This past week on June 19, 1953, was the 68th commemoration of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. This Jewish American husband and wife were convicted of passing nuclear secrets to the USSR and of espionage on its behalf. The Rosenberg couple were executed by the federal government of the United States at the Sing Sing correctional facility in Ossining, New York, becoming the first American civilians to be executed for such charges and the first to suffer the death penalty during peacetime.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the electric chair, just before Shabbat, in an unprecedented and disproportionally harsh sentence. 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. This tragedy and travesty of Justice proves once again and beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jews - wherever they may be - are always held to a higher standard and inevitably pay a disproportional price for being members of the Chosen People.
Although a number of leftist organizations protested the verdict, Jewish organizations were conspicuously absent in the Rosenbergs' defense. Public condemnation of the Rosenbergs, a general identification of Jews with left-wing causes, and the shadow of McCarthyism made many Jews fear that their own loyalty was under scrutiny. Some Jewish leaders, including the American Jewish Committee, publicly endorsed the guilty verdict.
The unprecedented sentence incensed protesters world-wide, who claimed that the Rosenbergs had not been given a fair trial, and that the punishment was disproportional to the crime of which they were accused and convicted. Demonstrators around the world called on the US government to revoke the Rosenbergs' death sentence, while defense attorney Emmanuel Bloch fought to reverse the decision to execute the Rosenbergs.
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.
But to no avail. That Friday, Julius and Ethel became the only Americans in history to be sentenced to death in peace time for espionage, meeting their fate on the electric chair.
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' (quotes added, R.J.) condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world."
In a moral world, you don't execute based on what "may have" [resulted] - unless those to be sentenced are Jews.
So, despite the Rosenbergs having been convicted, President Eisenhower wouldn't go any further than claiming that they "may have" been spies, maybe he knew something that the public didn't know, but it seems that the principle of a higher standard against Jews was put into play. In a moral world, you don't execute based on "may have" - unless those to be sentenced are Jews.
Fast forward thirty-five years, another case involving a Jewish spy, sentenced to life in the US for spying for an ally. Jonathan Pollard, was convicted of spying for Israel in 1987. Just before Pollard's sentencing, Senator 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 was actually kept secret from Pollard and his defense counsel. And 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 – it was Aldrich Ames, a drunken senior CIA official who 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.
In fact, 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, however, 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 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 re-examine 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.
Pollard was released from prison in 2015 after sitting behind bars for an unprecedented 30 years and then released under extremely strict parole conditions, including a prohibition against leaving the US. In November of last year, President Trump approved the Justice Department’s decision not to renew his parole restrictions, and Pollard was allowed to make Aliyah to Israel.
Within a historic perceptive, both tragic cases, those of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and of 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. No doubt it is reprehensible anti-Semitism, but maybe we ourselves can also look at it another way.
So, brothers and sisters, while it’s difficult for us to endure the evil visited upon us by the hypocrisy 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.