Jonathan Pollard's Release Will Help Israel Heal

December 3, 1995 - Alan Dershowitz - L.A. Times Op. Ed

As Israeli society grows farther apart in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination and the subsequent recriminations, President Bill Clinton is in a unique position to give a healing Chanukah gift to Israel in memory of its fallen leader. Among the few remaining issues that continue to unite Israelis of all political and religious stripes is the call for Jonathan Pollard's release. The late Prime Minister Rabin implored President Clinton to commute Pollard's sentence. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has made a similar plea. Dozens of rabbis, representing different groups, have joined the call for commutation. The religious right is behind this call for compassion, as are most Israeli doves. Were President Clinton to release Pollard as a Chanukah gesture, all Israel would rejoice and come together to celebrate an act of compassion.

As the late Prime Minister explained to President Clinton, America's release of Pollard would make it easier for Israelis to understand why the Israeli government has felt it necessary to release Palestinian terrorists as part of the peace initiative. The need for peace transcends individual cases. And America, too, should contribute its share to the peace process in the form of Pollard's immediate release - which would pose no danger to Americans.

The world has changed dramatically since Pollard committed his crime. The Cold War relationship between the United States and the former Soviet has warmed up. The hot war between Israel and the Arabs is cooling down. New realities have taken over. In response to these realities and prospects, Israel has taken great risks for peace by releasing terrorists. Many Israelis have a hard time understanding why the United States cannot release Pollard as part of the ongoing peace process.

There could be no better time nor more appropriate occasion for the presidential act of "rachmanut" - the Hebrew word for compassion. Pollard's freedom was the last request made of the president by the late prime minister. Were the president to grant Rabin's request posthumously, it would increase the trust in America that many Israelis feel is required for the peace process to move forward. Just before Chanukah, Israel's new prime minister, Shimon Peres, will be coming to Washington to meet with the president. He, too, will be asking for Pollard's release.

There are no compelling counter arguments at the time, since Pollard is now eligible for parole and has served far longer than any other American who has pleaded guilty to spying for an ally. He has unambiguously expressed his sincere remorse for his misguided efforts to save Jewish lives by breaking American law. By applying for Israeli citizenship, Pollard has acknowledged to the world that he placed his love of Israel over his obligation to obey American law. By granting this request, the Israeli government has implicitly acknowledged its culpability in the spying scandal and has explicitly agreed to accept responsibility for Pollard's future good behavior.

Jonathan Pollard was wrong, he has been punished severely, he has shown remorse and the time has come for compassion. Pollard no longer possesses any secret information which has not become stale in the 10 long years he has been serving hard time. His remaining confinement is simply excessive punishment, by any standard of civility and justice.

Moreover, his continued confinement sends a negative message to other defendants contemplating cooperation with prosecutors. Pollard provided considerable assistance to prosecutors and counter-intelligence authorities, and by pleading guilty saved the nation from a potentially embarrassing and divisive trial. Yet he has received absolutely no reduction in punishment for these actions. Indeed the government double-crossed him when it promised - as part of the plea bargain - not to seek life imprisonment and then submitted an affidavit by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger demanding the maximum penalty.

Those of us who watched President Clinton's eulogies for the slain prime minister saw in his face and heard in his voice true love for a fallen leader and deep admiration for his bereaved nation. Now the time has come for a courageous act of compassion by the president. He must stand up to those few nay sayers in the intelligence community who have adamantly opposed Pollard's release. Many in the Republican leadership support commutation. The former deputy attorney general, who was asked to recommend a course of action advised - after a thorough review of the case - in favor of clemency. Releasing Jonathan Pollard for Chanukah will help Israel, help the peace process and help bring Jews around the world together in this season of forgiveness and redemption.

Please Mr. President, do the right thing: commute Jonathan Pollard's sentence to the 10 years he has already served and allow him to start his life again in Israel which is courageously embarking on the perilous road to peace.