Jonathan Pollard 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The word from some in Washington is that in the remaining two years of his term,
US President Barack Obama will strive to project an outwardly warmer attitude
towards Israel and its elected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. When he took
the unprecedented step of publicly appealing to Obama to release the confessed
spy Jonathan Pollard, Netanyahu presented Obama with an opportunity to do rather
more than that.
For Obama this constitutes an issue over which he could
choose to show remarkable empathy toward Israel, underscoring a unique departure
from his predecessors’ policies. Perhaps someone with as critical an eye on past
US positions, indeed, might be just the president to do what no administration
had done before. Obama can show a commitment to different sets of values,
liberated from the entrenched prejudices of previous administrations on this
This isn’t only a Jewish-Israeli matter but, perhaps first
and foremost, a humanitarian cause. From that point of view, it’s high time the
torment of the aging and infirm Pollard be discontinued. The president, who has
shown sensitivity to enemy combatants at Guantanamo, might want to balk at
officialdom’s persistent hardheartedness toward a man who seems to have been
JONATHAN POLLARD has been incarcerated since
November 1985. Charged with spying for Israel, he reached a plea bargain that
would have meant a 20- year maximum term, if not less. The presiding judge,
however, ignored the deal and sent Pollard down for life without parole, a
sentence considered extremely disproportionate for passing information to a
friendly country on, as far as is known, such matters as Iraqi and Syrian WMDs,
Soviet arms shipments to Damascus, Libyan air defenses, etc. This was largely
data withheld by the Pentagon in violation of the 1983 Memorandum of
Understanding between the two nations.
On June 6, 1991, Pollard publicly
apologized for “my indifference to the law.” In an open letter to president Bill
Clinton on May 26, 1996, he expressed “unconditional... heartfelt remorse for my
None of this facilitated his release. Maybe Netanyahu’s public
apology and plea this week will achieve what Pollard’s recantations failed
Perhaps, indeed, as some pundits claim, Netanyahu’s extraordinary
move attests to a prearranged deal in which the public Israeli entreaty was the
last required ingredient. Even if it were so, this is no guarantee of an assured
outcome. In 1998, in a previous unprecedented move, Netanyahu admitted Pollard
spied for Israel, and sought to free him as part of the Wye River talks deal.
Then-president Clinton, however, backed away from the agreement.
itself has pressured Israel to release some of the most heinous of convicted
terrorists as “gestures of goodwill” to the Palestinian Authority. We can only
hope the Obama administration will belatedly countenance a gesture of goodwill
towards Israel – with no strings attached.
Some reports have suggested
the notion of swapping Pollard for convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti,
currently serving five life-terms on five counts of murder.
between Pollard and Barghouti is so inherently offensive as to render any such
trade-off unthinkable. This, despite the desire to see Pollard
Pollard’s espionage is no way comparable to Barghouti’s involvement
in callous homicides. And while there are some in the political establishment
who believe Barghouti could prove willing and able to draw the Palestinians
toward viable compromise with Israel, any pre-second-intifada moderate
credentials were outweighed by his central role in the fostering of that terror
war, and his direct involvement in some of its outrages.
in the past, had rejected any transaction that would equate him with terror
kingpins and that could compromise Israel’s security.
NO MATTER how one
regards Pollard, there’s a rare broad consensus within Israel’s public opinion
and body politic that his inordinately protracted ordeal should be
By any reasonable measure, Pollard has more than paid for what he
did. Continuing to hold him captive, as he grows old and frail, seems
vindictive. We hope President Obama will feel it appropriate to intervene.