The word “traitor” has been bandied about multiple times regarding soon-to-be ex-President Donald Trump. He betrayed U.S. interests with the Russians multiple times: among them, freely offering classified data to their ambassador. He betrayed then-President Obama by conspiring with Israel to seek the defeat of a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) January 20, 2021
But with the flurry of presidential pardons tonight, Trump has betrayed America once again. He pardoned former intelligence agent and Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Aviem Sela, who had recruited Jonathan Pollard to spy for Israel. Sela was a legendary pioneer fighter pilot who commanded the attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. He cut a handsome, dashing figure of adventure. Eventually, he rose to be chief of operations for the IAF.
During a trip to New York, at a social event Pollard met a Jewish businessman whose identity has never been made known. The latter suggested that Pollard meet the brave, dashing Israeli pilot, Sela, who was then studying for a computer engineering PhD at Columbia University. The American naval analyst was enthusiastic at the prospect and a few weeks later Sela flew to Washington and they met.
Clearly, Sela’s PhD studies were a cover, as the Israeli was either working for Mossad or Lekem. The recruitment of Pollard was part of his spying duties. Numerous media articles note that Sela was Pollard’s “handler” or “controller.”
Pollard was star-struck by Sela’s exploits as an Israeli pilot and eager himself to take on the daring role of a real-life spy. Once Sela had confirmed Pollard’s bona fides, he began collecting the intelligence documents Pollard stole and passed them on to the highest Isralei echelons. He also introduced him to Rafi Eitan, then head of Lekem, an Israeli spy agency tasked with stealing commercial secrets of military value from foreign governments. Eitan himself was a legendary figure in Israeli intelligence. He commanded the team which kidnapped Adolf Eichmann and spirited him back to Israel for trial and eventual execution. He also served as a liaison between Israel and Hezbollah when it conspired with the Islamist movement to serve as a buffer against Israel’s greatest enemy (in Lebanon) the PLO.
After Pollard was arrested, the Justice Department negotiated with the Israeli government regarding the status of those who had played roles in Pollard’s espionage activities. Eitan and others were given immunity from prosecution in return for their cooperation in the investigation. But despite the Israeli pledge to fully cooperate, they never revealed Sela’s role. As a result, he was never offered immunity. Later, when the U.S. discovered Sela’s role as a recruiter, and that it had been deceived by the Israeli spies who had obtained immunity, it pursued him with a vengeance. He was indicted in absentia on espionage charges. Though there was an extradition treaty between the two countries, it does not cover the charge of spying; and Israel refused to extradite him.
When the Air Force promoted Sela to the rank of Brigadier General and gave him command of its Tel Nof airbase, the U.S. was enraged. It pledged that he would be persona non grata with U.S. official refusing to meet him or participate in any conferences if he attended. Congress even threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Israel. Eventually, Sela resigned from the military and began a career teaching at a military academy. Since then he has become a wealthy serial entrepreneur in the high tech sector.
A year ago, Trump granted Pollard clemency and freed him to make aliya to Israel, which he did. At that point, a campaign commenced to secure a pardon for Sela as well. The White House pardon which Trump signed today, states explicitly that those who lobbied Trump included Ron Dermer, Miriam Adelson, David Friedman and Bibi Netanyahu.
It’s important to clarify what this means: American citizens lobbied for, and a U.S. president granted pardon to, a foreign citizen who recruited a U.S. citizen to betray his country and hand over top-secret naval blueprints for our most classified ships. Those documents were eventually traded by Israel with Russia in return for the freedom of Soviet Jewish dissidents. This allowed America’s greatest enemy to obtain the most sensitive military intelligence regarding our fleet.
It is one thing to pardon Pollard, who at least has the status of a U.S. citizen. But why pardon a foreign spy whose efforts led to this disastrous intelligence failure? The only way to characterize this pardon is a betrayal of this country. Therefore, I call it treason. It is putting the interests of Israel ahead of those of the U.S.
Interestingly, there have only been a handful of foreigners issued presidential pardons. The last one occurred in the 1930s and involved a Romanian actor who was a popular hero in Western movie serials. Donald Trump once again blows up conventions and sinks America even deeper into the mire.
As I’ve written here many times, Israel’s recruitment of American Jews to betray this country and spy for it, incites anti-Semitism. It confirms the claim of anti-Semites that we Jews place our loyalty to Israel above our loyalty to our birth country. In that sense, not only are these Jews betraying America, but Israel is betraying all American Jews by placing them in such danger. It is a cynical, inexcusable act.
Nor did the spying stop after Pollard’s arrest, despite Israeli protestations that it would never do so again. In fact, numerous American Jews have been arrested for spying for Israel since then. The claim in the pardon document that Israel has “issued a full and unequivocal apology” is false. It has violated the promise that was part of this apology.
But of course it is entirely in keeping with Zionist doctrine which suggests that the loyalty of all Jews worldwide must be to Zion. As I’ve noted here, Ben Gurion once said, shockingly, that if given a choice between saving all German Jews and having them flee to the U.S.; and saving half and having them come to Israel, he would refuse to save the lives of all. That’s but one example in which ZIonists held the fate of Israel above the fate of the Jewish people overall.
That being true, it should be clear to all American Jews that we owe no allegiance or loyalty to a country which would betray us in this way. Our only allegiance must be to justice, and an Israel that renounces such behavior by becoming a democracy, rather than a Judeo-supermacist state.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.