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Behind the Headlines Simmering Conflict Between Israelis and U.S. Jews over the Pollard Case

March 16, 1987
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Shlomo Avineri, a distinguished Israeli scholar and academician, has triggered an angry controversy over his charge that American Jewish leaders exhibited a “galut” mentality in their reaction to the case of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for Israel.

He accused them of “cringing” for fear of charges of dual loyalty, thereby belying “the conventional wisdom of American Jewry feeling free, secure and unmolested in an open pluralistic society.”

Avineri, a Hebrew University professor, historian of Zionism and a world-renowned authority on Marx and Hegel, made his charge in an “open letter to an American friend” which appeared in The Jerusalem Post a week ago.

Theodore Mann, president of the American Jewish Congress, in a letter of reply to Avineri, declared that the Jewish reaction in the U.S. “emanates from anger at Israelis, and not from fear for their own security.”

“. . . That Israelis, believing that American Jews are vulnerable to the ‘dual loyalty’ charge, should nevertheless have proceeded to recruit an American Jew as a spy, and that no one was punished for this (quite the contrary), shows a disdain for American Jewry by Israeli leadership that is profoundly insulting, “Mann wrote.


Avineri, a former Director General of the Foreign Ministry whose name has surfaced as a possible candidate to be Israel’s next Ambassador to the U.S., observed that subjectively at least, American Jews were very much in galut.

“. . . In the Pollard case . . . a degree of nervousness, insecurity and even cringing” is surfacing, Avineri charged. “Let me not mince words: Some of the responses of American Jewish leaders after Pollard’s sentencing remind me of the way in which Jewish leaders in Egypt under (Gamal Abdel) Nasser and in Iran under (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini ran for cover when members of their respective Jewish communities were caught spying for Israel.

“. . . American Jewry has prided itself on being a free community of proud Jews living in an open society in which being Jewish was considered as American as apple pie. How many times have American leaders told me that American is not another exile, that you do not live in the galut. . .?

“And what do we see now? A person who happens to be Jewish (isn’t that your favorite phrase) is caught spying for Israel. You would expect that in a free and open society no guilt by association would be presumed, and that nobody, except Pollard himself, should be held responsible,” Avineri wrote.

“Instead, we see some senior American Jewish leaders falling all over each other in condemning Pollard and distancing themselves–and the Jewish community — from him. When did American Jewish leaders last pontificate on matters of criminal justice? . . . I am reminded of some Jewish reactions in France to the Dreyfus affair: He is guilty. We are not. We are good French patriots. . .”


Avineri asked, “Why do American Jews qua Jews have to feel the need to distance themselves from Pollard? Shouldn’t they be saying that the fact that one American Jewish person is convicted of spying for Israel (or for that matter, for the Soviet Union) is no skin off their nose — and that’s that?”

Avineri said he “hears American Jews talking about being accused of dual loyalty. And who among non-Jews has accused you of that? Only Jewish people have used the phrase in the context of the Pollard affair — because you, not the non-Jews, somehow feel deep in your hearts that despite all of your material success and intellectual achievements, you may not be seen by non-Jews as being truly Americans.”

Avineri noted that “Zionism grew out of the cruel realization that for all their achievements and successes, when the chips are down, Jews in the diaspora become more vulnerable and defenseless, are seen as aliens — and will see themselves as such. You (American Jews) always told us that American was different. Of course it is.

“But . . . you are afraid that Jews will not be able to get responsible positions in your bureaucracy, that Jewish employes in the defense and intelligence branches will be under some sort of handicap, that Jews will be denied access to sensitive positions. One Jewish spy — and look how deep you find yourself in galut.”

Avineri stressed that he was not condoning what Israel did in the Pollard affair. “What we did was unforgivable — not because of its impact on American Jews, but because of the impact on Israel-U.S. relations. . . “

He added, “The test of really belonging . . . is when the going gets tough . . . Your leaders reacted like trembling Israelites in the shtetl, not like the proud and mighty citizens of a free democratic society. . .”


Mann, in his reply, conceded “that 200 years of freedom do not erase a mentality 2,000 years in the making . . . But Avineri’s analysis is a diversion, having little to do with American Jewish reaction to the Pollard affair. That reaction emanates from anger at Israelis . . . Whether American Jews believe that ‘when the chips are down’ they will be seen as alien is doubtful. Most I suggest do not . . . I can recall no previous incident in the history of Israeli-diaspora relations that has been the cause of so much anger and disappointment among American Jews.”

Mann concluded: “That Israel spied on the United States is a serious breach in the relationship between those two nations. That Israel recruited an American spy who was Jewish, is a serious breach in the relationship between our two Jewish communities . . . That Shlomo Avineri should see in this the vulnerability of American Jews rather than the Israeli disdain for American Jewry that it so obviously was, evidences a widening gap in understanding between our two communities that bodes ill for both.”


Meanwhile, a 65-member delegation of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations will begin a five-day series of meetings with top Israeli leaders this Tuesday to discuss U.S.-Israel relations in light of the Pollard affair and the Iran arms scandal. The delegation will be headed by Morris Abram, Conference chairman.

Abram said they would exchange views with and be briefed by Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and other Cabinet Ministers and military and intelligence analysts and labor and industry figures.

Before leaving New York, Abram said the visit had been planned for several months and was not related to statements by Secretary of State George Shultz and Congressional leaders that they were distressed by the Pollard spy case.

“We do, however, expect to raise the matter candidly with Israeli leaders,” Abram said. He referred to Pollard’s espionage as “a serious crime” that “should never have taken place.”

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