Just a few days ago, Jews in Israel from across the political spectrum experienced a feeling of joy, hoping that Jonathan Pollard would celebrate the upcoming Passover holiday in Israel. Even those who were opposed to the deal which would free Jonathan experienced that happiness.
Therefore, we all felt despair when we realized that it was not meant to be and that he appears destined to spend another Passover in jail.
But it doesn’t have to be so.
The very fact that the United States offered to release him just a few days ago makes this perfectly clear. Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen, spied for Israel in the United States. He committed a crime, was arrested on November 21, 1985, and was deservingly sent to prison. But Jonathan has now entered his 30th year in prison. This, for spying for an ally! Others, who were arrested for spying against enemy countries have been jailed and released in the interim.
Lawrence J. Korb, former US assistant secretary of defense, wrote the following in a September 2012 letter to President Barack Obama: “Mr. Pollard was not charged with harming America and has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions. Furthermore, the average sentence for his offense is 2-4 years.” Senator Dennis DeConcini, who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee when Pollard was arrested, wrote the following in a December 2010 letter to President Obama: “I am well aware of the classified information concerning the damage he caused... Pollard has been punished significantly more than most convicts of similar crimes.”
Both called for Pollard’s immediate release with his sentence commuted to time served.
The list of high-ranking American officials who agree includes former secretary of state George Shultz, former attorney-general Michael Mukasey, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Woolsey, who as CIA director had full access to the Pollard file, has publicly stated that Pollard has served more than enough time.
It is clear that justice has been served, and the offer to release him this week is proof positive that Jonathan does not hold any secrets which could damage the security of the United States. Yet, Pollard’s freedom continues to be denied as he sits in his cell at Butner Federal Correction Complex in North Carolina. His health has been deteriorating in recent years and he has been rushed to the hospital numerous times including having emergency kidney surgery in 2012. His request to attend his mother’s funeral in December 2001 and his father’s funeral in June 2011 were denied.
The values I learned growing up in the United States serve me well in my role as a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. I work toward greater understanding and tolerance among Jews in Israel, for more religious freedom, and for peace between Jews and non-Jews throughout the region. Tears trickled down my cheeks as I renounced my US citizenship prior to my inauguration to the Knesset, an act which Israeli law required. However, I was committed to never budging from the American values which led me to community activism in Israel in the first place. I am ashamed that the leadership of my former country is now violating those very basic values which all Americans hold so dear.
I vividly recall standing up every day in elementary school and saying the Pledge of Allegiance with great pride.
The United States, this “one nation under God” which provided my father’s family with safe haven from pogroms in Russia in the late 19th century and gave my mother’s family refuge after the Holocaust, afforded me every opportunity I could dream of as an Orthodox Jew. But now this beacon of freedom is failing miserably.
The Pledge of Allegiance ends with the words “with liberty and justice for all.” Given the fact that top US officials have been clear that justice has already been served in Pollard’s case, Jonathan is being denied both justice and liberty. As long as Jonathan Pollard continues to rot away in his cell, saying that pledge with the words “for all” is simply a lie.
It is not too late. Jonathan can still celebrate Passover, the holiday of freedom, in Israel. It is my hope and prayer that President Barack Obama will do what is right – according to core American values and basic human decency – and release Jonathan Pollard now. Justice has been served. Jonathan’s liberty should not be denied.
The author, a rabbi, was elected to the 19th Knesset in January 2013 with the Yesh Atid party. He is the first American-born member of Knesset in 30 years.