Pollard’s Albatross

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Secretary of State John Kerry Saturday evening to ask him to intervene to release Jonathan Pollard in the wake of a fainting incident that send the convicted Israeli spy to a hospital earlier in the week.

"Jonathan is sick, his health is in danger, and after 30 years in prison it's time he is released," according to a statement from the PM's office. 

I am in no position to judge the current state of Jonathan Pollard's heath. But I do know, as a fellow reporter told me, "Claims about Pollard's bad health began almost as soon as he want to jail. I remember covering one of the first Pollard rallies – maybe in 87 or 88? – and that was one of the issues."

After so long it is difficult to tell whether the latest incident is truly threatening or another case of the boy who cried wolf.

I am sure he has access to competent medical care and that the Israeli Embassy is monitoring that. 

So why is this claim different from all others?

We don't know, health-wise, but we do know that for most of the past 30 years politicians have been exploiting Pollard's case without regard to whether they were helping or hurting his cause.

Netanyahu has just launched a political campaign for reelection and it is reasonable to suspect that this latest appeal is a cynical ploy to further his own reelection prospects, even though it may make presidential commutation less likely.

It doesn't take a crystal ball to predict that if the confessed spy is released, Netanyahu would most certainly exploit that for his own political gain, portraying himself as the man who, unlike all others, won freedom for Pollard and brought him home.

In that context, it is hard to see Barack Obama wanting to do any favors for the Israeli politician who not only worked to defeat this President but also has been his bête noir for nearly six years.

Of course, Netanyahu has his list of grievances against Obama, but look at it from the viewpoint of the man the prime minister is asking for a huge political favor.

Here's how the President sees the Prime Minister as described by Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

On the opposite side of the ledger, the president is said to be incensed by Netanyahu's slavish deference to Israel's neo-neanderthal right wing, his repeated announcements of provocative settlement plans that seem expertly timed to embarrass Washington, his creativity in finding excuses to avoid even the tiniest step toward compromise with the Palestinians, his timorous reluctance to use political power for any purpose other than to sustain political power and his unabashed embrace of the Republican Party, all of which points to the Israeli prime minister as not just an empty suit tailored by Sheldon Adelson but an unwitting recruiter for radical Islamists.

Maybe after 30 years Pollard has been punished enough for his crimes and the betrayal of his country.

The strongest opposition to release comes from the intelligence/national seucirty community.

The Parole Board's rejection letter to Pollard told him:

The breadth and scope of the classified information that you sold to the Israelis was the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date. You passed thousands of Top Secret documents to Israeli agents, threatening U.S. relations in the Middle East among the Arab countries. Given all this information, paroling you at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the offense and promote disrespect for the law.

Pollard supporters blame the Obama White House for blocking his parole. Some American and Israeli backers see anti-Semitism behind his continued incarceration. But others, like this reporter, say Pollard and his supporters have been his worst enemies — portraying his actions as heroic, or at least as necessary because of an unfriendly government in Washington, thus making it impossible for any American president to order his release. 

In today's highly charged political environment Pollard's release would be seen as giving unfair advantage to one candidate; it may be in everyone's interest to wait at least until after the Israeli election.

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.