Should Pollard Be Freed to Keep Peace Talks Alive?

A “We Want Pollard Home” sign in Israel.

— by Steve Sheffey

Last week, unconfirmed reports indicated that the U.S. might free Jonathan Pollard in return for concessions from Israel on the peace process.

Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987, for spying for Israel against the U.S. He will be eligible for parole in November 2015. Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and thus far, Obama, have refused to release him.

Some have argued that his sentence was excessive, and may have been motivated by anti-Semitism.

Some, seemingly in a position to know, maintain that the damage Pollard did to our intelligence network was so great that his sentence was not excessive; while others seemingly in a position to know maintain that he has served enough time, and is no longer dangerous.

More after the jump.
Israel has repeatedly asked for Pollard’s release. As Dennis Ross of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy explained last week, “He has taken on the aura of being a soldier who was left in the field, and the ethos in Israel is that soldiers are never left behind.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) believes that Pollard should be released, but not as a rationale for peace talks.

On the other hand, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) completely opposes Pollard’s release, saying last week that he hopes Pollard would “rot in hell in jail for a long time.” (So much for equating “pro-Israel” with support for the policies of Israel’s elected government.)

Last year, Brian Stephens wrote in the Wall Street Journal a column against Pollard’s release:

It does not help Israel to make a hero of a compulsive liar and braggart, fond of cocaine, who violated his oaths, spied on his country, inflicted damage that took billions of dollars to repair, accepted payment for his spying, jeopardized Israel’s relationship with its closest ally, failed to show remorse at the time of his sentencing, made himself into Exhibit A of every anti-Semitic conspiracy nut, and then had the chutzpah to call himself a martyr to the Jewish people.

(So much for equating “pro-Israel” with not second-guessing or criticizing Israel.)

In 2010, 40 Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and many other strong friends of Israel, urged Obama to grant Pollard clemency on humanitarian grounds, not because what he did was justifiable, but because he had served enough time in prison.

Now the question is whether Pollard’s freedom should be linked to the peace process.

The peace process is not a favor to the Palestinians. No matter how unreasonable the Palestinians may be, no matter how incendiary their rhetoric is and how counterproductive their actions are, it remains in Israel’s best interests to reach an agreement that will allow it to vacate most of the West Bank.

Israel cannot occupy (yes, occupy) the West Bank indefinitely and remain both Jewish and democratic.

The article by Ross, whose diplomatic career has included service in both Republican and Democratic administrations, makes more sense to me than anything else I have read about whether Pollard’s release should be tied to the peace process:

Whether one accepts the argument that Pollard’s sentence seems more severe than that handed out to other spies, it surely makes little sense to say that someone who has spent nearly 30 years in jail has not paid a severe price.

Thirty years in jail does not signal being soft on spies; it constitutes a potent deterrent against spying. And, at this point, when looking at the demographic make-up of those in the intelligence community, a significant percentage either were not born or were very young when Pollard was incarcerated. It seems unlikely that morale is going to be affected by his release.

If traditional arguments in the intelligence community bear little weight at this point, there is still the question of whether we should link the peace issue to Pollard.

Some may say that if he is so politically important, we should get something of value for his release. Perhaps, but at a time when the Middle East is characterized by upheaval and U.S. foreign policy needs to demonstrate effectiveness, we can ill afford a collapse of the current efforts to negotiate between Israelis and Palestinians.

If the release is part of a package of steps that not only manages this process but can give it a necessary boost — and also affect the climate between Israelis and Palestinians — then President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry certainly seem justified in acting on it.

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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.