By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Two seemingly unconnected current news items have revived the campaign in Israel on behalf of Jonathan Pollard who has now spent some 28 years in an American jail after being given a life sentence for spying for Israel.
The first is the anticipated release of more Palestinian prisoners as part of the confidence building measures in the American brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The argument is that if Israel can release men with blood on their hands, the United States should be able to free Pollard who hasn’t killed anybody and who by now has spent more times in an American prison than many convicts who’ve committed much more heinous crimes.
The second news item of intense interest in Israel is around Edward Snowden’s revelations about the United States spying also on Israeli leaders. The argument here is that if the United States could eavesdrop on one of its most trusted allies, it should be more forgiving to Israel for having used Pollard to spy against the United States.
The call to free him has also been heard from prominent Americans, including those who had been very high up in the US Administration. Bit it seems that the Administration is determined to warn everybody with access to confidential information that to divulge any of it, even to allies, will be severely and, literally, mercilessly punished. Pollard has been made an example, perhaps a scapegoat.
That’s how I read today’s Ha’aretz editorial. It reminds readers that Pollard is no prisoner of Zion and implies that he’s a Jewish boy who was enticed by an Israeli intelligence operative, perhaps also to earn a little extra cash – and was caught. The article is, therefore, critical of politicians who clamor for Pollard’s release and argues that they do it for their own reasons and not because they care for him.
Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be distancing himself from linking the Snowden revelations to the Pollard case. In the somewhat theatrical part of each cabinet meeting when, before proper business begins, the media are allowed in and the prime minister makes a statement on one or more issues of the day, Netanyahu was keen this week to point out that Pollard shouldn’t be linked to Snowden. He tried to reassure us that he’s intervening on his behalf at almost every opportunity, both with the current US President and with his predecessors.
It’s also possible that Israeli politicians who believe that the United States isn’t as good for Israel at it seems may be using the situation to justify their interest in strengthening relations with other countries. Foreign Minister Lieberman’s views are well known. Also recently the foreign minister of China visited Israel where he was warmly received. Other countries may also be on Israel’s agenda,
Perhaps the campaign “Free Pollard” is being used more for the benefit of the campaigners than for him. Intelligence services all over the world often drop agents if they no longer are useful to the organization. Similarly, politicians may take up cases for corresponding self-serving reasons.
It’s therefore not unreasonable to assume that, notwithstanding all the rhetoric and the clamor, Pollard may have to wait another couple of years before he becomes eligible for parole. He deserves our prayers and our sympathy.