By Larry Gordon
It is no longer about Jonathan Pollard, what he did, or the fact that he has been in prison here in the United States for almost three decades. It is about us—that is, the American Jewish community—and the esteem in which we are held. Or perhaps it is, in the final analysis, the hostility with which we are viewed, not just by President Obama but by all recent presidents.
Jonathan Pollard is suffering grievously and unnecessarily. But it has not been about him for a very long time. Ed Koch, the late mayor of New York City, a great proponent of Israel, used to say that Pollard should have been hanged. For many people, that extreme and cruel estimation of the situation has long expired along with the mayor.
But let’s take it for granted that perhaps there are still some others, maybe even many, who feel that same way. If that is so, rest assured that that position is not about what Mr. Pollard did or the crime he committed; it is more about their personal discomfort with being an American Jew and the difficulty they may have in reconciling what it means to care about and love Israel while simultaneously being a patriotic American.
There should be no contradiction in those feelings or emotions. However, if you are feeling that discomfort, then the official U.S. position on Pollard has had its desired effect on you, as well as on the entity that is the American Jewish community.
That, after almost 30 years in prison, President Obama did not see fit to facilitate the release of Mr. Pollard is just another example of a lame-duck president poking his finger in our collective eyes. Mr. Obama may not be a good president, but he is a smart man, and I don’t doubt that he intellectually understands and even accepts all the arguments about why Pollard should finally be released and allowed to go live in Israel.
But in this season of good will toward man, if you check into the weekly Torah portion, you will also find that it is also the season of hearts being hardened and being intellectually obdurate, with the heart ruling over the mind.
The ancient Pharaoh had every reason to release the Jewish community from Egypt after they’d provided 210 years of slave labor. Despite blistering and punishing divine plagues, he just could not allow himself to allow the people to leave. And the reason for that was no reason, it was just plain no. That is what we are dealing with here.
It needs to be made abundantly clear that, considering the new revelations about the extent to which the U.S. has been spying on Israel, including at the level of the Prime Minister, it can no longer be considered earth-shattering or especially shocking that the U.S. has been spying on her allies around the globe and vice-versa. Jonathan Pollard remains incarcerated in a medium security prison in Butner, North Carolina, not because of anything he did or whatever crime he may have once committed. He is there as the sole individual who represents us, the entire American Jewish community, whether you like it or not.
Our communal attitude toward the disposition of the Pollard case perhaps best exemplifies the twisted dichotomy among the American Jewish community.
It has been proven again and again that the judgment of the Obama administration on a broad variety of issues is seriously flawed. At the same time, it does not help to extract concessions from the administration by insulting it. What is especially striking is the president’s apparent—or at least his verbal—commitment to justice and morality. Time and again, he speaks of and reiterates his commitment to doing what is right and just, regardless of whether it is popular. And that is a good, even wonderful, policy to be committed to. The unanswered question, however, is why a line gets drawn, and a separate set of rules is applied to Israel, both in general and specifically in regard to the ongoing matter of the freedom of Jonathan Pollard.
It has been stated here and in countless other media that those convicted for spying for former enemy regimes, like Russia and China—and perhaps even those spying for current enemies—have rarely served more than a decade in prison before being released and sent back to their respective countries. That these policies do not apply to Pollard or to Israel is not a wild theory or an extreme opinion. It is an open and obvious travesty that apparently no one is capable of doing anything about.
At the same time, while taking into consideration the position of Barack Obama on these types of issues, it is more puzzling that the effort to get George W. Bush to release Pollard five years ago was not successful. There are no doubt more than a few policy items that Mr. Obama looks at and says, “If Mr. Bush didn’t do that, I am certainly not going to do it.” The Pollard matter has to be at the top of that list.
As pressure mounts, and the way in which the U.S. has routinely spied on Israel has now been revealed, it is still unlikely that Mr. Obama can be induced to order the release of Mr. Pollard. And that is because this administration’s favorite tactic is to communicate that mishandling and bungling important issues is something that just happens, and has to be taken in stride among the ups and downs of everyday life.
On Friday, before jetting off to Hawaii for his end-of-year family vacation, Mr. Obama addressed the healthcare rollout fiasco—which will leave millions of Americans uninsured in the New Year and premiums rising appreciably on others—by simply telling the nation, “We just screwed up.” With that said, he was off and on his way.
In the spirit of the New Year—and considering that it was late on Friday afternoon, close to the weekend—the president was not pressed by the reporters present on all the other matters that he could calmly and even confidently say he “screwed up” on.
Obamacare, so far, is a definite screw-up. Benghazi and the killing of our ambassador in Libya, a definite screw-up. NSA spying on the world, a screw-up. The IRS scandal, well, that too is a screw-up.
The U.S. dossier on Pollard is seriously mistaken regarding what type of damage his transferring information may have caused U.S. agents in the field. Back in the late 1980s, the courts relied on information from CIA officials about the damage, as well as the deaths of some agents, alleged to have been caused by Pollard’s spying. Since then, agents Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanson have been convicted of betraying the U.S. by spying for the Soviet Union, compromising U.S. agents, and causing their deaths. It turns out that it was just convenient to pin all the damage on Pollard. Ames and Hanson are serving life sentences for their crimes. Their admissions have exonerated Pollard.
The pressure on the administration to release Pollard is intense. What is missing today, more than any time in the past, is the desire to do things accurately or rightly. Mr. Obama and his representative constantly speak about the “unshakable bond” that exists between the U.S. and Israel. Okay, so maybe it is a little shakable, but for Mr. Obama that seems to be close enough. Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer has said that when it comes to deciding whether a policy of the Obama administration is due to conspiracy and incompetence, he chooses to go with incompetence.
Whether Pollard dies in prison or is released next week, or next year, or in two or three years, does not seem to matter that much anymore. The president can always say that he tried but that it was just another screw-up. And those things happen and are part of this administration’s daily routine. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.