Surrendering Its Honor

Yossi Melman - Haaretz - May 25, 2007

Any self-respecting country would have summoned the U.S. ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and demanded that he clarify his harsh statement that the fact that Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen sentenced to life for spying for Israel, has not been executed should be seen as an act of clemency.

But Israel is a country that has long ago stopped respecting its own sovereignty, given up its independence of thought and subordinated its will to that of Washington. Israel refuses to respond to Syria's offer of negotiations for fear of incurring the wrath of the American administration. It has submitted to the American dictate and established a special unit within the Defense Ministry to monitor security exports, solely because the United States demanded it. And these are only two examples among many in the last few years that indicate the obsequiousness of Israel's political and security leadership before the Washington nobleman.

In light of this, Jerusalem's stammered response to Ambassador Richard Jones' intolerable remark is not surprising. "The fact that he wasn't executed is the mercy that Jonathan Pollard will receive," said the U.S. envoy to Israel. In other words, Pollard, his family and the Israeli government, which controlled his espionage, should be thankful for the "light" sentence he received.

Jonathan Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he sold his country's secrets for money to his handlers in Israel. [J4JP: NOT TRUE!]* He betrayed his country. There is no dispute over that. [NOT TRUE! see J4JP clarification below]* Twenty-one years ago, he was given the heavy sentence of life imprisonment.

The Israeli government does not just have a moral responsibility for the fate of its agent. It also contributed significantly to the fact that he's rotting in prison. It began with the hasty decision of Elyakim Rubinstein - then the political attaché at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and now a Supreme Court justice - to remove Pollard from the embassy grounds, where he was seeking asylum. He could have been brought in, as the Americans held Soviet citizens in their embassy in Moscow when they sought political asylum. One could have argued that according to the Law of Return, he's an Israeli citizen - in addition to which his handlers had already secretly given him an Israeli passport. It could be that Israel would ultimately have been forced to surrender Pollard, but that should have been done in exchange for an assurance that his sentence would be reduced.

Even after Pollard was handed over in such a shameful way and arrested, Israel could still have helped get him a lighter sentence - for instance, by setting it as a condition for Israeli participation in the investigation. Israel unconditionally provided the United States with the thousands of documents it received from him, thereby helping to incriminate him, without receiving anything in exchange. Even later, Israeli leaders and heads of the intelligence community did not really go out of their way to lobby the American government institutions and intelligence agencies for a pardon for Pollard.

The only one who almost achieved this was Benjamin Netanyahu, during his tenure as prime minister. In 1998, during the peace talks held at the Wye Plantation in Maryland, Netanyahu insisted that Pollard be released as part of the deal with the Palestinians. The U.S. president at the time, Bill Clinton, leaned toward agreeing to do so, but the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, brought all his weight to bear against it, threatening to resign, and Clinton backed off.

Pollard is not the only American citizen since 1980 who has been accused of espionage and given an extended sentence, but the others were despicable ones who caused far more damage to the American national interest. For instance, CIA agent Aldrich Aimes' treachery allowed the Soviet Union to discover the identities of agents working for the United States and execute them. But Pollard is the only one to whom the Americans are so hostile.

It could be because Pollard spied for a friendly country, making his act a more stinging affront. Nonetheless, it's difficult to accept or understand the American lust for revenge when it comes to Pollard. There's something irrational about it. Jones' remarks were rude and bereft of diplomatic tact, reflecting this American pathology that aspires to keep Pollard from ever being pardoned. Even though Jones has apologized, he deserves to be denounced. By essentially ignoring his comments, Israel is adding insult to the injury it has already done Pollard.

*J4JP Clarification:

The lies about Jonathan Pollard "selling" secrets and being a "traitor" have been told for so long that they have taken on a life of their own. Even the otherwise well-informed author of the above article has swallowed them. The truth is quite the opposite:

1) Jonathan Pollard


sell secrets to his handlers. The Government of Israel finally admitted and formally recognized in 1998, that Jonathan Pollard is a bona fide agent who worked for the State. An agent transfers or passes information to his control officers; an agent does not sell information to the State he serves. Even the sentencing judge recognized that Jonathan was an ideologue and not a mercenary, and declined to impose a monetary fine, as he would have if Jonathan had profited monetarily from his activities on behalf of Israel.

2) Jonathan Pollard was


charged with the crime of betraying his country. He was never accused, indicted or convicted of treason -- which is a crime defined by the American Constitution as "aiding an enemy in time of war". The only charge Jonathan was indicted for was one count of passing classified information to an ally, with no intent to harm the US. This is the lesser of the espionage statues, and the median sentence for this offense is 2 to 4 years in prison. Jonathan is the only person in the history of the US to receive a life sentence for this offense.