A plea for Pollard

Continuing to hold him captive, as he grows old and frail, seems vindictive. We hope Obama will feel it appropriate to intervene.

Jonathan Pollard 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
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 vexed issue.
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 excessively punished.
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 actions.”
None of this facilitated his release. Maybe Netanyahu’s public apology and plea this week will achieve what Pollard’s recantations failed to.
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.
America 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.
The equation between Pollard and Barghouti is so inherently offensive as to render any such trade-off unthinkable. This, despite the desire to see Pollard free.
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.
Pollard himself, 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 ended.
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.