Let Pollard Go

Jerusalem Post - Editorial - November 21, 2001

It was 16 years ago today that Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew working as a US Navy intelligence analyst, went to jail for the crime of passing classified information to Israel. Though Pollard's crime was serious and briefly cast a shadow over US-Israel relations, justice demands that he now be set free.

Without minimizing the gravity of Pollard's actions, the fact is that allies occasionally spy on each other, whether for political, military, or industrial gain. But while in other instances, those caught engaging in such "friendly espionage" are briefly detained, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison without parole, a term unprecedented in severity.

Indeed, the sentence violated the plea bargain agreed to by the US Justice Department and Pollard's attorney. Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States and was never charged with treason. The one count against him - that of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the US - has never resulted in a life sentence for any other person. And while the median sentence for this offense is generally two to four years, even agents who have committed far more grievous offenses on behalf of hostile countries did not receive the same treatment accorded to Pollard.

In recent years, the Pollard issue has brought together a unique constellation of figures calling for clemency. Legal luminaries, such as Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler, have been outspoken in their support for releasing Pollard, and the issue has cut across ideological and political boundaries here. Last year, in an unusual joint letter, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak wrote: "Concerning Mr. Pollard, the people of Israel and virtually all its political parties stand as one."

Though upon Pollard's arrest, Israel initially sought to distance itself from the affair, claiming that it was conducted as a "rogue operation," the past decade has seen a dramatic shift in that position. In November 1995, Israel granted Pollard citizenship, while in May 1998, the Netanyahu government issued a statement recognizing Pollard as an Israeli agent and accepting full responsibility for him. All prime ministers from Yitzhak Rabin onward have appealed to successive American administrations to grant clemency, but none of these efforts have borne fruit. The closest Pollard came to being released was a promise made by Bill Clinton to Netanyahu at the Wye summit in the fall of 1998 that in exchange for signing the deal, Netanyahu would be able to take Pollard back home in freedom. Unfortunately, at the last minute, Clinton reneged.

To mark the anniversary of Pollard's incarceration, the Knesset will hold a special session this morning at which speakers from across the political spectrum - including the Likud, Labor, Meretz, Shas, National Religious Party, Yisrael Ba'aliya, and the National Union - will all voice support for his release. In addition, former Sephardic chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu will address a gathering in Jerusalem this evening on the subject.

There is no denying that Pollard violated the trust of his employer, the US government and took the law into his own hands by providing Israel with intelligence information he deemed crucial to its national security. Indeed, Pollard himself wrote of his "deep remorse" in a letter to Clinton last year. But there is also no denying that serving 16 years in prison, including seven years in solitary confinement, is more than enough to atone for his debt to society.

At a time when the US is engaged in a war on terror, the lines between friend and foe have never been clearer or more unambiguous. As a close ally of America, Israel has been asked by the Bush administration to make certain sacrifices on behalf of the greater good. It is only fitting, then, that America respond in kind and make a gesture of goodwill to the Israeli people, all of whom wish to see Jonathan Pollard free in Jerusalem. Pollard did the crime, and he has done his time. It is now time for America to let him go.

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