Jews, Ethics, And Pollard

During a speech to a group of students brought together by the Jewish Institute for Jewish Leadership & Values, a wonderful organization that is trying to help young people relate Jewish teachings to political and social issues, the Pollard issue came up. What struck me in the discussion that followed was the confusion many of the participants seemed to have about the relationship between Judaism, politics, and ethics.

The students who engaged me in debate were clearly in favor of freeing Pollard, presenting the various arguments made on his behalf: he was helping a U.S. ally not an enemy, his punishment is more severe than that given to Soviet spies, the U.S. shouldn't be keeping intelligence from Israel, and so on. They had apparently not given much thought to the counter arguments. I suggested to them that Pollard was actually a traitor to both the United States and Israel.

First, he violated his promise, and the law, not to disclose classified material to anyone. Second, we don't know how much damage he caused to U.S. security by giving Israel sensitive material. The advocates on Pollard's behalf don't have any idea what he stole or who ultimately saw it. The only people who know what was taken all oppose his release, and it is notable the list includes some of the most pro-Israel members of Congress and the Clinton Administration.

We do know Pollard did immense damage to the level of trust given to American Jews, particularly in sensitive positions. People in the Navy, where Pollard worked, for example, make no secret of the residual bitterness they feel and the suspicions they harbor toward Jews.

Finally, Pollard showed contempt for Israel by leading the federal agents he knew were on his trail directly to the Israeli Embassy. The name of the game in espionage is deniability, and Pollard may be the only Israeli agent, and one of the few of any country, who deliberately implicated his sponsors before being caught. Do Pollard's friends really believe this episode helped Israel, that the U.S. became more willing to share sensitive material as a result?

Now the students at least had two sides to consider. Still, they didn't seem to fully appreciate the issues of Judaism, politics, and ethics involved. I raised a few examples with them that you might think about and discuss with your kids.

You are hired as a CIA analyst. You understand that you will see classified information and that the disclosure of this material is a crime. One day you receive material that indicates the Syrians are mobilizing their troops and that they have loaded chemical weapons onto missiles aimed at Israel. It is your understanding that the Israelis are unaware of these developments and you are not sure if the United States is sharing the information with the Mossad.

What do you do?

Do you try to convince your superiors to pass the information to Israel? What if they don't? Do you risk going to jail, perhaps for life, by going to Bob Woodward and hope he'll put something in the Washington Post or contact a friend in the Israeli Embassy? Do you analyze the information as requested and say nothing? If you keep quiet, can you live with yourself if Syria attacks Israel with chemical weapons and it is unprepared?

How about this scenario: You are working for the White House, a dream job with power and prestige. The President announces that he wishes to encourage Syria to make peace and has decided to sell Hafez Assad American fighter planes. You disagree with the decision, but even after making your case directly to the President, it stands. Do you resign in protest? Do you stay on in hopes of influencing other policies?

One last example. You've been asked to join the peace process team at the State Department. You now have the chance to shape proposals designed to encourage Arabs and Jews to reach an agreement. You believe that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and must remain undivided, but you are told the U.S. government position is that the status of Jerusalem is to be negotiated by the parties and you get the sense that the officials you'll be working with lean toward pressuring Israel to make some concessions on Jerusalem's sovereignty. Do you take the job?

The substance of the CIA example is fiction, but the scenario is plausible. Jews in the White House have faced the second type of dilemma many times. In 1978, Jimmy Carter's liaison with the Jewish community, Mark Siegel, chose to resign over the sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia. Another of Carter's Jewish advisers, Stu Eizenstat, stayed. Martin Indyk long supported the establishment Jewish positions on Jerusalem and other issues, but he chose to work in a Clinton State Department that does maintain the status of Jerusalem is a matter of negotiations.

Judaism, politics, ethics. They come together in interesting ways in Washington and the decisions people make are rarely as easy as the students calling for Pollard's release may believe. As the emphasis on Jewish education gains steam, hopefully more educators will join the Institute in taking up such issues.