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September 21, 2014 | 26th Elul 5774

Sense and Nonsense on Jonthan Pollard

Rabbi Eric Yoffie: Reform Reflections Blog, JPost.com, October 27, 2010

There is a broad consensus in the Jewish world that Jonathan Pollard should be released from prison and allowed to go to Israel. There is little agreement, however, on how best to bring his release about.

On the one hand, the most compelling argument for Pollard's release is simply that he has served far longer than other Americans who were guilty of similar crimes. In addition, it is now clear that the personal vindictiveness of Caspar Weinberger toward the Jewish state was a factor in the harsh sentence that Pollard received. After 25 years, it is time to close the book on this deeply regrettable crime and to allow Pollard to spend his remaining years in Israel.

 
On the other hand, the obstacles to release are real. The American people have little sympathy for an American citizen who accepted money for passing sensitive intelligence information to a foreign government, even if that government was an ally. Pollard's actions were a serious violation of American law and had the potential to endanger American security. It is worth noting that even those American political leaders most friendly to Israel's cause have refrained from taking highly visible positions in favor of Pollard's release.  

Americans Jews have issues of their own, and they do not relate to insecurity or fears that their American loyalties will be questioned. They believe that Pollard's actions were not only criminal but injurious to Israel's well-being. They think that the behavior of Pollard's handlers was foolish and destructive and had the potential to significantly compromise Israel's relations with her most important ally. Yes, American Jews favor Pollard's release, but they do not delude themselves about the damage caused by the Pollard affair.

What should be done now? As Eitan Haber wrote in Yediot Acharonot on October 20, it is clear what should not be done. Some Israeli politicians have decided that an aggressive public campaign on Pollard's behalf, declaring him a hero and loudly demanding his release, is the way to go. They have put up billboards on Israeli highways, raised the issue in the Knesset, met with Pollard in his jail cell, and even suggested that America should apologize for the injustice done to Pollard. As Haber noted, this conduct is mostly posturing, carried out by those more interested in advancing their own political careers than in helping Pollard win his freedom. It has also accomplished nothing. It is the Americans who must release Pollard, and they will not be convinced by a campaign that implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, is hostile toward America, dismissive of its security concerns, and contemptuous of its justice system. The United States is Israel's friend and protector, and you don't win American support on this or any other issue by thumbing your nose at American sensitivities.

It is far better for Israel to lower the political profile of this matter and to offer clear assurances to America that if Pollard is released, he will be embraced personally but his actions will not be celebrated by Israel's leaders. As negotiations proceed with the Palestinians, there will be times when the American government will want Israel's agreement; at an appropriate moment, Israel's leaders can suggest that Israel will find it easier to do what its ally has requested if arrangements for Pollard's release can be made. In the meantime, I would hope that all who wish Pollard well would put an end to chest thumping and political posturing. Let Israeli diplomats do their job. In the public forum, the less said about this matter, the better.

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