The Obama Administration is reportedly close to an extraordinary deal to get Israel back to the negotiations table: it is going to release Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard. One could question why Israel needs any inducement to negotiate with the Palestinians for its own peace and more importantly why the U.S. is willing to free spies to get two other governments to negotiate. Notably, for years, Israel denied that Pollard was their spy — considered by many as compounding the dishonesty of spying on your closest ally. It was not until 1999 – over ten years later — that Israel admitted to the U.S. that he was their spy and that, while the U.S. was giving (and continued to give) billions in aid to Israel, it was maintaining spies in our government. Pollard’s release is rumored to be part of a release of prisoners from Israeli prisons to jump start a new round of negotiations.
Pollard was recruited by Israeli Air Force officer Aviem Sella, who was ordered to develop him as a spy by the Air Force Chief of Staff himself. The Israelis paid him $10,000 cash and expensive jewelry to betray his country. They also paid him some $1,500 per month for further espionage. He also alleged obtained information for South Africa and attempted to sell information to Pakistan. He was even tied to stealing information related to China for his wife to use in her business dealings. He was captured on videotape stealing classified information.
In interviews that may have backfired at the sentencing, Pollard and his wife Anne publicly admitted to spying for Israel in seeking to gain support from the American Jewish community. In a 60 Minutes interview, Anne said, “I feel my husband and I did what we were expected to do, and what our moral obligation was as Jews, what our moral obligation was as human beings, and I have no regrets about that.” That argument has resonated with some and there has been a strong movement to free Pollard within the American Jewish community. Many argue that he agreed to a plea bargain but was given no benefit of the plea by the sentencing judge. Many have also argued for years that the sentence is unduly harsh. Alan Dershowitz has been one of the oct vocal in writing :
[E]veryone seems frightened to speak up on behalf of a convicted spy. This has been especially true of the Jewish leadership in America. The Pollards are Jewish. … The Pollards are also Zionists, who—out of a sense of misguided “racial imperative” (to quote Jonathan Pollard)—seem to place their commitment to Israeli survival over the laws of their own country. … American Jewish leaders, always sensitive to the canard of dual loyalty, are keeping a low profile in the Pollard matter. Many American Jews at the grass roots are outraged at what they perceive to be an overreaction to the Pollards’ crimes and the unusually long sentence imposed on Jonathan Pollard.
For those who see Pollard as a craven traitor, his release to get Israel to negotiate in its own interest may seem a bit curious. It would suggest that you can betray your country but still walk if you spy for a powerful ally. There remains an uncertain line on how our government treats spies and traitors. There are members of Congress who are calling for Edward Snowden to be tried as a traitor and executed or put into jail for life. They insist that by informing the public of abusive surveillance Snowden must rot in jail. Yet, there is not a peep of opposition from Congress over this release. If the act of espionage can be excused when carried out for the right country or with the right motivation, many would expect a pardon for Snowden who appears to have acted without financial payment or inducement by a foreign power.
Secretary of State John Kerry is quoted as saying “It is difficult, it is emotional, it requires huge decisions, some of them with great political difficulty … We are continuing, even now … to find the best way forward.” Of course, many would question why other criminals are not given this “get of jail” card due to their connection to Israel. We recently discussed the equally (though distinguishable case) of the Sheinbein case. The trade of Pollard for Peace raises the question whether Aldrich Ames or Jim Nicholson should now be traded to get Russia to the negotiating table with the Ukraine.
An act of clemency based on some mistake or injustice in the sentencing would be understandable, including a decision that espionage sentences should be shorter. (Indeed, for Pollard advocates it would have been far better to argue those points than to tie the release to the peace talks. That nexus might play well in Israel but not quite as well in the U.S.) However, the sell the release as an exchange for — or facilitating — negotiations is difficult to square with other cases. Indeed, it goes against the trend of cases brought by the Justice Department which now invariably pushes for the equivalent of life in cases in a variety of national security cases involving material support allegations against Arab defendants and others. Consider the case of Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning) who was 35 years for leaking information in the Wikileaks publications. Manning was acting in what he considered the public interest as did Snowden but there is no groundswell of sympathy in Congress.
The deal also raises serious question about the true commitment of Israel to a negotiation when it has to be induced with such a gift just to sit down at the table. Peace is in Israel’s own interest, right?
What do you think about such a quid pro quo?