Pollard, presidential politics and the Chief Rabbi

Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi is calling on President Obama to released convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. With all respect to Rabbi Yonah Metzger, his compassion for Pollard is appropriate but his political sophistication is a little lacking.

According to Israel Radio, Metzger tied Pollard’s release to Obama’s reelection hopes next year.

"I’m not making a prophesy, but rather echoing the frustrations of numerous American Jews who voted for him and are disappointed by his lackadaisical approach to the numerous appeals for Pollard’s released," Metzger said, according to an AFP story.

The flaw in this argument  is obvious: those American Jews most likely to be angry that Obama hasn’t released Pollard are the least likely to be voting for him, anyway.

There’s no good polling data on the Pollard issue, but I think I can make several points with confidence.

– Pollard remains a hero with a very small right-of-center fringe, a fact that may hurt rather than help his chances for release

– A growing number of pro-Israel centrists, while repudiating Pollard’s actions, believe there is simply no real justification for keeping him in jail after all this time, and want his release on humanitarian grounds.

– Pollard’s supporters have been very effective in recent months in getting mainstream politicians from both parties and former White House officials to call for his release, possibly the most effective strategy cooked up so far.

– A strong majority of American Jews – those not particularly involved in Jewish political or pro-Israel activism – just aren’t paying that much attention to the issue, and never have.

It’s hard for me to see how commuting Pollard’s sentence and freeing him to go to Israel will win Obama points with a Jewish minority that already sees this President as a dire threat to the Jewish state. And it’s hard for me to see how not releasing him will have much of an impact on a Jewish majority that still makes most of its election choices based on domestic issues, and which has never displayed much interest in the Pollard case.

I’ll restate my own views on the issue, in case anybody is interested: I think the interests of justice have long since been served in the Pollard case, and that keeping him in jail serves no useful purpose.

But I also think his most ardent supporters who have turned him into a great hero of Zion continue to undermine efforts to win his release; what President will dare release a spy whose supporters say what he did was justified – and who doesn’t plainly and unequivocally tell them they’re wrong?

That same faction probably contributes to the fact most American Jews don’t particularly want to get involved in the issue; I’m guessing many who would otherwise feel compassion for Pollard after more than a quarter century in jail are turned off by those who celebrate his spying.


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.