Citizen Pollard

November 23, 1995 - The Jerusalem Post - Editorial

Ehud Barak ended his short career as interior minister this week with a welcome decision - to grant Israeli citizenship to Jonathan Pollard. This decision, announced on the tenth anniversary of Pollard's arrest, should have come sooner.

Pollard has suffered dearly for the information he sent Israel. Unlike other spies convicted in the United States for spying for a friendly country, Pollard was given a life sentence, and spent his first five years in solitary confinement.

In the past 12 years, 11 men and women have been convicted in the US for spying for various countries. Most received sentences of two to four years and only one was sentenced to more than 10 years. (Steven Lalas, convicted of spying for Greece, was given 14 years in 1993).

Moreover, Pollard never did the US any harm; suspicion that he had damaged American interests was based on disinformation planted by master-spy Aldrich Ames. To cover his own tracks, Ames spread the word that Pollard's information to Israel had been delivered by a mole in the Mossad to the Soviet Union.

As Justice Minister David Laba'i has said, granting Pollard Israeli citizenship sends two messages. It is first and foremost a token of gratitude to Pollard for sacrificing his life for Israel's security. It is also a way to express Israel's dismay at the severity of the punishment Pollard received, even though he cooperated with his investigators, and in defiance of the plea bargain he made with the prosecution.

When Prime Minister Shimon Peres visits the US next month, a request for Pollard's pardon must be on the agenda for his meeting with President Bill Clinton. In this, Peres would be following in the footsteps of Yitzhak Rabin, who earlier this year asked Clinton to pardon Pollard. Clinton then turned Rabin down, saying he would not make a decision before Pollard's parole hearing, scheduled for January.

Now that Pollard is an Israeli citizen, Clinton could conceivably free Pollard as a political gesture, noting that with the granting of citizenship, Israel has expressed some readiness to accept responsibility for Pollard's actions. Releasing Pollard would also be an American tribute to Rabin; only days before his death, Rabin had drafted a letter to Clinton - never sent - asking once again for Pollard's pardon.

It is hoped the reservations of Pollard's sister, Carol - who fears bestowing citizenship on Pollard may boomerang - are unfounded, and that Pollard will be able to take advantage of his new citizenship and build a new life in Israel.