Why I Don’t Care About Jonathan Pollard

The idea of linking the potential release of the jailed spy with the peace talks is idiocy of the highest order.

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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A demonstration in Jerusalem advocating the release from prison of Jonathan Pollard, March 21, 2013.
A demonstration in Jerusalem advocating the release from prison of Jonathan Pollard, March 21, 2013.Credit: Oren Nachshon
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

I don’t care about Jonathan Pollard. The repeated raising of his release as something that could advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is evidence of a kind of madness.

Pollard isn’t imprisoned in some isolation cell in Ramallah. He isn’t Gilad Shalit. He wasn’t kidnapped by a terrorist organization while he was a soldier in compulsory military service, in the course of doing his duty, which he had received orders to fulfill. Pollard isn’t part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue of his release is part of the overall relationship between Israel and America.

So the assumption that, in exchange for his release, Israel would accede to the urgings of the U.S. administration to continue negotiating with the Palestinians indicates that these negotiations, like the desire for a peace agreement, are much more an American interest than an Israeli one. Or else that Pollard’s release and resolving the conflict are issues of equal importance in terms of their impact on the country’s future. Or that Israel is continuing the negotiations as a tactical measure to obtain Pollard’s release. In any case, we’re talking about an idiocy.

It’s clear that, in a perfect world, Pollard would already have been released. In a perfect world, many injustices would be corrected. But on Israeli society’s list of priorities, Pollard is much less important than other burning issues.

For many years now, his image has been inflated by cynical Israeli leaders to the proportions of a national icon who symbolizes the modern Jewish victim, helpless and persecuted, whose only crime was his willingness to endanger himself for the sake of the country’s security. A hero. A symbol of Israeli righteousness and the principle that Israel must protect itself, because no one else will do. Another tiny, valorous David being trampled on by a cruel Goliath.

The truth is that Pollard was a spy who betrayed his own country – which happens to be Israel’s greatest ally in the world – for money. Perhaps he also had Zionist motives. Perhaps Israel is obligated to make an effort on his behalf. That’s a legitimate position. But no relationship of mutual responsibility exists between him and Israel’s citizens on a scale that would necessitate conditioning the continuation of the negotiations on his release. He received payment for information. It’s not self-evident that he deserves anything beyond that.

Pollard didn’t give Israel warning that the U.S. army was preparing to attack it. It’s not clear why he was so convinced that his espionage was essential, or that it justified his betrayal of the United States. It’s also not clear why Israel convinced him that this was the case. He made a fairly stupid decision of his own free will and is paying the (excessive) price.

It sometimes seems that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu puts the welfare of this miserable hard luck case ahead of the supreme interests of Israel’s citizens. As if he’s doing a favor by making peace. If it’s true that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered to release Pollard in exchange for Israel’s agreement to release Arab-Israeli prisoners, it’s seemingly a sign that he’s understood how easy it is to distract Israelis’ attention.

Someone undoubtedly gave him a description of the celebrations that would take place here: the marathon live broadcasts on television; the embrace with Netanyahu upon getting off the plane; the headlines blaring “how good it is that you’ve come home”; the medical checkups; the breakfast with President Shimon Peres; the feverish interviews with anyone who ever met him in an attempt to dig up a bit of exciting gossip – how did he look to you, what did he say to you; the post on Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Facebook page.

America would have to lend money to ACUM – the Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Music in Israel – to finance all the royalty payments on “Jonathan, Go Home.” On matters like this, Israelis are less intelligent than the residents of the Capitol in the “Hunger Games” novels.

And after all this, Kerry asked, will they finally get serious about peace? No, someone explained to him. There’s still Ron Arad, the air force navigator missing since 1986. And the MIAs from the 1982 battle of Sultan Yacoub. The road to peace is still a long one.

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