As Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, Jonathan Pollard – still incarcerated in North Carolina – marked his 10,000th day behind bars.
In all, the spy who helped Israel, but did not harm America, has been imprisoned for 28 years – much longer than spies who were convicted for far greater offenses. By any reasonable yardstick his release is long overdue.
This is not just our opinion.
Ranking American officials have gone on record stating that his sentence is grossly disproportionate. It has long been hard to avoid the conclusion that Pollard’s Jewishness and the fact that he acted on behalf of the Jewish state have contributed to the searing dis-proportionality.
On the scales of justice he had paid more than his dues. But to this must be added the humanitarian aspect as well. Pollard’s health is failing.
Both these reasons constitute solid grounds for commutation of his sentence to time served. The American courts have, however, consistently and adamantly refused to hear the merit of the case. They never allowed Pollard a direct appeal of his life sentence and finally disallowed any further appeals.
The presidential avenue appears just as blocked. Pollard’s petition for commutation of his sentence to time served has been sitting on Barack Obama’s desk for nearly three years without so much as a response. Indeed, the president has yet to acknowledge that the Pollard petition exists.
More than 200,000 Israelis signed a petition urging Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence. Similar appeals were made by Israel’s president and prime minister.
Obama studiously ignored them all.
Moreover, the US president deflects all inquiries. He appears to somehow shift responsibility back to Pollard, as if there were some other legal remedy that Pollard and his attorneys have not tried. This suggestion is a misrepresentation.
No other resort exists.
This leads us to wonder what the American interest may be in refusing to release Pollard.
Perhaps the hint was provided by a Gush Shalom newspaper ad that ran on the last day of Obama’s recent visit here. The radical left-wing organization entreated Obama and his secretary of state to let Pollard go “in return for the release of all of the Palestinians imprisoned in Israel from the pre-Oslo era... ” In other words, Pollard is perceived as a bargaining chip.
Former US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross admitted in his 2004 book, The Missing Peace, that he advised then-president Bill Clinton against releasing Pollard as part of the 1998 Wye River agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his first term. (This despite Ross’s belief that Pollard’s life sentence was disproportionate and that he deserves to go free unconditionally).
Ross argued that Pollard is simply far too valuable as a bargaining chip vis-à-vis Israel to be released cheaply.
It may well be that Ross furnished us with the definitive explanation. Pollard has long suspected as much and had urged that he not be used as a “sweetener” to force Israel to agree to dangerous unilateral concessions.
Despite his prolonged plight, Pollard has repeatedly pleaded not to be freed in return for the release of Arab murderers and terrorists, whose crimes bear no relation to his case and are morally incomparable to it.
He has resolutely insisted that his release should be a matter of justice and fairness between strong friends and trusted allies. In short, Pollard refuses to be treated as a hostage. Hostages are held to be traded with enemies, not with allies.
All this confronts our government with a singular challenge and a heavy onus. If the American intention is to trade Pollard for concessions at an opportune juncture, Israel can turn the tables on this. Pollard’s release can be demanded prior to any further American-initiated negotiations.
Before any American request, suggestion or recommendation geared to restart talks with the Palestinians is addressed, Pollard must be home. Nothing moves until Pollard is released. No gestures. No concessions. No deals.
This is Israel’s solemn responsibility to an agent whom it sent into harm’s way nearly three decades ago.