US President Barack Obama looking upset 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
All of us here in Israel welcomed wholeheartedly the announcement by the White House that President Barack Obama will visit Israel next month.
Over the past two years, the president has made critical policy decisions that have enhanced Israel’s security and international standing.
Now, it is my hope that the president will use his upcoming trip not only to meet our political leaders, but to forge a bond with the people of Israel. The best and most appropriate way to do this is to finally pardon Jonathan Pollard and allow him to come home to Israel ahead of the presidential visit in March. This would be not only right an historic wrong, but will also serve to remove an unfortunate stain from an otherwise close American- Israeli relationship.
Earlier in his presidency, the president made a number of decisions that some of us felt were not helpful in terms of our geopolitical standing and strengthening our negotiating position with our neighbors. Thankfully, during the second half of his first term it seems that President Obama began to chart a new course. The Obama administration stood resolutely by Israel’s side at the United Nations as the Palestinians attempted to nullify our signed agreements by forcing a vote on unilateral statehood.
Similarly President Obama has joined the US congress in placing and enforcing biting sanctions that are aimed at curtailing the Iranian nuclear program.
Nevertheless, the feeling persisted here that President Obama has not connected with Israelis on a visceral and emotional level. While the steps the president has taken over the past two years have helped reassure leaders in Israel about the president’s intentions, a pardon for Jonathan Pollard would go a long way in showing the Israeli people where his heart lies.
Many question the necessity of the President of the United States emotionally connecting with the Israeli electorate. After all, they do not elect the president and he does not report to them.
On the other hand, Obama’s predecessors from both American political parties understood that if they want Israel to trust them on matters of grave importance such as the very survival of the Jewish state, then a strong connection must be sustained with the people of Israel.
By inviting Ilan Ramon to take part in a NASA mission Bill Clinton further solidified an already strong bond that he had built with the Israeli people, and George W. Bush was well aware of the significance of his two visits to Israel while we were celebrating 60 years of our independence.
These presidents understood that if they were going to ask Israel to trust the US on the most important matters of national security then they must set the right tone through significant gestures to create good will.
Jonathan Pollard has been imprisoned in the US federal penitentiary system for almost 28 years. It is now clear that in passing information to an American ally about dangerous nations that threatened Israel’s security, Pollard thought he was acting in the best interests of both the United States and Israel.
More importantly, most experts including former senior cabinet ministers and a large number of senators and congressmen now agree that the punishment of a life sentence that Pollard received was hugely disproportionate to the charges for which he pleaded guilty. Even former CIA Director James Woolsey has gone as far as to say “There is absolutely no reason for Pollard to be imprisoned substantially longer than spies from other friendly, allied, and neutral countries.”
I understand that a decision by President Obama to pardon Pollard and release him from prison will not be without controversy. Many within the American defense and intelligence community still inexplicably object to his release. An American political leader said this week in Jerusalem, “A pardon will have minimal blowback in the States but will send a clear and dramatic message to the Israelis.”
I urge my American friends to consider the positive effects this act will achieve.
Not only will this be an act of justice and compassion by the president, but I know for a fact that it will be universally applauded by regular Israelis. Not all Israelis understand fully what Pollard did, and many even go as far as to criticize his actions, but there is virtually unanimous agreement that the time has come to end this saga and relegate it to our collective distant memories. One public poll showed that Israeli sovereignty over our capital Jerusalem, in the mid-90 percentile, had only one issue higher in the public’s opinion: freedom for Jonathan Pollard.
I do not pretend that all disagreements between our two governments will vanish with Pollard’s release. We sometimes differ with the Obama administration on a range of policies; from what is the best way to restart the peace process, to how urgently the world must act to end Iran’s march toward a nuclear bomb. I do know, however, that if President Obama and our American friends plan on asking the Israeli people to have full trust in them for what promises to be a tumultuous four years, bringing Jonathan home would be a just and noble way to do so.
The author is a Knesset Member, the chairman of Word Likud and author of Israel: The Will to Prevail.