Picks and Pans Review: Territory of Lies

updated 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Wolf Blitzer

Jonathan Jay Pollard, 34, was a spy. For 18 months, until his arrest in November 1985, he used his post as a U.S. Naval Intelligence analyst to pass secrets to Israel. For this betrayal he has a slim excuse: "I never thought for a second that Israel's gain would necessarily result in America's loss."

Yet material provided by Pollard helped pinpoint PLO headquarters in Tunisia, which Israel bombed in October 1985. It seems not to have occurred to Pollard that he was, in a way, shaping foreign policy by assisting an air strike against a nation friendly to the U.S.

In this detailed 336-page saga, serviceably written by the Jerusalem Post's Washington bureau chief, Pollard is shown to be guilty of a lot of such thoughtless behavior. He acts, but sees himself through a morally distorted prism.

Pollard, son of a renowned microbiologist, spent his dreamy youth studying military theory and political science and becoming a passionate Zionist. No less than 70 European relatives had died during the Holocaust, which became Pollard's license to do whatever he thought necessary to keep it from happening again.

Pollard says he felt a "racial obligation" to help Israel. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he left Stanford, hoping to join the Israeli Army. His frustration and determination only grew when he never left the Los Angeles airport, all flights to Israel having been grounded by the war.

With his background of guilt and frustration, Pollard was a spy waiting to happen. In 1984 he met a much-decorated Israeli Air Force officer, Aviem Sella. Pollard offered to spy for Israel and soon was feeding Sella U.S. Navy documents.

As a spy, Pollard was paid $2,500 a month. "I felt like a prostitute," he admits. But by early 1985, his Navy colleagues became suspicious. Pollard was caught; his wife was charged as an accessory.

Pollard was treated more harshly than even U.S. prosecutors expected, receiving a life sentence after then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger gave the court a blistering 46-page damage assessment. Pollard's wife got two five-year sentences.

Blitzer tries to remain neutral yet shows indignation on Pollard's behalf. The Israeli intelligence community, perhaps out of guilt for failing to grant the Pollards promised sanctuary after he had been discovered, is saving $5,000 for Pollard for every month he is in jail, Blitzer says.

But the most emotionally compelling issue arising from this story is the question of divided loyalty peculiar to American Jews. No one challenges the loyalty of Irish-Americans or African-Americans or Polish-Americans. Jewish-Americans must contend with the anti-Semite's conviction that Jews—because of their attachment to an ancient religion—are unreliable members of the community.

Blitzer didn't plan to write about that issue. But thanks to Pollard's confusion—a once loyal American, he had in fact become an unreliable member of the U.S. community—Blitzer has created a classic case study of a man forced to choose between two deeply held commitments. (Harper & Row, $22.50)

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