Jonathan Pollard is no hero. But I will welcome him to Israel regardless.
Pollard didn’t act out of selfless regard for Israel. According to the unclassified version of the damage assessment published by the CIA, he aimed to maximize his profits, seeking to peddle his services to other nations, including apartheid South Africa. And as M. E. “Spike” Bowman, a former top FBI and National Counterintelligence Directorate official, said in a 2010 interview: “No other spy in the history of the United States stole so many secrets, so highly classified, in such a short period of time.”
According to Bowman and other U.S. intelligence officials, Pollard sold documents to “Pakistan, South Africa and two other [unidentified] countries.” And the NCIS investigator in the case, Ron Olive, stated that so prolific was Pollard, that hard copies of the documents he stole over a year and a half could “fill a room that is six feet by six feet by ten.”
But that’s only part of the story. On the other hand, many claim that Pollard should never have been kept in prison so long. He wasn’t convicted of treason; in fact, he wasn’t even so much as indicted on treason charges. Pollard served 30 years, when the standard punishment is a 2-4 year sentence. Pollard struck a plea bargain in which he spared the US the embarrassment of a lengthy public trial, in return for a promise by the government not to seek a life sentence – a promise that was reneged upon. As Judge Steven Williams noted, this was “a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”
And then again, the issue of Pollard’s early release was repeatedly met with notably fierce opposition from within the American establishment, including from figures friendly to Israel. Donald Rumsfeld, in conjunction with no fewer than six other former US Secretaries of Defense, sent a letter to President Bill Clinton in 1998 to insist that Pollard not be granted clemency. Rumsfeld issued a similar letter in 2001 in his capacity as Secretary of Defense, urging President George W. Bush not to release Pollard.
While the full extent of the intelligence leak may never be known, it seems clear that the American intelligence community was genuinely deeply shocked and intent on seeing him pay the price for the unprecedented breach of trust.
From another perspective, though, Pollard didn’t just pay the price: America made an example of him, sending a message to Israel specifically and its allies in general that spying on a friend is something America will not tolerate. He was even prevented from attending his father’s funeral in the late 1990s. Perhaps in part because of his treatment, Israelis and Jews made a hero of Pollard, portraying him as selflessly serving the interests of the Jewish state.
In reality, Pollard seems a flawed, reckless human who caught America hiding information and who himself got caught passing on that intelligence. It is entirely possible that he also genuinely believed that he was doing a service to Israel by passing on some of the information, but it is also clear that he went above and beyond what Israel needed for security purposes. (According to some reports, passing on information about Russian nuclear codes, for example.) In many ways, his behavior was that of an addict, which is consistent with the results of a CIA polygraph test which suggested an excessive drug use problem.
Regardless, as a Jew, I welcome Pollard home. One of the commandments in Judaism is Pidyon Shvuyim, meaning “redemption of captives.” It’s a religious duty in Judaism to secure the release of a fellow Jew captured by slave traders or imprisoned unjustly by the authorities. Indeed, Maimonides wrote, “there is no mitzvah greater than the redeeming of captives.”
Moreover, the national project of rebuilding the Jewish homeland is still incomplete, and seeing more Jews join the millions already here is genuinely heartwarming.
Finally, the time has come to put this chapter to bed. It has long strained relations between the two countries. Pollard deserves to move on, just as Israel and America need to move on.
So, Mr. Pollard, you may not be the hero so many proclaim you to be, but you deserve to move forward with your life, and to be with your people in our ancestral homeland.
It’s time to come home.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of HonestReporting.