US President Barack Obama fancies himself in grand Lincolnesque terms and avers
over and over that Abraham Lincoln is his model. Quite shamelessly invoking the
Great Emancipator, Obama chose to kick off his first presidential bid on
February 10, 2007, in Springfield, Illinois, just where Lincoln voiced his
historic challenge to slavery in June 1858. And honing the comparison with a
characteristic deficit of humility, after his electoral victory Obama took his
family with much pomp to the Lincoln memorial.
But, for all of Obama’s
blatant manipulation, it’s not that superficial similarities don’t exist. Like
Honest Abe, Obama cuts a thin, lanky figure and sports oversized ears. None too-
modestly Obama considers himself a master-rhetorician, a supreme crisis-manager,
if not the outright shining beacon of liberty. There’s absolutely no denying
that Obama is a dab hand at stagecraft and expediency.
advantageous analogy for all it’s worth, Obama’s inauguration speech theme was
lifted with abundant conceit from a line in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “a new
birth of freedom.” Obama just loves the word “freedom.” With theatrical
flair he enunciates it liberally at every occasion.
That in mind, it
would therefore be reassuring to assume that never far from Obama’s awareness is
what Lincoln wrote in 1859: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for
At this point in time the only man who denies Jonathan
Pollard freedom is Obama.
It’s in the power of the US president to
finally do the long overdue right thing and set free the man who now languishes
in his 27th year of imprisonment for passing American intelligence (about
inimical third countries – Iraq, Libya, and the then-PLO headquarters in Tunis)
to a friendly country (Israel). He should have been freed way back, without
linkage to his declining health.
Making a sadistic example of Pollard for
nearly three decades intrinsically contradicts the most elementary notions of
justice and freedom.
This is something for our president, Shimon Peres,
to be mindful of when he is awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of
Freedom – America’s highest civilian award – on June 13.
As a collective,
we Israelis can convincingly conjecture about Obama’s motives for thus honoring
Peres precisely as the race for the White House heats up. Nonetheless,
we’d willingly suspend our not unjustified cynicism were the mutually beneficial
presidential ego massages accompanied by a genuine gesture of freedom. We’d like
nothing better than to set skepticism somewhat aside and bask in the outwardly
warm glow of rare affection for an otherwise serially vilified
Watching Peres wined and dined, feted and gloried (with all four
living US ex-presidents partaking in the gala event), could afford us such a
nice break from the disparagement and defamation that are our daily lot in the
international arena. It’s tempting to forget our own exasperations with the real
Peres as we knew him over the years (not always for the best) and join carefree
in the celebration.
But we’re not free from care.
According to the
1987 Eban Commission Report (the Knesset committee appointed to investigate the
Pollard affair), Peres – prime minister when Pollard was arrested in 1985 –
played a pivotal role in the evolving misfortune.
When the story hit the
press, Peres conversed with then-secretary of state George Schulz in an attempt
at damage control. He lamely denied any knowledge of the operation and
undertook to do everything in his power to assist the Americans in prosecuting
the suspect they had just apprehended.
Instead of defending Pollard – his
agent – or negotiating for his release, Peres essentially delivered Pollard to the prosecution. There’s no
mincing words. Peres lied barefaced when he told Americans that Pollard was a
freelancer who had purloined secrets for profit.
Also according to the
Eban Commission Report, Peres was the one who handed over to the Americans all
of the documents that Pollard had provided to Israel. These documents were
surrendered, significantly, with Pollard’s fingerprints still on
This was crucial. Without these documents, there would have been no
case against Pollard, no hard evidence. Without Peres’s direct collusion,
Pollard would have likely walked or had his wrist reprovingly slapped. He
certainly wouldn’t have been sentenced to life behind bars.
This is the
first and only time in the recorded history of modern espionage that a country
had cooperated in the prosecution of its own agent abroad.
attorney John R. Fisher underscored the centrality of the evidence Israel handed
over. Writing in the “Government’s Opposition to Motion to Reduce Sentence”
(June 17, 1987, p. 10) Fisher elucidated: “Cooperation was not forthcoming in
this case until several months after [the] defendant’s arrest. Indeed, [the]
defendant agreed to enter a guilty plea and cooperate only after government
attorneys and investigators returned from Israel with additional evidence of
[the] defendant’s guilt.”
Fast forward 27-plus years: The man who
arranged for the delivery of evidence essential to forcing Pollard to plead
guilty is ironically to receive a “freedom” medal from the man who continues to
deprive Pollard of his freedom. That sadly is the dishonorable bottom line of
the travesty. But it’s hardly all of it.
The punishment meted out
to Pollard was from the outset scandalous. It was disproportionate in the
extreme, especially considering the fact that he never put American agents or
interests at risk, that he never divulged anything involving America but clued
in a fellow democracy about the machinations of its enemies, which happened to
have also been America’s enemies.
Appreciably lighter punishment was
meted to assorted US spies for greater offenses, including those involving
tangible and severe security hazards to America.
The fact that Pollard
was treated so ultra-harshly by any existing legal yardsticks and the fact that
his tribulation is still ongoing, despite his age and infirmity, isn’t just
pointlessly cruel. The departure from all punitive precedents in his case smells
foul. It’s difficult to escape the impression that the only reason Pollard was
over-punished and is still denied his freedom is because he’s
Although Pollard’s life term is unparalleled for transferring
classified material to an ally, no US administration in nearly three decades
countenanced pardoning him. This, despite the fact that in 1991, Pollard
publicly apologized and expressed further remorse in a 1996 open letter to
then-president Bill Clinton. In 1998, Binyamin Netanyahu admitted Pollard spied
for Israel and sought to free him as part of the Wye River deal. Clinton reneged
on the agreement.
The demonstrated inequity in Pollard’s case should
trouble anyone who profoundly cherishes actual freedom – not just the
presidential Medal of Freedom and accruing accolades.
The profuse praises
about to be showered upon Peres would all ring hollow should Peres be acclaimed
and exalted in the august name of freedom while Pollard is still most literally
Obama most literally holds the key to Pollard’s cell. It
behooves Peres to persuade Obama to use it. Peres, thus far, has been true to
his promise and did formally ask for Pollard’s release.
administration issued an ambiguous statement which news outlets spontaneously
interpreted as an unconditional rejection of Peres’s request. In response, Peres
released a communiqué stressing that he still awaits authorized word from the
White House. From that point on nothing further has been heard on the
The stalemate is strange considering that the tributes Obama
plans to heap upon Peres aren’t without ulterior motive. Consequently, to rebuff
Peres outrightly would constitute a massive discourtesy, effusive blandishments
As things stand, the last word hadn’t yet been spoken,
notably because Obama said nothing personally or officially. Hence, the ball is
still presumably in play.
For Obama, releasing Pollard is risk-free, rife
with potential reward and wholly without political detriment. Nobody can
credibly persevere in the sham that Pollard threatens American national security
Indeed, the pendulum has swung hard and many former US
higherups now support Pollard’s release and have appealed to Obama to end
Pollard’s overlong ordeal. In their words, this is a matter of simple fairness
because his sentence is “grossly disproportionate,” quite apart from
humanitarian concerns about his age and precarious medical
Pollard, they say, has already more than paid his debt to
society. Any additional incarceration is a miscarriage of justice. This is the
opinion of, among others, former secretary of state George Shultz, former
secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former White House legal counsel Bernard
Nussbaum, former attorney-general Michael Mukasey, former deputy
attorney-general Philip Heymann, former Senate intelligence chairman Dennis
DeConcini, former CIA director James Woolsey and many more.
now hinges on Peres’s pluck. If he acquiesces in allowing Pollard’s tragedy to
be overlooked, then the denial of freedom which Peres facilitated will continue
while Peres is pronounced the prince of freedom.
But if Peres musters
sufficient courage, he’ll confer upon himself the most exceptional of
opportunities. More popular among foreigners than any other Israeli, he
can, in the unique circumstance orchestrated by Obama, conjure up prospects for
rectifying his own the past. Peres can correct a wrong in which he played a
critical part. He can help set things right... if he only truly wants
And if Peres is wary of introducing controversy into his dialogue
with Obama, the soon-to-be Medal of Freedom recipient would do well to recall
that George Orwell defined freedom as “the right to tell people what they do not
want to hear.”