Biden Wrongly Accused in Jewish Press of Flip-Flop on Pollard Pardon


Jonathan Pollard tried unsuccessfully to sell the classified documents to Australia before approaching Israel.

Mr. Biden clearly opposed a Pollard pardon in March 2007.

— Rabbi Mark S. Golub, President, Shalom TV

Last week, a number of Jewish media sources ran a story suggesting Vice President Joe Biden had changed his position on a pardon for Jonathan Pollard when he told a Jewish group in Florida that he opposed freeing the American Jew imprisoned for passing classified information to the State of Israel. For example, Israel National News suggested that the Vice President was simply protecting President Obama in a piece entitled Biden Flip-Flopped on Pollard, Took the ‘Hit’ for Obama. The story’s opening sentence read: “US Vice President Joe Biden ‘took the hit’ for President Obama to oppose freedom for Jonathan Pollard.”

This story also ran in similar fashion in the JTA, Ynet and IMRA; and I have seen it echoed by various blogers.

I have been especially surprised by these reports of a Biden “flip flop” on a Pollard pardon since the source cited as proof of the Vice President’s change of position is an interview I conducted with him for Shalom TV in March 2007 when Mr. Biden was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination (video after the jump).

I am surprised because the stories seriously distort Mr. Biden’s unequivocal opposition to a Pollard pardon by emphasizing one sentence out of context–while ignoring the unambiguous thrust of Mr. Biden’s position which he clearly articulated in that March 2007 interview.

In direct answer to my question on a pardon of Jonathan Pollard, Mr. Biden began by saying, “He has to serve his sentence, he has to serve his sentence.”

In almost every story quoting his Shalom TV appearance, this part of Mr. Biden’s answer is omitted.

Rather, in a somewhat irresponsible fashion, clips now appear on the internet which only include one sentence of Mr. Biden’s response, in which he said: “Now there is a rationale in my view why Pollard should be given leniency.”

News sources have used this single sentence to suggest that during his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2007, Mr. Biden supported a pardon for Pollard.

But if one listens to Mr. Biden’s complete answer to the Pollard question, it becomes clear that he was not equating “leniency” with a “pardon;” and that in 2007 he was adamantly opposed to any pardon of Jonathan Pollard.

Here are Mr. Biden’s complete words from that March 2007 interview:

Now there is a rationale in my view why Pollard should be given leniency. There’s a rational for that. But there is not a rationale to say, ‘No, what happened did not happen and he should be pardoned.’… If I were president, to go and pardon Pollard would make a lie out of the notion that there are certain rules, period. You cannot give classified information, period. Even to a friend. If this were Great Britain it would be the same thing. So the standard has to be maintained.

One may agree or disagree with Mr. Biden on the issue of a pardon for Jonathan Pollard; but Jews should not be misled into thinking Mr. Biden has changed his mind on the matter. There is something disappointing about a Jewish news source presenting one sentence of an interview out of context and using it to create an erroneous impression.

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  1. IMRA says

    Dear Dr. Daniel Elliott Loeb,

    I would like to take this opportunity to bring to your attention the very important distinction between “pardon” and “clemency’.

    You cite the transcript of VP Biden’s remarks:

    Now there is a rationale in my view why Pollard should be given leniency. There’s a rational for that. But there is not a rationale to say, ‘No, what happened did not happen and he should be pardoned.’…If I were president, to go and pardon Pollard would make a lie out of the notion that there are certain rules, period. You cannot give classified information, period. Even to a friend. If this were Great Britain it would be the same thing. So the standard has to be maintained.

    Biden’s position:

    #1   “Pollard should be given leniency” = clemency  – the crime remains a crime.  The record is not cleared.

    #2   “But there is not a rationale to say, ‘No, what happened did not happen and he should be pardoned.’ =  pardon not acceptable as pardon would mean clearing the record as if it “did not happen”.

    The most recent remark by Biden had him indicating that he opposes the release of Pollard via any action – be it a pardon or clemency.

    This does indeed represent a most significant and disturbing change in his position.

    Indeed, as you wrote, Biden has not changed his position on a pardon, but that is not the issue on the table today.

    The issue on the table today is if President Obama will use his presidential powers to grant Pollard clemency and free him.

    I am confident that you will correct the article appearing now on your website in order to both avoid confusing your readers – and of course possibly damaging the prospects that Pollard will indeed be granted clemency.

    Best regards,
    Dr. Aaron Lerner – IMRA
    http://www.imra.org.il

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