If Israel’s president and prime minister have any sense, they will steer clear of Jonathan Pollard.
After a lengthy period in prison and restrictions having subsequently been placed upon his freedom of movement, Pollard is now finally free to move to Israel and make his home as he has indicated in Jerusalem.
Some will argue that his overly lengthy incarceration for spying against his country was motivated in no small measure by vindictiveness and a desire to send a very clear message to American Jews not to engage in espionage on Israel’s behalf.
Pollard is no paragon of virtue. He is said to have sold his services to a number of countries, and Israel admitted in 1998 that it had also paid him.
Our prime minister is reported today as having expressed his congratulations to Pollard on his release from parole. Our president went so far as to say that “We can now unhesitatingly proclaim: Blessed is the One, who releases the imprisoned”.
The stage is now potentially set for a grandiose reception ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport reminiscent of that given to Gilad Shalit at Tel-Nof when Bibi was there to greet him after he had been released in the context of a prisoner exchange with Hamas.
Bibi, who never misses an opportunity for a photo opportunity, may be tempted to be waiting at the airport to welcome Pollard in the same way as he received Shalit. It will be good for his image in Israel at a time when elections are in the offing, and will give him an opportunity to score a political point against Naftali Bennett’s New Right party.
However, while our prime minister has a habit of playing to his home audience, he would be well advised to consider the international implications of giving Pollard a hero’s welcome.
Pollard was a spy and from an American perspective is a traitor. He made many American Jews feel uncomfortable as though their fidelity to their country was open to question.
At a time when Joe Biden is about to assume the presidency, the last thing Israel needs is to encourage the view that we are not a faithful ally that the United States can rely upon.
Bibi will have to choose between playing to his home audience and acting discretely so as not to damage our image overseas. It is to be hoped that his indefatigable need for photo opportunities will not get the better of him this time.