Editorial: Second Chances

Hamodia [NY] Print Edition Front Page - June 13, 2012

Tonight, the eyes of Jewish people throughout the world, as well as fair-minded individuals of other faiths, will be on the White House. The occasion is a private meeting between Israeli President Shimon Peres and President Barack Obama, followed by a public ceremony during which the 88-year-old Peres will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award.

This distinguished award, as well as the checkered legacy of this veteran diplomat, will be eclipsed in the minds and in the hearts of Jews in Israel and throughout the Diaspora by the fate of Jonathan Pollard.

Shimon Peres certainly isn't a new player in this sad and sordid saga.

As a bona-fide agent of the State of Israel, Jonathan Pollard had been given instructions that, if called for, he was to seek refuge in the Israeli embassy in Washington. After his activities were discovered by the Americans, Pollard and his former wife made their way to the embassy, where they were at first received and then summarily thrown out into the waiting arms of the FBI.

Shimon Peres served as Prime Minister of Israel at the time of this unprecedented betrayal of an agent in the field.

Compounding the betrayal, in a midnight phone call with then-Secretary of State George Shultz, Peres agreed to return to Israel all of the documents that Pollard had provided to Israel. In return, the United States agreed not to use these documents against Pollard.

The American government proceeded to break their promise. When the FBI used these documents against Pollard, he had no choice but to plead guilty.

Further compounding the betrayal is the fact that the Israeli government never told Pollard the United States had agreed not to use the documents against him. He discovered it years later, far too late for him to use the information in court.

The 1987 [Abba] Eban Report commissioned by the Knesset to investigate the Pollard affair sharply castigated the decision by Peres.

"The consent of Prime Minister Shimon Peres to return the documents delivered by Pollard was fundamentally mistaken and caused serious damage. These documents constituted the basis for the conviction and life sentence that Pollard received, in spite of the Israeli assertion that there was an American commitment not to use the documents against Pollard."

In return for Pollard's guilty plea and cooperation, the government promised not to ask the court to impose a sentence of life in prison.

Jonathan kept his side of the deal. But once more the American government broke its word and, though the average sentence for the crime he committed - passing classified information to an ally - is between two and four years, prosecutors asked for a life sentence.

Pollard was then betrayed again and again by the notorious malpractice of his own defense attorney, who was hired by Israel to represent him, as well as by successive Israeli governments, who for more than a decade - until 1998 - refused to even recognize him as their agent and take responsibility for their actions.

The incredible injustice that has kept Jonathan behind bars for so long can never be atoned for. Shimon Peres can never undo the errors of his past. But he has now been given the opportunity to try to help stop this heart-rending travesty from continuing. Among the 140 or so guests that have been invited to tonight's award ceremony are former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, both of whom have written to President Obama to urge him to commute Pollard's sentence to time served.

Shultz is one of a number of major decision-makers who were intimately involved in the case and have issued public calls for clemency. The long list of high-ranking government officials includes a former attorney general and the former head of the CIA. They are joined by a lengthy roster of leading former and current elected officials from across the entire American political spectrum who have participated in the clarion call for clemency.

From a national security standpoint, there is no longer any plausible excuse that can be offered for keeping him in prison.

Shimon Peres has every reason to plead on behalf of Jonathan Pollard, and based on the facts of this case, President Obama has every reason to agree to this request.

In the beginning of his commentary to this week's parashah, Rabbeinu Bachyei reminds us of the obligation of hishtadlus, of doing all we can in the realm of teva (in the natural world). However, after taking all necessary action, one should never rely on those steps, but solely on Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

The hearts of kings are in the Hand of Hashem. The fate of Jonathan Pollard is solely in the Hand of the King of kings. May He accept the prayers being uttered by so many on behalf of Yehonatan ben Malkah.