pollard - AP - March 30, 2006
Former U.S. naval intelligence clerk Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview, May 15, 1998 Photo by AP
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Has everyone gone off their minds and am I the only sane person still around? Why is the whole country joining in this insane carnival and nobody sounding a warning? What has possessed us to join this campaign to release the man who single-handedly caused more damage to Israel's most strategic asset than any other?

I can't even begin to imagine the suffering of Jonathan Pollard for over a quarter of a century, alone and ill in the hell of a federal maximum security prison. To say that I feel for him would be fatuous, I have no way of feeling what he has been going through and will continue to for the foreseeable future. I wish he were discreetly pardoned today. But there is nothing in the sacred mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim ("Redemption of Prisoners" ) that allows the subordination of the welfare and vital interests of the Jewish state and the largest Jewish community in the world to the freedom of one man, no matter how long and how hard he has suffered.

If there is one way to continue maximizing the nuclear fallout of the Pollard affair, it is by continuing to make a public case for his release. The relationship between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations can be described as cordial at best, but at least one aspect of the strategic relationship between the two nations is strong as ever before, and that is the tie between the military and intelligence communities. It was enough just to see the way the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, spoke at the farewell events for former IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi last month to get an inkling of how close the bond between the two armies has become while Israel has been fighting in Lebanon and Gaza, and the Americans shedding blood in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ashkenazi and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan were over the last two years Israel's most effective diplomats in Washington, especially in a period when Israel's official diplomatic corps has been discredited by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

While the Israeli politicians prevaricated and lied to the administration and sought to undermine it in Congress, the heads of the defense establishment were the only ones the American felt they could do real business with. The level of trust in the strategic alliance is priceless, and ultimately saves lives.

So why are government ministers now trying to highlight the case of the man who reminds the Americans of our old treachery? Why is Communications and Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon about to visit him in Butner prison? Is there no one who can warn him off this populist tour - that may gain him some votes in the next Likud primaries but will certainly cause at least a few members of the American intelligence community to think twice before sharing secrets at the next meeting with their Israeli counterparts, or even hesitate before promoting a Jewish employee.

There is no room here for naivete. Allies, even close ones, spy on each other, in many different ways. Just recently Wikileaks provided ample proof of how well informed the Americans were of the inner machinations of friendly governments. And that was just the State Department. Imagine what the CIA holds on some of America's best friends. But in the interest of these relations, espionage on hospitable soil has to be as secret, if not more, than spying behind enemy lines.

Israel made many mistakes with Pollard. Probably the first one was recruiting him in the first place and his controllers, Aviam Sela and Rafi Eitan, despite their impressive records in the service of the state, should have been forced into anonymous retirement as soon as the case exploded. The life imprisonment sentence on Pollard was vindictive, disproportionate and dishonorable, unworthy of an erring ally, but ultimately that is the Americans' call to make.

The alliance with America, while crucial, is an uneven one. For Israel, it is the first and foremost a strategic asset; for the United States it one of many. It may seem unfair, but it is only natural that they should be the ones calling the shots most of the time.

More should have been done by Israeli leaders to grasp the correct opportunity to lobby the serving American president to grant him a pardon and more crucially, it should have been done beneath the radar, without any media fanfare. The coalition for Pollard has transformed him into a Jewish and Israeli matter, casting aspersions of anti-Semitism and pro-Arabism on former and current senior American officials. In doing so they have not only damaged Jerusalem-Washington relations, but almost certainly prolonged Pollard's personal ordeal.

His martyrdom is immaterial; whatever the ideological, financial or mental motives for his deeds, he is a convicted spy. He made the choice to enter a world in which strange and different rules apply. Normally I would be the first to lambaste the leaders of America's established Jewry for their pusillanimity, but in this case, they are acting with exemplary responsibility. As is the Israeli defense establishment, which will have no truck with the Pollard lobby.

There are, of course, difficult comparisons to be made here with Gilad Shalit, but in both cases it is easy to argue that the public campaigns have done much more damage to the cause than helped in any way the imprisoned spy and captured soldier. While no one can blame families and friends for acting in an irrational fashion, the motives of politicians are questionable.

From reading the rhetoric of the Free Pollard camp, it is hard to shake free from the impression that they have little interest in improving Israel's relationship with the American administration. A cursory glance at some of the figures there proves that they are of the "a nation to itself" persuasion. Those who think that noisy and provocative lobbying is the way to achieve Jonathan Pollard's overdue release are dooming him to death in prison, and causing us all a great deal of trouble on the way.