Sunday, June 10, 2012

Let's Stop Demanding the Release of Pollard

On Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres will be awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a civilian, in an elaborate White House ceremony and dinner that will be attended by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schulz. During his visit, Peres has promised to ask Obama the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. 70, 000 people have signed an online petition requesting the release of Pollard.

By contrast, American government officials, who have been longtime supporters of Israel, have opposed Pollard's release. Rumors have long circulated that Pollard sold information to countries like Pakistan. While I appreciate democracy, I am not sure that it is effective to run national security that way.

Still, I would not be against the release of Pollard and sympathize with all the reasons that he should be released. He is in failing health, has been imprisoned for 27 years for spying for a friendly country, and the Israeli military of not leaving any man behind.

This is just the wrong time to ask for his release. By demanding the release now, the Jewish people will be focusing on a low point of the Israeli- American relationship instead of celebrating the high point that this ceremony represents after several years of strain.This is not the way to keep friends.

The current release demands are just another example of Israel shooting themselves in the foot in the propaganda wars. Pollard is sucking up all the media oxygen. No one is talking about the remarkable achievements and life of the 88-year old Peres.

Pollard is Israel's mess not America's. When his arrest was imminent, he arrived at the Israeli embassy and was denied entrance and turned over to the Americans. If Israel had kept him in the embassy, his lawyers might have been able to negotiate a better deal for him.

At the end of Clinton's term, Israeli officials threw Pollard under the bus for billionaire fugitive Marc Rich. Instead of refusing the billionaire's request for help with his pardon until Pollard was released, Peres and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked Clinton to pardon Rich. In granting the Rich pardon, Clinton admitted that he granted the Rich pardon, in part, to appease the Israelis after denying Pollard's release.

Pollard, by his own actions, has made his request harder to grant. He has never shown remorse. While many   demonstrations of remorse are probably phony, prosecutors, judges, and presidents need some basis for granting the pardon. Pollard did do something wrong and needs to admit it. It is not okay to give classified documents to anyone even a friendly country.

All countries vigilantly protect their classified information. Israel is about to indict a Haaretz journalist for possessing classified information, Uri Blau, even though the final article was approved by the military censor. Isn't hypocritical for Israel to now minimize Pollard's infractions?

Some argue for presidential intervention because the prosecutors reneged on the original deal that Pollard was offered. Half the inmates that are sitting in America's jail complain about the malfeasance of prosecutors.  This is the ugly reality of the American justice system. I am not sure that it is fair that Pollard's complaint skips to the head of the line.

I sometimes worry that Israel is asking too much of America. There is a limit to how much you expect from someone, even a close friend. With the controversial continued building of settlements, maybe we are squandering too much political capital on Pollard.

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