Time To Free Pollard

November 6, 1998 - The Jewish Week: Editorial

The plight of Jonathan Pollard, arrested for spying for Israel in 1985, was back in the news late last month when his release from a U.S. prison became a bargaining chip in the Israeli-Palestinian-American negotiations in Maryland. The Pollard piece of the deal fell through, though, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unwilling to jeopardize the agreement over the release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who Israel finally admits spied for Jerusalem.

President Bill Clinton has agreed to review the case again, and though official Washington remains adamantly opposed to pardoning Pollard, we believe it is long since time for freeing him.

In renewing our call for clemency, we note that part of the problem in discussing this case is that we do not know precisely what damage Pollard caused in supplying classified information to Israel. Supporters have made him into a martyr by asserting that his sole motivation was to save Israel and they credit him for doing so during the Persian Gulf war. Critics, most notably former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, have charged that his actions were responsible for horrific damage to U.S. security and personnel. Many of the details have remained hidden because there was never a trial.

Our primary argument is not that Jonathan Pollard is a hero. He committed a crime passing classified information to an ally and was punished for it. But we appeal to the president's sense of fairness, humanity and sense of proportionality.

Pollard has more than served his time. Indeed, those who have committed greater crimes, like spying for enemies of America, have served far shorter sentences. He was deceived by U.S. prosecutors, who promised to lighten his sentence if he pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. He did, in part to protect his former wife, but received a life sentence. He is no longer a threat to U.S. security. He wants to be a free man and settle in Israel, which has accepted him as a citizen.

Finally, it should be noted that Israel, as a part of the Wye Memorandum, has agreed to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as a sign of good faith. It should not be unreasonable, then, to request that President Clinton, who knows all too well about forgiveness and atonement, free one man as a means of showing diplomatic understanding and human compassion, and in doing so put an end to a long and difficult chapter in U.S.-Israel relations.