Pollard, Pardons and the Isaac Toussie Controversy

Friday, December 26th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

This week’s bizarre presidential pardon story probably didn’t do Jonathan Pollard any good – although there weren’t any hints that President Bush was ever seriously considering commuting the sentence of the Israeli spy, now in his 23rd year in federal prison.

In case you missed it, Bush pardoned Isaac Robert Toussie, a Brooklyn developer and convicted housing scam perpetrator. Almost immediately, the pardon produced rage among New Yorkers who said they were victims of Toussie’s schemes – and a firestorm of controversy because Toussie’s father gave some $30,800 to Republicans this year.

With blinding speed, the White House snatched back the pardon, saying officials there were unaware of the political contributions.

What does this have to do with Pollard, aside from the fact that Toussie, too, is Jewish?

Bush, more than most of his predecessors and certainly more than Bill Clinton, has tried to avoid controversy in exercising his pardon powers. For the most part, recipients have been folks almost nobody has heard of, whose pardons produced no ripples of opposition.

The Toussie fiasco upset those calculations; it’s hard to believe Bush won’t be extra careful about any other pardons during his few remaining days in office.

And Pollard’s release would be certain to generate controversy, primarily from defense and intelligence officials who continue to vehemently oppose his release, both for irrational reasons like the possibility his release could damage U.S. security interests (Oh please: after 23 years, does this guy know anything that could hurt U.S. interests?)  and for the more understandable concern about pardoning a spy whose supporters continue to argue that his actions back in the 1980s were justified.

Also not helpful to Pollard’s cause: this week’s offer by a far-right party in Israel –wisely declined by Pollard – to put him on their Knesset list for the upcoming election.

Did the Our Land of Israel party genuinely think a president who still thinks he’ll be remembered for his Mideast peacemaking efforts would be impressed by the offer of a Kahanist group that would just add to Pollard’s stature as a hero of Israel’s far right?

Pollard’s people aren’t giving up; this week they were continuing efforts to flood the White House with calls asking for his commutation. Recently the  Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wrote to the president, arguing for commutation on humanitarian grounds.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.