It was galling enough, during the last U.S. presidential visit here in May 2008, to see Rafi Eitan, the mastermind of the Jonathan Pollard spy fiasco, sitting smugly in the Knesset alongside other government ministers as George W. Bush paid tribute to the unbreakable alliance and even deeper friendship binding the two nations.
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But the concerted government clemency campaign targeting U.S. President Barack Obama during his long-awaited visit here is disgraceful, and potentially damaging to those unshakable, unbreakable bonds that American Zionists like me hold dear.
As Obama made abundantly clear in his March 14 interview with Channel 2’s Yonit Levy, the American justice system offers periodic review for felons like Pollard seeking early release. Yet the self-confessed spy has never exercised his right to seek parole.
Rightly or wrongly, Pollard’s attorneys advised him to forgo this route when it first became available in 1995, 10 years after his arrest outside the Israeli embassy in Washington. At the time, they feared a rejection would set aside the issue for 15 years and jeopardize Pollard’s chances for political clemency.
But since then, the former U.S. Naval Intelligence analyst who sold secrets to Israel has squandered numerous such opportunities. He becomes automatically eligible for parole after 30 years; and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons projects his release date for November 21, 2015.
With Obama now on record as having no intention of authorizing Pollard’s immediate release, it’s time to seek judicial rather than political remedy for this blight on U.S.-Israel relations.
At such a critical point in strategic cooperation, when clarity must govern how our two countries move forward on the Iranian nuclear threat and other key issues, the bilateral agenda should not be clouded with misrepresentations of prisoner 09185-016 doing time in North Carolina.
So let’s be clear:
Pollard is not a prisoner of Zion, but a man who committed a serious crime for financial gain and glory.
Pollard was not sentenced for unauthorized transfer of classified information to Israel, but for espionage, pure and simple. U.S. law does not distinguish idealistic from nefarious motivations, nor does it matter whether classified documents were stolen on behalf of friend or foe.
Pollard has not spent the past 9,976 days “in captivity,” as the Justice for Jonathan Pollard website claims, but as a ward of the U.S. Federal justice system. Captivity connotes a hostage or prisoner-of-war scenario. Jonathan Pollard is no Gilad Shalit; he’s serving his time under U.S. law.
From the very beginning, Pollard has painted himself as a protector of Israel forced to choose between the law and his conscience. This narrative obviously resonates in Israel, but patriotic and law-abiding, yet passionately pro-Israel Americans at the highest levels of Democratic and Republican administrations over 28 years find it repulsive.
Israel violated the sanctity of its “brit” [alliance] with Washington when it decided to play Pollard and it continued its insult over more than a decade of vacuous denial. The relentless harassment of U.S. presidents keeps this issue alive and adds further insult to injury.
The very real prospect of being released on parole would oblige Pollard to check in regularly with an officer of the state. While that may deny Pollard’s dream of a hero’s welcome in Israel, and perhaps a cushy chair at a local think tank, it would effectively close this invidious chapter in an otherwise inspiring and hopefully eternal saga of U.S.-Israel friendship.
Barbara Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. Follow her on Twitter: @opallrome