Jonathan Pollard has returned to Israeli headlines, first with his hospitalization, then the appearance of Esther (who he married after being incarcerated) before President Peres, Peres'' appeal to President Obama to release him due to his long imprisonment and ill health, and an announcement from Washington that the President does not intend to change his government''s policy toward Pollard.
The campaign heard in Israel over the course of the 26 years Pollard has been imprisoned includes the following points:
- His actions were meant to benefit a close ally of the United States
- The information he disclosed did not harm the United States
- The information should have been provided to Israel under existing agreements, but had been withheld from Israel
- American officials violated the plea bargain with Pollard, especially in the opposition expressed by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger
- The judge imposed a life sentence despite Pollard''s cooperation with the prosecution
- Individuals who spied for other countries against the United States, including those working for the Soviet Union during the Cold War, served lesser sentences than what Pollard has already served.
One cannot claim to know the whole truth of this complicated story. However, for those who have been exposed only to a campaign calling on the United States to release Pollard, a detailed article in Wikipedia raises a number of disturbing points.
- Pollard is said to have offered classified information to at least three other countries beside Israel.
- He was described by acquaintances as claiming while still a student that he worked for the Mossad and was a colonel in the IDF.
- He had been cited during his career for doubtful stability and reliability. Various superiors sought to remove his security clearance, lower it, and to dismiss him from Naval Intelligence.
- He violated the terms of his plea bargain by granting interviews in which he detailed the information he passed on to Israel, and urged those supporting him to rally in his behalf.
- His activities were damaging to the United States. According to one claim, information he passed on to Israel reached the Soviet Union and resulted in the deaths of American informants.
Pollard''s case makes its contribution to the recognition of differences in interests and perspectives between American and Israeli Jewish communities. Important here are recent articles published by The Jewish Daily Forward (formerly the Yiddish language Forverts פארווערטס)
The simple picture--perhaps too simple--is that the campaign to release him is an Israeli production that provokes some embarrassed expressions of reservation among prominent American Jews. For Israelis, Pollard is a proud Jew serving their country, and subject to unduly harsh punishment by the United States. For a number of prominent American Jews, he has raised once again the disturbing issue of double loyalties.
According to one of Pollard''s own former superiors, an admiral who is himself Jewish
"We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody screw it up... and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me."
On the other side is Alan Dershowitz,
"[E]veryone seems frightened to speak up on behalf of a convicted spy. This has been especially true of the Jewish leadership in America. The Pollards are Jewish... The Pollards are also Zionists, who--out of a sense of misguided "racial imperative" (to quote Jonathan Pollard)--seem to place their commitment to Israeli survival over the laws of their own country... American Jewish leaders, always sensitive to the canard of dual loyalty, are keeping a low profile in the Pollard matter. Many American Jews at the grass roots are outraged at what they perceive to be an overreaction to the Pollards'' crimes and the unusually long sentence imposed on Jonathan Pollard." (Chutzpah!, p. 291)
The Israeli campaign in behalf of Pollard has been led mainly by right of center politicians. It has featured an unusual grant of citizenship to an overseas Jew, and several requests for his release by Israeli prime ministers. However, activists have complained that messages to American presidents have been routine, more in the line of lip service than strong assertions. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert once cut off discussion about Pollard in the presence of the U. S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that it was not appropriate at that time. Israel''s Supreme Court twice rejected Pollard''s requests to intervene in his behalf.
The campaign has lacked the mass demonstrations and enthusiasm seen in behalf of Gilad Shalit.
On the evening after President Obama rejected the latest request to release Pollard, one prominent television news programs did not mention him. Another included an item after its coverage of fighting in Syria. It consisted mostly of an interview with a former American official who supported the release of Pollard, but who has been out of government for more than 25 years,
President Obama''s refusal to release Pollard repeats the decision of President George W. Bush in 2005. President Bill Clinton seemed inclined to consider a release, but backed down in response to opposition from present or former ranking officials, including Secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Melvin R. Laird, Frank C. Carlucci, Richard B. Cheney, Caspar W. Weinberger, James R. Schlesinger and Elliot L. Richardson, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
The committee that works for Pollard''s freedom has not given up hope. Despite the announcement from the White House that the President has not changed American policy, a committee member sees an opportunity in June when President Obama is scheduled to award the Medal of Freedom to President Peres.
Among the reservations heard from the United States is opposition to Pollard becoming a symbol of brave Jews loyal primarily to Israel. While there is no anti-release movement apparent among Israeli Jews, it is not hard to imagine a lack of enthusiasm for citizen Pollard''s heroic arrival and public appearances among Israelis who worry about extreme nationalism, and among those concerned to maintain good relations with US military and intelligence agencies.