An invitation extended to convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to serve as the keynote speaker at a large Jewish event in Australia has sparked condemnation and exposed a deep rift in the community.
Pollard, who served 30 years in an American prison and five years on parole before becoming a free man late last year, was invited by Mizrahi, the largest religious Zionist movement in Australia, to deliver the main address at the annual Jerusalem Day event on Sunday. Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.
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Pollard was convicted of spying for Israel in 1987 when he served as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy’s counterterrorism center. The incident put great strain on Israel’s relations with the United States and raised questions about the dual loyalty of Jewish-Americans. Pollard immigrated to Israel at the end of December and now lives with his wife in Jerusalem.
Jeremy Leibler, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, questioned the choice of such a controversial figure for a large community event. “While the hosts of the Yom Yerushalayim event are free to select their guest of honor, I can think of far more appropriate guests to speak at such an event than an individual who has been convicted and imprisoned by Israel’s strongest and most reliable ally for treason,” he told Haaretz.
“The issue of Jonathan Pollard raises very serious issues for Jewish communities in the Diaspora and one has to question the judgment of selecting him as a keynote speaker for such an event.”
The Jerusalem Day event is being co-hosted by the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation – also known as the Caulfield Shul. It is considered to be the flagship synagogue of the Orthodox community in Melbourne, with an estimated 1,500 members. Other sponsors – all affiliated with Modern Orthodoxy – are the Bnei Akiva and Hineni youth movements, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and the Council of Orthodox Synagogues Victoria.
Pollard will be delivering his speech from Jerusalem via video to an in-person gathering at the synagogue.
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Prominent members of the Jewish community, Haaretz has learned, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the hosting organizations about the choice of speaker. However, both Mizrahi and the Caulfield Shul have so far refused to back down. The synagogue board, slated to meet later on Monday, might revisit the decision.
Rabbi Ralphe Genende, the senior rabbi of the Caulfield Shul, refused to comment on the decision, but according to a letter he sent to members of the congregational board, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, he was extremely upset by it.
Danny Lamm, the president of Mizrahi Australia – who was behind the initiative to invite Pollard – asked David Mond, the president of the board of Caulfield Shul, if his synagogue would be willing to host the event. Mond welcomed the idea.