Time to Restore Trust

Israel this week became the latest democracy to join the not-so-exclusive club of friendly countries on which the United States spies. But unlike the other members of the club — including Britain, France and Germany — Israel has a spy sitting in an American prison for 28 years because it violated the hallowed principle that “friends don’t spy on friends.”

There are, of course, many reasons for Israel to be upset about the revelation. On the most basic level, it says that the U.S. administration doesn’t trust the Israeli government and doesn’t take what its leaders say at face value. In turn, it forces Israel to take precautions because its best friend has the most sophisticated eavesdropping equipment in the world but lacks the maturity, self-discipline and judgment to know when not to use it.

Trust is the most important ingredient in the relationship between the United States and Israel, especially now when Israel is being asked to take existential risks vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Iran solely on the basis of American assurances. And that trust has been badly undermined.

Second, there is a matter of American interference in Israel’s internal affairs. The eavesdropping wasn’t just about trying to ascertain what Israeli leaders really think about the peace process and how much they’re willing to give up to advance it. It wasn’t just about getting an inside track on how Israel’s relations with China or Russia are advancing, or about arms deals that involve U.S. technology.

It was, according to reports, an attempt to gather information on politicians whose views aren’t in sync with those of the U.S. administration. This information was to be leaked to the local media in order to embarrass these figures and ruin their political careers.

It isn’t too hard to guess which politicians were being targeted. It stands to reason that it was those pesky “radical” right-wingers who oppose territorial compromise.

But what hurts most about the revelation of American spying on Israel is that it shows that the administration’s “justification” for subjecting Jonathan Pollard to viciously disproportionate punishment is nothing but sanctimonious posturing. Friends do indeed spy on friends.

Another canard, that Pollard’s actions caused irreparable harm to U.S. interests, has long been dispelled by numerous top officials at the time, from National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane to Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence J. Korb to former CIA director Jim Woolsey.

“The affidavit filed by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger [that led to the overturning of Pollard’s plea-bargain agreement with federal prosecutors], was surely inspired in large part by his deeply held animus toward the state of Israel,” McFarlane said in a letter to President Barack Obama. “His extreme bias against Israel was manifested in recurrent episodes of strong criticism and unbalanced reasoning when decisions involving Israel were being made.”

Moreover, as former Congressman Robert Wexler wrote in a letter to the U.S. president, Pollard “is the only American citizen convicted of such a crime to be sentenced to more than 14 years in prison. Currently the punishment for such a crime is set at a maximum of 10 years.”

Clearly, the reason to release Pollard immediately has nothing to do with the latest revelation. His release is long overdue based on the merits of the case. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, “We do not need a special incident to talk about the release of Jonathan Pollard.”

But the revelation is an opportunity to make Washington aware of its double standard and the need to finally do justice in the Pollard case, if for no other reason than to compensate Israel for the administration’s breach of trust. Once we’ve dispensed with the false notion that Pollard’s sentence was a result of America’s “hurt feelings” at having been spied on by a friend or the supposedly irreparable harm he did to U.S. national interests, it becomes obvious that a fair-minded president like Obama must grant Pollard clemency immediately, releasing him for time already served.

Netanyahu, who met this week with Jonathan’s wife, Mrs. Esther Pollard, to brief her on developments, and who has done more than any other prime minister to try to gain Pollard’s release, has made it clear that he will continue pressing the administration on the matter.

The Knesset, which is splintered on just about every issue, is united in its demand that Pollard be released. More than 100 Knesset members signed a letter to Obama this week asking for Pollard’s freedom, and a special discussion was scheduled for Wednesday.

As opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) put it, “On this issue there is no coalition and opposition in Israel.”

The prime minister and the Knesset deserve credit for raising their voices loud and clear on an issue that cries out for justice, and we call on the organized Jewish community in the United States and around the world to rally on Pollard’s behalf.

Many voices have been raised over the years from many different corners, but have then faded away. Now is the time to sound them again, together, in a powerful outcry that the administration will not be able to ignore.

Most critically, it is the time to raise our voices to the Matir Assurim, to plead on behalf of Yehonasan ben Malka, that he be granted immediate release from prison, that he have a refuah sheleimah and the opportunity to live out a long and healthy life in Eretz Yisrael.