Tidbits From Israel
By Ron Jager
During my last year of high school, back in 1974, I heard for the first time about the incredibly tragic case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. This Jewish American husband-and-wife team were convicted of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union and were executed in the electric chair in New York, just before Shabbat in an unprecedented harsh sentence.
June 19 was the 60th anniversary of this event, which had proved that Jews everywhere will always be held to a higher standard and inevitably pay a disproportionate price for being members of the Chosen People.
Their unprecedented sentence incensed protesters worldwide, who claimed that the Rosenbergs had not been given a fair trial, and that the punishment was disproportionate to the crime of which they were accused and convicted. Demonstrators around the world called on the U.S. government to revoke the Rosenbergs’ death sentence, while defense attorney Emanuel Bloch fought for the Rosenbergs to the very last minute of the two-year battle following their sentence. But to no avail. That Friday, Julius and Ethel became the only Americans in history to be sentenced to death in peacetime for espionage, meeting their fate on the electric chair. In the case of the Rosenbergs, they also left two young boys behind to grow up as orphans under the shadow of one of America’s greatest miscarriages of justice.
On the day of the execution, thousands rallied in Paris and London to protest the Rosenbergs’ fate, and hundreds picketed in front of the White House. Attorney Bloch fought to the bitter end for the Rosenbergs, pleading at the gates of the White House for a final hearing with President Eisenhower in his clients’ last hours of life. In a statement released that day, President Eisenhower said, “I am not unmindful of the fact that this case has aroused grave concern both here and abroad in the minds of serious people aside from the considerations of law. In this connection I can only say that, by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world.”
Thirty-five years on, another case involving a Jewish spy, sentenced to life in the U.S. for spying for an ally, is the center of political and public debate. Jonathan Pollard was convicted of spying for Israel in 1987. Just before Pollard’s sentencing, Senator Jacob “Chic” Hecht of Nevada, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, telephoned the leaders of every major Jewish organization to warn them not to support Pollard in any way. Pollard had done something so horrible that it could never be made public. Washington insiders thought they knew the big, dark secret: secret documents confirming that Pollard’s spying had resulted in the loss of lives of U.S. intelligence agents.
Pollard had supposedly given Israel a list of every American spy inside the Soviet Union. The CIA reasoned that the Mossad had been infiltrated by one or more Soviet spies. In a matter of months, every American spy in Russia—more than 40 agents—had been captured or killed.
At least that was the accusation, but the basis for it had been kept secret from Pollard and his defense counsel. It was all untrue. Pollard wasn’t the one responsible for the death of so many American spies in Russia. The Jew didn’t do it—Aldrich Ames, a drunken senior CIA official, had sold the names of America’s agents to the Russians for cash. Pollard was framed for Ames’s crime, while Ames kept on drinking and spying for the Soviets for several more years. Israeli intelligence later suspected that Ames played a direct role in framing Pollard. But no one in America then knew the truth. Ames was arrested in February 1994, and confessed to selling out American agents in the Soviet Union. Ames was released after beginning his prison sentence and sent to live out his remaining years in luxury in Russia as part of a deal between the Russians and the U.S.
Would America now admit that they had been conned into blaming Pollard? In the U.S. Navy’s intelligence service, a decision was made to reexamine the Pollard case in view of the convictions of Ames. With sickening chagrin, the Navy discovered that the evidence needed to clear Pollard had been under its nose all along. The list of American spies inside Russia had been kept in a special safe with a special “blue stripe” clearance needed for access. But Jonathan Pollard didn’t have “blue stripe” clearance. That was the bombshell that would clear Pollard of any possible connection to the deaths of the 40 American spies.
Within a historic perceptive, both tragic cases of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Jonathan Pollard have shown that in comparison to others accused of similar crimes, Jews are held to a higher legal and moral standard and are judged by a different yardstick. While it’s difficult for us to endure the indignities visited upon us by the hypoc‑risy of the world, let us hold our heads up high and proudly proclaim, “Mi k’amcha Yisrael,” Who is like Your people Israel? “Goy echad ba’aretz,” a unique and special people in the world.
If our mission in this world is to be “spiritual role models,” then let’s accept it with dignity and honor and live up to these expectations. v
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic advisor to the director of the Shomron Liaison Office. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ronjager.com.