U.S. Official: Israeli Campaign to Free Jonathan Pollard Makes Chances Less Likely

White House says U.S. position on Israeli spy hasn't changed; Netanyahu and Peres have both jumped on the campaign for Pollard's release.

American President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel has led to the launching of a new campaign to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

Petitions have been signed, newspapers have been recruited, the Facebook page of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro is full of calls to free Pollard and politicians have published notices of support.

President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have also jumped on the bandwagon. They have been photographed with Pollard’s wife, Esther, and have stated on camera that they will raise the issue in their meeting with Obama. Although both Peres and Netanyahu are well aware that the public campaign will likely do nothing to secure the release of Pollard from his American prison cell, as the Arabic saying goes, “You don’t pay tax on the words you say,” or, as the English equivalent says, “Words are cheap.”

White House officials have heard about the petition and know that the question will be broached in Obama’s talks with Israeli leaders. Nonetheless, they stress that there has been no change in the U.S. position on Pollard.

A senior American official has told me that Pollard is serving time for the serious crime he committed and that Obama has no plans for releasing him.

The U.S. administration is surprised by the campaign to free Pollard. According to a senior American official who is closely involved with the subject of Jonathan Pollard, the more attention given to the issue in the media instead of in quiet contacts behind closed doors, the more dramatically the chances of making any progress will be reduced.

While there any many people on the Committee to Free Pollard who have very good intentions, the mode of action they have chosen simply is ineffective. Despite four years of an intensive public campaign, the attempts to bring about Pollard’s release have not produced any progress and might even have generated the opposite result.

The way to free Pollard is not to mount a heavy media campaign. The Committee to Free Pollard and the Israeli government would find it much more effective if they would focus on working through quiet judicial and diplomatic channels in order to prepare the ground for an American gesture at an appropriate opportunity.