As efforts to win his commutation intensify (last week former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger added his name to the list of former high U.S. officials asking for clemency), it’s still true that most of what’s written about the case is sheer propaganda.
Pollard’s most fervent supporters depict him as a hero of Zion, thereby making it much harder for any president to commute his sentence, and as a victim of government anti-Semitism; the strongest opponents of commutation exaggerate the damage he did to U.S. interests with his spying for the Jewish state and the danger his release would pose to national security.
Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin has done something unusual; he has analyzed Pollard’s crime and punishment with a clear eye and, mostly, a lack of ideology. As a longtime Pollard watcher, I’d rank Tobin’s article with Wolf Blitzer’s seminal 1989 book Territory of Lies, as among the best things written about the case and its aftermath.
In The Pollard Spy Case, 25 Years Later, Tobin does an especially good job laying out exactly what Pollard did and how Israel used him and the dysfunctional nature of so many of the efforts to win his freedom
Today, “the case for mercy is not inconsiderable,” Tobin writes “Despite the hysteria that the suggestion that he be released provokes from the intelligence establishment, freeing Pollard now would harm no one.”
But “there is no underestimating the damage that Pollard and his Israeli handlers did to American Jewry. The decision on the part of a few operatives and their political masters to exploit what may well have been the romantic delusions of a man of questionable judgment and character did far more injury to the countless loyal Jews who have served the United States so well for generations than anything else. It is not inappropriate that Israel’s government would seek the freedom of a man who, however misguided and harmful his mission, served that nation. But whether or not Obama or a future president ever accedes to Israel’s request for Pollard’s release, his unfortunate example will always be exploited as a pretext to justify those enemies of Israel and other anti-Semites who wish to wrongly impugn the loyalty of American Jews.”
The only thing I’d add to Tobin’s analysis is how Pollard has been misused – and contributed to that misuse by tacitly accepting their praise – by supporters who portray his actions as heroic. Commutation is an act of mercy, but in any high profile case it inevitably is shadowed by politics; those supporters have dramatically raised the likely political costs to presidents as they consider appeals to let Pollard out.
But that’s just a quibble; Tobin’s article is a must read for anybody interested in the seemingly endless Pollard saga.