When President Barack Obama makes his long-awaited trip to Israel, he will find a populace deeply divided over a host of crucial issues. Coming from a city paralyzed by political gridlock, the deep discord within Israeli society will hardly be a new concept for the American president.
There is one issue, however, about which the Israeli people have exhibited a remarkable degree of unity, and this is the plight of Jonathan Pollard. From the most devout chareidim to those whose campaigns are based on bashing the Torah way of life; from the extreme right to the far left of the political scene, there is clear agreement that the time has come to free Yehonasan ben Malka. More than 150,000 Israeli citizens from all walks of life have signed a petition that will be handed to Obama during the visit, pleading for his release.
On this side of the Atlantic we have also witnessed a very disparate group of Jews and gentiles, conservatives and liberals, who have joined former high-ranking government officials familiar with the case to declare that enough is enough; the time has come for clemency to be granted to Jonathan Pollard.
Twenty-eight years ago, the Israeli government did the unthinkable. After giving their agent instructions to seek refuge in the Israeli embassy in Washington if his actions were discovered, they first allowed Mr. Pollard and his first wife into the embassy, and then summarily threw them out into the waiting arms of the FBI. They compounded their act of betrayal by actively aiding the United States in prosecuting Pollard, and then waited more than a decade before taking responsibility for his activities and acknowledging the undeniable fact that he was a bona fide agent.
Now, some of these same individuals — along with many new players — will be playing host to the president of the United States. They have vowed to speak to the American leader about Pollard, who is in ill health as he languishes behind grim prison walls in Butner, North Carolina.
From a logical perspective, the plea for clemency is an easy argument to make. There is no doubt that his actions were mistaken, regrettable and regretted; he himself has expressed sincere remorse on numerous occasions. But this error cannot possibly justify the horrific travesty of justice.
Pollard never intended to harm the United States. In fact, he was never charged with treason, and pleaded guilty only to “passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.” The median sentence for this crime is two to four years. But Jonathan Pollard received an unprecedented and unparalleled life sentence. He is the only individual in the history of the United States to receive such a punishment for this crime.
A recently declassified 1987 CIA damage assessment, which was originally written with the intent to convince the judge to hand down the harshest sentence, has turned out to be one of the most convincing proofs that Pollard should have long been freed. It proves that the material Jonathan handed to the Israelis was limited to helping Israel, and the damage he caused — if any at all — was minimal.
The following paragraph, a direct quote from the CIA report, speaks for itself:
“Mr. Pollard’s unauthorized disclosures have threatened the US [sic] relations with numerous Middle East Arab allies, many of whom question the extent to which Mr. Pollard’s disclosures of classified information have skewed the balance of power in the Middle East. Moreover, because Mr. Pollard provided the Israelis virtually any classified document requested by Mr. Pollard’s coconspirators, the US has been deprived of the quid pro quo routinely received during authorized and official intelligence exchanges with Israel, and Israel has received information classified at a level far in excess of that ever contemplated by the National Security Council. The obvious result of Mr. Pollard’s largesse is that US bargaining leverage with the Israeli government in any further intelligence exchanges has been undermined. In short, Mr. Pollard’s activities have adversely affected US relations with both its Middle East Arab allies and the Government of Israel.”
It is incomprehensible that a man should be held in prison for close to three decades because he upset the “bargaining leverage” between two close allies, and the alleged concerns that were raised by some unnamed Arab countries.
There are a great many valid reasons why President Obama should grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard, including it being a gesture of friendship towards America’s closest ally in the Middle East as well as millions of American Jews. It would go a long way towards mending a strained relationship.
But the most valid reason is that it is the just, humane and right thing to do.