Before I enter into the heart of this essay I wish to openly admit that I have been on a long, emotional journey regarding my attitude toward Jonathan Pollard. Back in 1985, when it came to light that he had illegally passed to Israel secret American military documents, as a Jew I felt both embarrassed and betrayed. After all, being a staunch supporter of Israel, I take every opportunity to advocate for her cause before my fellow Americans. I proudly speak about how she is our closest friend among the nations; the only true democracy in the Middle East. However as news of the Pollard case broke and spread, it cut like a knife to my heart. How could this person – in the name of Israel – steal secrets from an America which has stood so firmly by her side? I was very angry, at the man whose actions so endangered the cordial relations between the two nations which I so dearly loved. I was firmly convinced that he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that his punishment should fit his crime.
It was not long after his sentencing to life imprisonment that there were those fellow Jews who stepped forward, petitioning for his release. To be honest, they irritated me. Why should he be released? Because he is Jewish? Because his crime was committed out of his love for Israel? No. What he did was wrong. He betrayed his country and was being justly punished. I also love Israel, but still I am an American and I love my country as well. For Pollard to betray America for the sake of Israel was not helpful but hurtful, both to the American Jewish community and to Israel, for it served to feed the antisemitism of those who claim that Jews cannot hold dual loyalties; that Jews will always choose to be agents of a foreign country – Israel – over being loyal Americans.
The years passed and the calls for Pollard’s release continued. In 1995 he was even granted Israeli citizenship and Yitzhak Rabin tried to include Pollard’s release as a part of the peace process. Indeed afterwards the question of his release found its way into every attempt at an American brokered peace. All to no avail. My anger morphed into more of a disapproving disinterest. “Still with the Pollard thing? Enough already. Let it go. He betrayed his country and now he is doing his time.” Yet with each passing year, I found my sentiments slowly shifting from my “Enough already” meaning “enough with the petitions on his behalf” to meaning “perhaps he has served enough time in prison and we just ought to let him go and put this all behind us.”
Recently, my attitudes have taken a sharp turn in Pollard’s direction. I have to admit I was a tad surprised to read that Reform Jewish leaders joined with leaders from the other movements in visiting with Pollard in prison and calling for his release. It is true that back in 1993 the Union for Reform Judaism passed a carefully worded resolution supporting the commutation of his sentence, but aside from that we have remained practically silent on the question until 2010, and even then we did not have that much to say on the matter. Now, in what appeared to be all of a sudden, the Reform movement is totally on board.
While I was scratching my head, trying to process why the Union for Reform Judaism had ramped up it interest on Jonathan Pollard, I learned of another development in the Pollard odyssey which so angered me that I was moved to re-evaluate my entire approach to the case. The development of which I speak involved the latest attempt by our country to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s initial request that Israel release up to 103 Palestinian prisoners, many of which were found guilty of heinous acts of terrorism, Prime Minister Netanyahu called upon the United States, as a show of good faith, to likewise release Jonathan Pollard. Our government flatly refused. The U.S. administration expected Israel is to release 103 Palestinian terrorists, with Israeli blood on their hands, while they refuses to release one man who passed secret military documents to a friendly power and ally, and as a result has spent the last 28 years in prison. Where is the justice in that? What ever happened to “practice what you preach”? It would seem that our government prefers a “Do as I say, not as I do” approach. One would have thought that the release of one person – Jonathan Pollard – would have been a no-brainer for a U.S. administration if in return they could get Israel to make such a major concession to the Palestinians. Obviously, that was not the case. And now that Israel has announced its intention to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, it would appear that once again, Jonathan Pollard has been sacrificed on the alter of maintaining good relations with America.
The U.S. refusal of Netanyahu’s request inspired me to look further into the details of the Pollard case. The more I learned, the more I realized how unjustly Jonathan Pollard has been treated and how it is beyond time to right that wrong.
First of all, it should be noted that Jonathan Pollard was never tried for his crime. He did enter into a plea agreement with the U.S. in which he did plead guilty and did cooperate fully with the prosecution. Yet the U.S. reneged on the plea agreement and he was given a life sentence.
It also should be noted that not only was the information which Pollard passed on to the Israelis information which was vital to Israel’s security, but it was also information which the U.S. was required to pass on to Israel, according to an 1983 agreement, but which, in violation of that agreement, they refused to share. When Pollard discovered that this information was being withheld, he did approach his superiors about it, only to be rebuffed. It was in light of their refusal to share this vital information, even though they were required to do so, that Pollard decided to take the matter into his own hands.
Still, there is no denying that what Pollard did was a crime; a crime for which he deserved to be punished. But that leaves us with the question of whether or not his punishment does fit his crime.
Pollard was convicted in 1987 but has served time in jail since his arrest in 1985. In other words, he has spent the last 28 years behind bars. One could arguing that considering the fact that he was given a life sentence, 28 years just a fraction of the punishment he earned. However, to better understand the significance of his 28 year imprisonment, we need to place it into a comparative perspective.
Albert Speer was the only Nazi war criminal not given a death sentence who served his full prison term. That prison term was 20 years. Can we honestly claim that Jonathan Pollard’s crime was greater than that of a leading Nazi?
Yet we do not have to turn to the punishment meted out to Nazis to see how excessive it is. We can easily look to how Jonathan Pollard’s punishment compares to those who have committed similar or even more serious crimes. Aside from Pollard, the maximum punishment meted out by the U.S. for a similar crime of spying for an ally has been 16 years, with the median sentence being 2 to 4 years. Indeed, his punishment has been far greater than the vast majority of the punishments meted out for those who have been convicted of spying for enemies of the U.S. In fact, as I write these words, the news has just been released that Pfc. Bradley Manning, the man who was the source of the WikiLeaks, was found Not Guilty of aiding the enemy, but Guilty of multiple other counts, which could add up to a maximum sentence of 20 years. There is no question but that his information found their way into the hands of groups like al-Qaeda
So when is enough, enough? Is it not time to unlock Jonathan Pollard’s jail cell and let him resettle in the land of Israel; the land he loved so dearly that he risked and suffered imprisonment rather than stand idly by, allow our government to deny her information vital to her security?
It is beyond time. Come on, America! Show some good faith with your friend and ally, Israel. As she has done your bidding, releasing 104 known terrorists from her prisons, taking the great risk that these murderers will only strike again, so should you release this one man who tried to do the right thing when his superiors flagrantly violated the terms of an existing agreement between our country and Israel.