Jonathan Pollard will be eligible for parole in another two years, when he will have finished 30 years in prison. The prosecution in the United States could try to persuade a judge not to shorten Pollard’s life sentence for espionage, but there would be no serious reason not to parole Pollard after three decades in prison. Many people who have committed crimes more serious than his, including murder, have gone free after serving less time.
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Under other circumstances, it is possible Pollard’s expression of regret for his actions, his failing health and the understanding that countries collect intelligence materials from each other would have gained his release after a few years’ imprisonment. But successive Israeli governments have worked against their own interest and that of Pollard, against common sense and against the always desirable diplomatic etiquette, especially toward Israel’s greatest and most generous friend in the world. Successive Israeli governments allowed the “Bureau for Scientific Relations,” a unit that was later defined as “rogue,” and that acted without proper supervision from the Defense Ministry, to carelessly recruit and handle a Jewish American working for U.S. Naval Intelligence, and to pay him for his actions. Thus they endangered strategic ties with Washington, raised again the issue of dual loyalty of American Jews, and spurred the intelligence community and law enforcement to seek out more “Pollards” within its agencies.
Successive governments of Israel added insult to injury when they lied to American investigators, tried to get rid of information, and surrounded Pollard with the aura of a hero, a victim, a captive and a Prisoner of Zion. By doing all these things, they only augmented his distress, sometimes merely to garner a photo op with him for the newspaper or television.
Now, with the release of documents by whistle-blower Edward Snowden showing that the United States eavesdropped on Israeli prime ministers and defense ministers, cabinet members have been quick to jump on the bandwagon with loud cries to free Pollard.
These declarations are mainly directed at Israeli voters, but they could be working against the goal itself. If those ministers truly long to see Pollard’s release, they should stop their loud pressure campaign, which has only caused his jailers to turn the key to his cell door another notch tighter.
The effort should focus on obtaining a quiet understanding for his parole in November 2015. From that moment, the way could open up to a greater reduction of the sentence. If one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predecessors once said restraint is strength, the hope is that Netanyahu will decide that in the case of Pollard, keeping quiet is the better part of wisdom.