Ha’aretz is running the full text of Benjamin Netanyahu’s letter to president Obama requesting executive clemency for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard – the first such formal request from an Israel Prime Minister.
Mostly, I think Bibi struck the right tone.
He was forthright in saying that Pollard “was acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and that Israel’s actions were “wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the Government of Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse for these actions, and Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated.”
He didn’t attempt to portray Pollard as a suffering hero; by implication, he admitted the spy, now in his 26th year in prison, was the victim of Israeli government mistakes.
One addition might have been helpful: Netanyahu could have advanced the cause by promising a full accounting of the material Pollard stole and passed on to Israel – an accounting that has never been made and which is a continuing sore point for clemency opponents.
With the strongest official appeal yet made for his release, Pollard’s American and Israeli supporters can help, mostly by keeping their mouths shut.
Every claim that Pollard was justified in spying because America was improperly withholding vital intelligence to Israel hurts his cause. So does every attempt to say his spying caused no real damage to U.S. interests. Even if that’s true, which I do not believe it is, such arguments will inevitably be interpreted as justifying espionage against America.
And praise for Pollard will only strengthen the position of those who argue that letting him go – and seeing him arrive in Israel to a hero’s welcome from supporters – will send out exactly the wrong message to others in positions of trust who might be tempted to spy on behalf of foreign governments.
What might also help: an unequivocal statement from Pollard: “What I did was wrong, there is no possible excuse or justification for it. I reject those who praise my actions and offer my sincerest apology for the trust I violated.”
I’m not holding my breath for that one.
Ultimately, the blame for the Pollard affair resides in Jerusalem, which recruited – or allowed an ineffectively supervised rogue spy operation to recruit – a naïve, untrained, inexperienced kid to spy on their most valued ally. It seems to me Netanyahu’s letter was a good first step in addressing that fundamental element of the case.
Pollard should be released on humanitarian grounds – not because he’s a victim of anti-Semitism, not because he’s an appealing or particularly sympathetic figure, but simply because keeping him in jail no longer serves national security interests or the interests of justice.
If clemency isn’t forthcoming, the administration should release the still-secret documents that are believed responsible for his harsh treatment.