The Pollard Debacle: The Unseemly Role of Newt Gingrich

Editorial , The JEWISH PRESS, N.Y. - October 30, 1998

We were stunned to learn that House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other GOP leaders - who never miss an opportunity to proclaim their support for Israel - played the leading roles in thwarting President Clinton's intention to release Jonathan Pollard as part of the Wye agreement. Although President Clinton denies he ever made a firm commitment to release Pollard, news reports abound that Mr. Clinton changed his mind after receiving protesting calls from Speaker Gingrich and other Republican Congressional Leaders threatening to raise an uproar on the eve of the November 3rd elections. A high-ranking Israeli official, involved in the Wye negotiations, told newsmen that "what happened was that several Republicans who are known as staunch supporters of Israel...sent messages to the president not to do it." And a vulnerable President Clinton gave in.

Although the media have tended to portray the Pollard issue as separate and apart from that of the Middle East peace, the reality is that it is not. The key to the implementation of the Wye agreement will be Prime Minister Netanyahu's ability to sell the agreement to his Cabinet, with its significant complement of those who have never accepted Oslo. His failure to do that would undoubtedly lead to the fall of his government, with the inevitable chaos and uncertainty the results. Yet the one thing that would be expected to mollify Mr. Netanyahu's detractors on the right was the release of Pollard, who has become a symbol of sorts in Israel of the defense of the Jewish State and, because of his inordinate life sentence, of implacable hostility towards Israel. Pollard's release would have been a solid, well-received, and extremely useful prize brought home by the Prime Minister.

To be sure, we recognize that there are many who sincerely believe that Mr. Pollard's crime was such that he should never be released. Yet the United States has substantial interest in peace in the Middle East, and it would not be extraordinary to view Mr. Pollard's value in that context. Judgments of this sort as to cost and benefits are made all the time. George Stephanopoulos, a former senior aid to President Clinton, said it best the other day, suggesting that but for the GOP confrontation, had Pollard been released at the close of the Wye Summit, that would have been it, and we would all get on with what we do.

There continues to be an unmistakable dank smell to the way that Pollard's continued incarceration has been handled. There is no denying that his sentence was excessive and that it followed former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's - a notorious antagonist of Israel- extraordinary importuning of the sentencing judge to reject a plea agreement that had been agreed to by the Justice Department.

And we were much concerned by the comment of Senator Orrin Hatch - usually the soul of judiciousness and propriety - that there were "even some Jews" who oppose Pollard's release. Indeed, had Mr.Clinton not backed down in the face of the GOP challenge, the final days of the electoral campaign would have no doubt been marked by an undercurrent of charges and countercharges of selling out to the Jews. Serious stuff indeed!

Jonathan Pollard spied for another country and has to pay the penalty. What weighs heavily with us though, is that he has plainly been singled out for especially hard treatment. The fact that he spied for the most reliable ally of the United States, (i.e. the State of Israel) has been curiously dismissed as irrelevant, and his value to bringing peace to a troubled part of the world, squandered.

As Americans and as members of the Jewish community, we rather expected better from Mr. Gingrich and his colleagues.

See Also:
  • Jonathan Pollard and the GOP - Editorial
  • An Open Letter to Newt Gingrich