Has The Window Of Opportunity For Pollard Closed?


pollardThe White House’s chilly response to renewed Israeli calls for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, which were repeated during President Shimon Peres’ visit to Washington last week, is the latest link in a long chain of attempts to bring an end to the 27-year-old saga that has been known around these parts as “The Pollard Affair.”

In the period between the verdict in Pollard’s trial and the start of U.S. President Barack Obama’s term, the American bureaucratic apparatus has maintained its hardened, uncompromising position regarding Pollard, torpedoing any initiative designed to commute his sentence. The climax of this story came in October 1998, during Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations at Wye Plantation. At the time, it appeared that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to win Pollard’s release had managed to put a dent in President Bill Clinton’s long-standing opposition to such a move. The only problem was that Clinton’s request to initiate a discussion among top administration officials who were asked to reconsider the Pollard case was met with an emphatic rejection.

In light of the emphatic resistance among his intelligence officials, Clinton abandoned the idea of using Pollard’s release to entice the Israeli government to make further concessions on the Palestinian front. This bureaucratic inflexibility, which has proven to be immune to the vicissitudes of recent years while in effect limiting the American government’s maneuverability on this issue, becomes more pronounced when put in a comparative context with other cases.

Christopher Boyce, the man who was convicted of passing classified information about American satellite capabilities to the Soviet Union in the 1970s, whose crimes were similar in nature to those committed by Pollard, was released from prison after serving 24 years. What makes this case all the more remarkable is that not only did Boyce spy for the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, but he also provided the Russians with heavily encoded data on encryption methods which the Americans used for their satellites.

Despite the gravity of his crimes, the defense secretary at the time, Harold Brown, did not appeal to the courts for a harsher sentence. Even more unbelievably, the American public turned Boyce into a cult hero after his daring escape from prison and the slew of bank robberies that he subsequently committed. His story was eventually immortalized in a best-selling book, The Falcon and the Snowman, which was eventually made into a movie of the same title.

To the best of our knowledge, the information that Pollard passed on to Israel, which mainly included satellite photographs (among them images of PLO facilities in Tunisia), in no way endangered “the lives of many American civilians,” despite the claims of then-Pentagon chief Caspar Weinberger, who made the accusation in a sealed affidavit that he submitted to Judge Aubrey Robinson before he handed down his verdict. There is also no clear-cut evidence indicating that Pollard sold the information he had obtained to other governments, such as Pakistan or South Africa. Nonetheless, this was not enough to change the American bureaucratic apparatus’ perception of Pollard as a dangerous spy who did not hesitate to do serious harm to U.S. national security interests.
Pollard as a precedent

Washington’s claims that Israel only partially fulfilled its obligations in cooperating with federal investigators attached to the Pollard case – as well as oft-repeated intimations of possible co-conspirators within the American intelligence community whose identities have yet to be revealed – rendered this issue one fraught with charged emotions. The residual bitterness helped scuttle President Peres’ latest push for a pardon. It is safe to assume that Weinberger’s characterization of Pollard as a “traitor,” which served as the basis for the late Pentagon chief’s classified memorandum to the judge on the eve of sentencing, played a role in the decision to hand down a disproportionately harsh punishment.

Let us consider that prior to the Pollard arrest, the maximum penalty imposed on an American citizen who was found to have spied for an ally was 14 years in prison. Steven Lalas, a naturalized American citizen originally from Greece who was hired by the State Department, was convicted in 1993 of transmitting classified documents to Greek intelligence services. These documents contained information on Turkish naval formations and positioning in the Aegean Sea. After serving the full 14 years behind bars, Lalas was released.

Although the amount of documents and material that Lalas passed on to the Greek government pales in comparison to the scope of information that was transmitted by Pollard, the nature of the data was far more sensitive. The leak inflicted tremendous damage to bilateral relations between Ankara and the Reagan administration.

Over the course of Obama’s term in office, there has been a growing sense among observers that a window of opportunity for a breakthrough in the Pollard case has been opened. Former secretary of state and national security adviser Henry Kissinger, Former CIA director R. James Woolsey, Jr. and Lawrence Korb, who once served as an aide to Weinberger, have publicly called for Pollard’s release. In a 2010 letter to Obama, Korb explicitly attributed the harsh sentence imposed on Pollard to Weinberger’s “almost visceral dislike of Israel.”

Secondly, the fact that Obama is currently in the midst of a difficult and tight race for a second term should have made him especially sensitive to anything having to do with the Jewish vote. Inside the American defense and political establishments, calls for Pollard’s release have become part and parcel of the normal discourse, in contrast with years past, when advocating for a pardon was considered an act of anti-Americanism that was beyond the pale of what was acceptable. Still, the Jewish community remains mired in its dual-loyalty crisis, a dilemma that is the byproduct of its unconditional support for Israel alongside its fealty to the American homeland.
Between Israel and the U.S.

When the Jewish constituency, which was supposed to serve as the spearhead of a public campaign dedicated to Pollard’s release, remains in the rear, it is no wonder that Peres’ initiative for a pardon died a sudden death before the issue was even put on the American political agenda. As such, the opportunity to use the Pollard case as leverage in influencing Jewish voting patterns come November 6 was (for the time being) missed. Automatic Jewish support for the Democrats is no longer assured, particularly given Obama’s conduct on Israel-related issues at the start of his presidency.

Recent figures showing that Obama garners just 64 percent of “the Jewish vote” (a stark contrast to the 78 percent of eligible Jewish voters who backed Obama in 2008) could have enhanced the Jewish community’s influence over the question of Pollard’s continued incarceration, yet this is contingent upon the Jews’ willingness to make their voices heard loud and clear in the ongoing political discourse.

We are now faced with the deafening silence of the Jews as it relates to the campaign to close the Pollard case. There is no other choice but to wait and see if the Pollard affair continues to cast its pall over the special relationship between Israel and U.S. after the elections.

{Israel Hayom/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Obama administration’s chilly response to requests for clemency for Pollard, and its entranched hostility to Israel should be met with our voting patterns in the upcoming elections. Obama should be voted out of the White House as a sonne Israel.

  2. I would prefer an article that discusses Jonathan Pollard would look to the charges and not make comparisons to cases like the Christopher Boyce case. In contrast to Boyce, the US Government charged Pollard with passing information to an ally; Boyce committed espionage by passing information to an enemy, and was charged as such. Therefore, making such comparisons hurts Pollard and are unwarranted.

    Furthermore, I do not understand why these commentators stay away from the real issue: Shabtai Kalmanovich. The Kalmanovich affair is the theory why many at the time believed Pollard committed espionage. There was no connection between Pollard and Kalmanovich.

    Again, I would like to see a real discussion about the issues. Until then, we have this.

  3. it appears that since Polards releases hinges upon alot of Jews praying for him, and working on his behalf. This factor may have caused the higher ups to tighten their grip. Its a matter of power really, and boys like to show power, because this case like the Rubashkin case is affecting so many Yidden, the powerful men see this as an opportunity to flex their muscles. I don’t know, I’m no expert but maybe a more quieter shtiller way could have delivered the goods we so desperately want, and that is Yoinison Ben Malka home with his family. But beintyim lets keep on Davening on his behalf. No Tfilla ever gets thrown out.

  4. This is sickening. This Obama will go out of his way for Holder. This proves, exactly who these two are. shame on America.