I have never had much sympathy for Jonathan Pollard. No matter that his actions were motivated by concern for Israel. No matter that he leaked information to an American ally. No matter that what he leaked should have been given to Israel in any event.
I don’t generally feel that people who break pledges to their country deserve much sympathy or support and, despite the circumstances mentioned above, I have not felt that Pollard deserved the time and attention he has gotten from Israel and some leaders in world Jewry over the years.
However, in recent years it has become clear that Pollard has suffered a grave injustice of which Americans should be ashamed. He made his plea based on assurances that were then disregarded by the judge. We know that the Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, out to make an example of Pollard and perhaps reaching to put an exclamation point on his repudiation of his Jewish heritage, grossly misled the court as to the supposed damage done by Pollard.
In recent years, former secretaries of state and other former State Department figures, former Justice Department officials, and many more public and private leaders from both parties have taken on Pollard’s cause, arguing that he has suffered a miscarriage of justice and that his 28 years of imprisonment is far beyond what others convicted of similar crimes have served. Some have characterized his further imprisonment as inhumane.
So, I came around to thinking that Pollard should be released. Still, I have argued that Israel should not have to deal for him, to put it crassly. Israel should not have to give up bargaining chips for him. His release should not be a debit on Israel’s account.
Pollard’s imprisonment is a stain on the American judicial system, a system Americans are rightly proud of. It should not take bargaining or begging by another country for America to correct an injustice in its own system.
The American system is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, ever created. It has many mechanisms for self-correction. It usually does correct itself and do justice, although it can take decades. Americans should be interested in doing justice in the Pollard case not for Israel, not even for Pollard, but for America. Nothing should be required of Israel, and Israel should not push to get Pollard freed. Americans should.
Despite these feelings, I could not help but think that Prime Minister Netanyahu should finally draw a line. Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama have implored Netanyahu to release terrorists, murderers of innocent children and civilians, in order to get President Abbas to the bargaining table. They have argued that Abbas and the Palestinians need an incentive to bargain.
Someone supposedly wants a country, but they need an incentive to come to the table to get it?
Putting aside that absurdity for now, Netanyahu reportedly informed the Secretary and the President that, given the resistance to releasing the murderers of their children, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, that Israelis too needed a little incentive, a little confidence building. He asked for the release of Pollard, and he reportedly got told, in no uncertain terms, “No Way.” Chutzpa.
The Palestinians have fallen in love with pre-conditions. We won’t bargain unless Israel releases prisoners. We won’t bargain unless we know the borders we’ll receive in advance. We won’t bargain unless we are assured that no Jews will live in our new country, or at least they won’t live in new houses.
I suggest Prime Minister Netanyahu join the pre-condition party: We won’t release prisoners until Pollard is released. We won’t bargain unless Abbas recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. We won’t bargain unless Abbas recognizes that Jews have a history in and claims to Jerusalem.
What’s good for President Abbas ought to be good for the Prime Minister. And it ought to be good for Jonathan Pollard and American justice.
For background on the Pollard case, and for a persuasive argument on why he should be released, see Gil Troy’s November 16 2010 piece in Tablet Magazine.