November 16 to November 22

Jonathan Pollard, Secretary Pompeo's trip to the West Bank, and honorable mentions

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Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard free after the U.S. Justice Department terminates parole:

Background: In the 1980s, Jonathan Pollard joined the Navy as an intelligence officer. While serving in the Navy, he approached an Israeli military officer, who put him in contact with Israeli intelligence. Over the next 18 months, Pollard delivered suitcase after suitcase of documents to the Israeli officers. Israel reportedly paid Pollard tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for the information, which contained satellite imagery and extremely sensitive details about American intelligence-gathering operations. Israel is believed to have used the information Pollard provided for Operation Wooden Leg, during which it bombed the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s headquarters in Tunisia. However, the extent of the information Pollard stole and gave to Israel is not publicly known. The FBI ultimately arrested Pollard outside the Israeli embassy, where he attempted to seek refuge.

Despite pleading guilty, a U.S. District Judge issued Pollard a life sentence. Many view the sentencing as extreme because no other individual accused of spying for a friendly country has ever received comparable time in prison. Yet, a large number of American officials have opposed any attempt to reduce the sentence or allow Pollard to resettle in Israel because they believe the damage he caused to American national security is too significant. As you might imagine, opinions on Pollard’s case tend to be strong. 

The case has also had a substantial impact on U.S.-Israel relations. Of course, the United States was angry that one of its closest allies was spying on them. Making things worse, there are allegations that Israel traded some of the intelligence it gained with the Soviet Union to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel (these claims have not been confirmed). Still, under pressure from a number of domestic groups and Israel, multiple American Presidents have considered pardoning and releasing Pollard. Yet, Presidents Clinton, Bush (43), and Obama all turned down requests from the Israeli government to release him from prison early. It’s a long and complicated story, but what you need to know about Pollard is that many people feel strongly that he should either be immediately released or never released, and that his case is highly political.

Pollard. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

What happened? Last week, Pollard’s parole was unceremoniously terminated, making Pollard a free man after 30 years in prison and five years of government monitoring. Israel gave him citizenship in 1995, and he is widely expected to fly to Israel in the coming months. According to the Times of Israel, his parole extension would likely not have been declined unless it was approved by senior officials, suggesting the Trump administration played a role in securing his parole termination. If that is true, the Pollard case’s resolution would be another pro-Israel legacy item for President Trump.

Anything else? It will be interesting to see how Israel treats the Pollard situation. On the one hand, Israelis may wish to celebrate Pollard because he is somewhat of a national hero for providing Israel information that the United States withheld. On the other hand, some, including Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, believe that embracing Pollard may anger the United States (and the new Biden administration in particular) because many government officials view him as a traitor who exposed countless intelligence assets. Keep an eye out for stories about Pollard because it might turn into something bigger over the next few weeks.

Further reading:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Israel, changes American policies toward the West Bank:

What happened? On Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Israel last week, he visited the Psagot winery in the West Bank, making him the first Secretary of State and highest-ranking American official to visit an Israeli West Bank settlement. The selection of Psagot is symbolic because the European Union Court of Justice ruled that Psagot winery’s wine must be labeled as a settlement product. Alongside Secretary Pompeo’s unprecedented visit, the U.S. State Department issued a press release stating that products made in the West Bank should be labeled as Israeli products.

Why is this important? The move to recognize West Bank products as Israeli is a blow to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel through isolation. Secretary Pompeo also announced that the United States would consider BDS antisemitic and prevent participating groups from accessing government funding. The announcement is controversial because many see BDS participation as a legitimate use of free speech and opposition to BDS as a means of silencing Palestinian advocacy. Secretary Pompeo also hinted that the Trump administration might be planning more changes to American Israel policy in recent days.

Further reading:

Honorable Mentions:

Deni Avdija is an Israeli star. Here's what you need to know about the Wizards' newest draft pick” by Matthew Paras (Washington Times) (At 9th overall, Avdija is the highest-drafted Israeli in the history of the NBA)

Jewish Group Denounces White House Pick for Preservation Commission” by Maggie Haberman (New York Times) (I would have talked about this in more detail, but the Pollard and Pompeo stories grabbed more attention this week. Darren Beattie, who was fired from the White House in 2018 for attending a white nationalist conference, was selected by the Trump administration to serve on a commission that does work related to the Holocaust.)

Madison Cawthorn arrives in Washington” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider) (Cawthorn, a 25-year-old Republican Congressman-elect, told Jewish Insider that he has tried to convert Jews to Christianity)

Secret plans helped Brooklyn synagogue pull off massive, maskless wedding” by Susan Edelman (New York Post) (Thousands of Hasidic Jews gathered inside the synagogue for the wedding, which took place on November 8)

Corbyn reinstated by UK Labour Party after suspension resulting from anti-Semitism probe” (JNS) (Corbyn’s reinstatement comes just 19 days after the Labor party suspended him)

Here are profiles of two potential Jewish picks for Treasury Secretary: Sarah Bloom Raskin (Gabe Friedman, JTA) and Janet Yellen (Gabe Friedman, JTA)

Who will Biden pick to be ambassador to Israel?” by Jacob Kornbluh (Jewish Insider) (Meanwhile, Biden has reportedly chosen Tony Blinken as his Secretary of State. You can read Kornbluh’s profile of him here. Blinken is Jewish.)

IDF says it bombed barracks of top Iranian officers in Syria to ‘send message’” by Judah Ari Gross (Time of Israel)

IDF strikes Hamas infrastructure in retaliation for rocket fire” by Anna Ahronheim (Jerusalem Post)

Many Jews of color and diverse Jews are politically conservative — and many voted for Trump” by Mijal Bitton (JTA)

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