Pollard's Ordeal Begins to Have a Bad Smell

Editorial - Jewish Exponent (PA.)- August 1, 1996

President Clinton surely blundered last week by failing to inform a group of Jewish leaders that his office had announced the latest denial of executive clemency to Jonathan Pollard. But the president's faux pas merely added insult to injury. The real damage was in Clinton's latest show of no mercy to the convicted spy and in what that means to the American Jewish community.

It means Clinton would allow the punishment of an American Jew to continue far out of proportion to the crime he committed and to which he pleaded guilty. Having already served almost 11years, five in solitary confinement, Pollard has paid a higher price for delivering intelligence data to an American ally than all but the most dangerous spies in U.S. history.

It also means Clinton cares little about snubbing Jewish citizens, historically loyal not only to America but also to him personally. And it means ignoring direct requests for Pollard's release from four successive Israeli administrations, not to mention Pollard's wife, Esther who earlier this week was hospitalized after launching a hunger strike aimed at securing her husband's release.

With all this at stake, and in an election year, we wonder: why does Clinton allow this injustice to continue? The president's latest rejection of clemency raises disturbing questions American Jews have not wanted to pursue heretofore.

Are the objections to clemency emanating from U.S. defense and intelligence agencies in fact motivated by anti-Semitism, as some of Pollard's supporters have long claimed? Why else demand the spy for Israel pay the same price as the notorious spies for Russia, Aldrich Ames and the Walker family?

Exactly what damage did Pollard do to the U.S. national interest? He was publicly accused of stealing U.S. satellite data on Syrian and Iraqi missile and poison gas capabilities. Definitely illegal. But Ames compromised the identities, often fatally, of dozens of U.S. agents in the Soviet bloc. The Walkers passed on top-secret codes for U.S. warships on the high seas. Why punish Pollard with the same zeal as such turncoats?

Moreover, the political climate in America has changed significantly since 1985, when Pollard was arrested. In the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, there are no longer respectable voices in Washington saying we should woo Iraq or Iran with friendly diplomacy. Both houses of Congress recently passed legislation that drastically tightens trade restriction - even for non-American firms - on selling strategic materials to Tehran and Baghdad. Not only has Pollard apologized for his crime, but Congress has, in effect repudiated the policies that drove Pollard to steal the information in the first place.

On the executive level, Clinton promised then Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in the aftermath of this spring's battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon, to upgrade Israel's status as a recipient of U.S. spy-satellite data. So how much more should the president now be expected to sympathize with Pollard's predicament?

The longer this drags on, the more odious the smell over the government's handling of this affair. Biological research shows human memory to be unusually strong when it comes to the recall of odors. Political research may well show olfactory recall particularly acute among subject entering voting booths.