Pollard case unnecessarily strains Israeli, U.S. relations

December 13, 1995 - Kenneth Lasson - Jewish Bulletin

It was 10 years ago (November, 20 , 1985) that Jonathan Pollard sought asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and was turned away. He has not been a free man since.

Pollard was charged with passing classified information to Israel. A U.S. trial court, ignoring a plea agreement and accepting the prosecution's argument that this was "one of the worst cases of espionage in U.S. history. " sentenced him to life in prison with a recommendation against parole.

During the last decade, while Pollard has languished in one federal prison after another, the following events have occurred:

  • The Soviet Union (which the American intelligence community inaccurately suggested was a beneficiary of Pollard's largess) disintegrated.

  • Iraq (whose missle-delivery and chemical warfare systems Pollard had described to Israel 10 years earlier) fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv.

  • Caspar Weinberger (the former secretary of Defense who said that Pollard should be shot for his crime) was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the Iran-contra affair and later pardoned by President Bush.

  • Master traitor Aldrich Ames (who for years had concealed his perfidy by putting the blame on Pollard) was unmasked as a perpetrator of the biggest intelligence breach in United States history, responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen agents working abroad for the United States.

    Since then the Central Intelligence Agency has been exposed as grossly mishandling the Ames case and - much worse still - of feeding false information to the president. This is the same discredited bureaucracy that urged President Clinton not to commute Pollard's sentence because of "the enormity" of his crime.

    Toss aside all of the past arguments in favor of Pollard's release.

    No longer is it necessary to be outraged by the government's flagrant violation of its own plea agreement ("a fundamental miscarriage of justice," wrote one widely respected appellate judge); the gross inequity of the sentence (Pollard has already served longer than anyone else convicted of the same offense, more than twice the average sentence); or the blatant misinformation about damage done (the government has yet to produce a shred of hard evidence that the country was damaged in any way).

    Toss aside all of these cogent contentions.

    Pollard deserves clemency not only on humanitarian grounds, but because of the uniquely incontrovertible circumstances of his case - not the least of which is our special relationship with the country to which he passed classified information.

    Israel, which should have granted him safe haven a decade ago, now knows the score on Pollard. The Israeli public has long since regarded him as wrongfully betrayed; the Knesset has publicly called for commutation of this sentence; so has Prime Minister Shimon Peres and leaders from both major political parties in that small democracy's perpetually fractionalized government.

    In fact, the day before the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down by an assassin, he hand wrote a letter to Clinton asking the president - as a gesture of support for the U.S.-brokered peace process - to grant Pollard clemency.

    In virtually every way this case is a tragic anomaly; an unnecessary strain on the unique relationship between two friendly nations, and a lingering embarrassment to our abiding sense of fair play.

    It will not go away until justice is done - until Jonathan Pollard, punished enough by America, is finally allowed to be taken in by Israel.