The Republicans’ Pollard Problem

With congressional efforts to win convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release on the uptick, it’s interesting to consider the Republicans awkward Pollard problem. (Read the Jewish Week editorial "Release Pollard Now" here)

That problem was evident earlier in the month when 39 House members signed a letter calling for Pollard’s release – every last one of them a Democrat.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the letter’s organizers, said he tried to get some Republican signatures, to no avail.

The problem is, the GOP is caught between some strong political interests when it comes to Pollard. And the plain fact is, one is stronger than the other.

Yes, they love the Jewish right when it comes to issues like the Middle East peace process, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and terrorism. And you’d think that would make them natural supporters of the get-Pollard-out-of-jail movement, which is anchored in the Jewish right despite increasingly broad support from major Jewish organizations.

But the Republicans are also national security hawks who tap traditional veins of American patriotism; the idea of freeing a spy, no matter how much time he’s served, is hard for many to swallow.

Back in the late 1990s, when former President Bill Clinton was considering swapping Pollard as part of a Wye River agreement, there were reports many Republican members of Congress were nervous about releasing a spy whose supporters hailed him as a hero of Zion.

That fear probably helps explain the lack of GOP support for the recent congressional letter – along with a loathing of supporting anything the Democrats are for.

I’m not saying the Democrats are good and the Republicans bad on Pollard.

The fact 39 Democrats signed the Pollard letter represents a bit of a shift in the political landscape, but it would be an exaggeration to say Democrats are swarming to the commutation crusade, either.

In reality, the idea of releasing a convicted spy, even if there’s no sound legal or national security rationale for his continued incarceration, is something that makes politicians of all stripes – Republicans and Democrats alike- nervous.

I’m guessing more members would like to speak out for commuting Pollard’s sentence – but worry that if he IS freed and arrives in Israel like a conquering hero, there could be some uncomfortable political blow back.

That’s more of a problem for the Republicans than the Democrats right now –which is undoubtedly a big reason Barney Frank got bubkes when he tried to get GOP colleagues to sign his Pollard letter.

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.