By Smadar Bat Adam
When reports surfaced suggesting that the U.S. was eavesdropping on dozens of Western leaders, among them the leaders of its closest allies, sending shockwaves through the West, and a U.S. State Department spokeswoman responded by saying they would look into the reports from the perspective of “our friends and partners around the world,” I was reminded of another convoluted remark made by an American figure: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” That is what then-President Bill Clinton said back in 1998. I was reminded of that instance because of the Americans’ unique way of presenting things they have done that are forbidden or immoral.
Now the U.S.’s friends are angry. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reprimanded U.S. President Barack Obama and told him that the trust between their two countries has been severely compromised. Obama claims he was not aware of the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping, even though he directly oversees that office. When it emerges that he was actually notified as early as 2010, he will have to call Merkel again and say, “Whoops, sorry, I wasn’t aware that I was aware.”
French President Francois Hollande is also unhappy. He is inviting additional European countries to join a no-spying agreement France and Germany seek to impose on the Americans.
In short, the U.S. messed up.
It is with all that in mind that every word uttered by U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki should be analyzed. Pay close attention when she says the U.S. “will continue to gather the information necessary to protect the American people and their allies.” The Americans are doing damage control. Or when Obama orders a re-examination of the country’s surveillance program, and his Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco promises the democratic world that the U.S. is “collecting information because we need it and not just because we can.”
Jerusalem, you got that? America is admitting that according to its standards, espionage among friends is legitimate, when it is needed. And it will continue doing so. After having admitted as much, it would only be right for the U.S. to release Jonathan Pollard, who, not because he could but because he thought he needed to, relayed information to a very close ally of the U.S. while he was working for Navy Intelligence. This information served Israel in preparing, among other things, for attacks by Arab nations with weapons of mass destruction, in operations like the bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunisia on Oct. 1, 1985, or in responding to a string of terror attacks.
Pollard confessed, and was convicted of spying, even though he was spying for a friendly country with no intention of causing harm to the U.S. On March 4, 1987, he was sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation to deny him parole. Until that point, the heaviest sentence handed down for espionage in the U.S. had been 14 years.
Pollard consistently argued that his actions were motivated by a need to protect the existence of the State of Israel, after he discovered that certain individuals within the American national security mechanism were putting Israeli lives at risk by deliberately withholding some of the information to which Israel should have been privy under a 1983 memorandum. Lawrence Korb, who was the assistant secretary of defense at the time of Pollard’s trial, confirmed during a recent visit to Israel that the information Pollard gave Israel did in fact have to do with dangers posed to Israel by the Arab world. He stressed that Pollard was never charged with treason, and remarked that he felt the punishment Pollard received was excessive.
Israel has to demand Pollard’s immediate release, and to reprimand the U.S. for its shameful conduct. Enough with the double standards. And Obama, who views fairness as the ultimate value, must, in the name of his country, apologize to Pollard, whose crime fell well within the bounds of “espionage among friends” when necessary. He must be granted his freedom as soon as possible.