Editorial - New Haven Jewish Ledger - April 1, 1994
The announcement last week that President Clinton had refused to commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard, the naval intelligence analyst who was sentenced to life in prison for spying for Israel, came as no surprise to those who had been following the case closely.
Despite the appeal for clemency from the Prime Minister of Israel and numerous Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, the forces arrayed against him seemed to hold all the cards.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to clemency for Pollard was the division of the American Jewish community on this issue. To some, Pollard became a Zionist hero, a man who sacrificed his own freedom to gain vital information for Israel's security when he realized that the United States was refusing to provide it. To others, he was an embarrassment, a man whose betrayal of his oath of office raised the specter of dual loyalty and caused far more harm to Israel than the advantage gained by his espionage.
However, for most American Jews, the cause for Pollard centered on his life sentence. That unusually harsh judgment was brought about, in large part, by allegations by then Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger in a letter to the judge. The role of Weinberger, the most conspicuous foe of Israel within the government of the day, gave credence to the charges that anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel, were responsible for Pollard's life imprisonment. It was these factors that ultimately moved so many Jews to speak out on his behalf.
But if there was division among American Jews on the question of Pollard, it is clear that no issue has ever united the American intelligence community like that of Pollard. The past six months saw a series of calculated leaks and behind the scenes lobbying from a variety of government agencies, all designed to scuttle the chances for a commutation of Pollard's sentence. The combined forces of the Defense Department, the CIA, the FBI and the Justice Department made a formidable opponent for those trying to obtain mercy for Jonathan Pollard.
One only wishes that these agencies would cooperate half as well in their battles against hostile foreign governments as they did against one man who spied for an ally. (J4JP: What does this say, then, about their perception of Israel?)
Another factor that played against a commutation was the uncovering of Aldrich Ames - the Russian mole within the CIA itself - a case which may be the most outrageous example of espionage in American intelligence history. This atmosphere, in which the damage that spies could do to American interests was so much in the news, was not one in which President Clinton could find the courage to commute Pollard's sentence.
Ironically, though Ames may have doomed Jonathan Pollard's hopes for freedom, the revelations of Soviet penetration of the CIA may put to rest some of the more outrageous charges made by Weinberger and others about Pollard. The notion that information Pollard gave Israel wound up in Soviet hands and cost the lives of American agents has always been the worst of the anti-Pollard propaganda. It now appears that the devastation of the U.S. intelligence network in the 1980s must be credited to Ames and not to Pollard.
In the end, one had to expect a political decision from this very political president. Given the division among American Jews, Bill Clinton had little to gain from commuting Pollard's sentence. And given the wall-to-wall opposition from official Washington, he had a great deal to lose. Nor could one expect that Israel's wishes would count for much at a time when Rabin and Peres are far more interested in gaining American support for their peace strategies than in freeing Pollard.
Despite this setback, we remain convinced that Pollard's life sentence was unjust and must be shortened. After eight and a half years in prison, he has paid for his crime. We urge the State of Israel and American Jewry not to forget him.