of the part of the story where he got caught and subsequently arrested, but what’s undeniable is that at some point, he slipped up (he wasn’t a professional spy after all, just a poor guy who was trying to do his best to do the right thing in a very difficult situation) and, upon discovering that the FBI was about to arrest him, he attempted to flee to the Israeli Embassy in Washington. But when he arrived at the gate to the embassy, the Mossad agents inside inexplicably refused to let this great hero of the Jewish people into the main building and grant him asylum. So the FBI rolled up in their cars, the agents got out and walked up to take him into custody as soon as he stepped outside the gate to the embassy grounds.

Continuing with the story I heard from the Jewish Agency rep back in college, after a brief investigation, (during which Pollard’s Constitutional rights were flagrantly violated on several occasions despite his being fully cooperative and not lying to the agents interviewing him or changing his story even once) he was coerced into pleading guilty to one count of illegally passing classified material to a foreign government, and then cruelly given a life sentence in prison with the possibility of parole only coming up in 2015. This prison sentence was far longer than sentences handed down to people who had been convicted of passing classified US intelligence to other friendly powers such as the UK.

However, there had been several appeals for clemency and a presidential pardon, but every time the subject came up, a legion of mean, cruel, merciless anti-Semites in the CIA, FBI, the Pentagon and the State Department would raise their voices to object, making risibly absurd claims about how Jonathan Pollard hadn’t paid for his crimes and was, in any case, still a threat to national security. The Mossad refused to lift a finger to help him, since they valued their relationship with the CIA more than the freedom of one, poor Jewish man who had selflessly given so much to his people.

In the years since first hearing this story from that Jewish Agency rep, I’ve heard and/or read it many more times, with the details occasionally changed a bit here and there.

This narrative is designed to generate sympathy for Jonathan Pollard, and it’s had a great deal of success in doing so. It worked on me for a long time. But then one day, I happened upon an article in a news magazine (I don’t even remember which one) and it told a different side of the story. In the 20 minutes or so it took me to read that article, several questions came into my mind about the story I’d always believed about Pollard.

In the next few days, I went looking for more information and found to my amazement that a large amount of material regarding the FBI investigation of Pollard was still classified (this was about 15 years ago, more files have been de-classified since then) but even the small amount of material which was publicly available back then painted a VERY different picture than what that Jewish Agency rep had told me back in college.

First off, Pollard didn’t “give” anything to Israel, and what he passed on wasn’t some highly important stuff that the CIA was supposed to be giving to Israel but wasn’t. He SOLD a tremendous amount of classified material to the Mossad, most of which he didn’t even look at before he handed it over to them. He just grabbed anything he could from the office where he worked in the US Navy intelligence unit and brought it to them in exchange for money.

Second, he didn’t only sell classified intelligence information to Israel. According to the FBI and the Naval Counterintelligence Service, he also sold, or attempted to sell, classified US intelligence information to the intelligence agencies of other countries, including Pakistan, Australia, South Africa and possibly others. He also sold information to private individuals who used the information he sold them to facilitate illegal sales of weapons and other contraband to governments and criminals in several countries all over the world. During his initial interrogation by the FBI shortly after he’d been arrested, he admitted to several of these allegations, including passing classified documents to the Australians (who didn’t ask for it and who promptly informed the FBI about what he was doing, which is one of the reasons the FBI started investigating him.)

Third, despite the very serious espionage and criminal activity that Pollard was believed to have been involved in, the FBI (probably because they were embarrassed that they’d taken so long to catch him and wanted to avoid a big, public scandal about it) made a very generous offer to him, allowing him to plead guilty to a a single fairly moderate charge which would have carried a mild prison sentence. He took the deal, but then he violated the terms of it, which led to it being revoked and the prosecution demanding a much longer prison term, which the judge in the case granted. That partially explains why he was in prison so much longer than other people who had been convicted of similar crimes.

Fourth, the Mossad gave him very clear instructions about what to do if he got caught and if he’d followed those instructions, they would have helped him escape to Israel, given him a new identity and a pension and all the rest. Most likely, the CIA and the Mossad would have quietly hashed things out between them and there would have been minimal damage to the US-Israel relationship while Pollard never would have had to spend one single day in prison. But instead, he ignored the Mossad’s instructions and got arrested in front of the Israeli embassy as the cameras rolled, producing tremendous embarrassment for Israel and decades of hassles and headaches for everyone involved in US-Israel relations.

On that subject, several Israeli government officials have publicly lamented that the information Pollard provided to Israel wasn’t even that important and certainly didn’t compensate for the damage done to Israel’s public image and relations between Israel and the US following his arrest. Many prominent members of America’s Jewish community have also expressed their deep anger at him for the damage his actions had done to the public image of the community and the increased difficulty the blatantly deceitful campaign to support him had done to their own communal activities, including their efforts to support Israel.

For instance, Sumner Shapiro, the US Navy Admiral who served as Director of Naval Intelligence from 1978 to 1982, was among the many members of the American Jewish community who were scathing in their criticism of the efforts to lionize Pollard with lies and false narratives, saying in one interview he gave shortly before he died “We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody screw it up … and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me.”

Again, the majority of files related to Jonathan Pollard, including the evidence gathered by the FBI about his activities, are still classified and probably will remain so for many more years to come. But quite a bit has been released to the public, and anyone who believes this thing called “the truth” matters can find it very easily.

Parenthetically, I am quite certain that the Jewish Agency rep who first told me about Jonathan Pollard was very aware of much if not all of this, but she neglected to tell me these mitigating details because they don’t support the overarching narrative she was trying to convey. The narrative of “Jonathan Pollard, hero of the Jewish people, long-suffering victim of cruel, institutionalized anti-Semitism in the US government and indifference in the Israeli government” is what she tried (successfully) to plant in my mind that day. Certain other movements within Israel and the Jewish Diaspora (sadly including the Jewish Believer community) have also been pushing that false narrative for decades, and continue to do so up to this very moment.

But this man was NOT a hero of Israel, or anywhere else. He was a greedy, mentally unstable opportunist who abused the trust that was placed in him by the US Navy for his own personal financial and emotional gain. If he wants to know who he should blame for the fact that he spent so many years in prison, all he has to do is look in the mirror. I still have some pity for him, but I don’t have any sympathy for him, much less admiration.

But what about the rest of us, especially the Body of Christ and supporters of Israel?

The truth about Jonathan Pollard is not only “out there” it’s out in plain sight for everyone to see. But one has to WANT to see it. One has to be more interested in the truth than in being popular with this or that constituency.

As followers of Jesus Christ, this thing called “the truth” is supposed to be kind of important to us. We’re not supposed to take blatantly untrue false narratives at face value just because we like the sound of them or because they support the larger narrative that we’re emotionally invested in. We’re not supposed to refuse to believe things that ARE true just because we find them inconvenient. 

Jesus Himself said, as recorded in John 14:6, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.

That, to me, indicates that “truth” is pretty important to Jesus Christ, and if it’s important to Him, it should be important to those of us who call ourselves followers of Him as well.

Christian support for Israel and the Zionist movement is not a new phenomenon. The term “Christian Zionist” was first publicly spoken by none other than Theadore Herzl, and he spoke it out at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, in an address where he gratefully acknowledged the presence of several Christian pastors who were in attendance at the event. Even before that speech, the “Restorationist” movement which believed in the need to “restore” the Jewish People to their ancestral homeland and which was the precursor to the Christian Zionist movement, was a foundational part of the Protestant Reformation which began in the late 16th century.

In other words, Christian Zionism has been around for a very long time. It is LONG past time for it to grow up and mature to the point of telling the truth to itself and the Jewish People and the Jewish State, even when the truth is kind of painful and/or inconvenient. Because there are enemies of Israel and the Jewish People who point to false narratives like the one about Jonathan Pollard’s “heroics” as a reason to not support Israel and to be suspicious and contemptuous of Israel and the Jewish People.

From a human perspective, which is what all people who don’t fear God have, that’s a somewhat valid point.

Lies, deceit and false narratives might gain the Church of Jesus Christ and the Nation of Israel a few friends and/or some temporary tactical advantages, but in the long term, these things are toxic. We MUST rid ourselves of them, and a good place to start would be to take Jonathan Pollard down off the pedestal we’ve put him on.