Snowden, Spying, and Pollard


pollardBy Jonathan Tobin

The outrage in Europe about the revelations by Edward Snowden of U.S. spying on allies embarrassed the Obama administration and caused the president to speak of trying to impose new guidelines on the National Security Agency and to try and distance himself from the affair. As Max Boot wrote here in October, the White House’s decision to throw the intelligence community under the bus was disgraceful. But the hypocrisy of America’s critics on this point was no less absurd. No one should doubt that the U.S. spies on its friends and that, in turn, its allies spy on America. Thus, the latest round of Snowden leaks published in the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times on Friday giving further details about such spying should surprise and outrage no one. But there is one aspect of the topic that is understandably causing something of a ruckus: U.S. efforts to keep tabs on Israeli leaders. According to the Snowden leaks, the United States worked with British intelligence to intercept the emails of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as other Israeli targets. The reports also state that Barak’s home was under surveillance by the Americans.

For those inclined to outrage about friends spying on friends, this is no more nor less infuriating than the stories about other such incidents, such as the U.S. efforts to monitor German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. But there is one difference between the incidents involving other allies and what happened to Israel. The U.S. is not holding a German or French spy in prison for more than 28 years for doing what America did to them.

By that I refer to Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who betrayed his oath and spied on his country at the behest of Israeli handlers. Jailed in 1985, Pollard is still serving a draconian life sentence for espionage. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wisely not seeking to exacerbate the already tense relations between his government and the United States over the Snowden leaks, some in his Cabinet as well as other Israelis are saying the stories about U.S. spying should cause the Obama administration to rethink its determination (shared by all of its predecessors) to let Pollard rot in jail. Though I deprecate the attempt by some in Israel and elsewhere to depict Pollard as a hero or to minimize the severity of his crimes, they happen to be right.

As I wrote in an analysis of the Pollard case in the March 2011 issue of COMMENTARY, both the spy’s defenders and his worst critics tend to exaggerate his importance. But there should be no doubt that what he did was wrong and badly hurt Israel as well as the United States:

There is no underestimating the damage that Pollard and his Israeli handlers did to American Jewry. The decision on the part of a few operatives and their political masters to exploit what may well have been the romantic delusions of a man of questionable judgment and character did far more injury to the countless loyal Jews who have served the United States so well for generations than anything else. It is not inappropriate that Israel’s government would seek the freedom of a man who, however misguided and harmful his mission, served that nation. But whether or not Obama or a future president ever accedes to Israel’s request for Pollard’s release, his unfortunate example will always be exploited as a pretext to justify those enemies of Israel and other anti-Semites who wish to wrongly impugn the loyalty of American Jews.

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

But once we concede that point, it is difficult to view his continued incarceration as justified. While the United States, like any other country, has every right to capture and prosecute spies, Pollard’s sentence was disproportionate. No one who has ever spied for a U.S. ally has ever received a sentence of this kind. Indeed, such spies are usually quickly ushered out of the country rather than prosecuted in order to avoid unpleasantness. As a U.S. citizen, Pollard had to be punished, but the determination of the U.S. intelligence establishment to see that he dies in jail seems to be based more in a desire to let him serve as a warning to Israel than anything else.

Just as Pollard’s spying is not justified by America’s efforts to do the same to Israel, his lawbreaking can’t be rationalized by U.S. activities. Serious people understand that this is what nation states do. Some of the spying is more outrageous than others (certainly the decision of Israelis to use an American Jew and to loot the Navy’s intelligence falls into that category). But the Snowden leaks make it clear that the self-righteous attitude of U.S. intelligence about Pollard is, at best, hypocritical.

Washington’s attitude on this point may be that small allies that are dependent on big ones for help, such as Israel, can’t expect to be treated fairly or to be granted the same leeway on such matters. That may well be so. But the Snowden leaks erase any doubt that such a position can be justified. Though it’s doubtful that President Obama will make it up to Israel by granting Pollard clemency, there is no reason based in justice or morality for him not to do so. Whatever else Snowden (who deserves punishment no less than Pollard did) has accomplished, he has made it clear that it is long past time for the U.S. to end the Pollard affair by setting him free.


{ Newscenter}



    Urges People To Call The White House And Ask That Pollard Be Released

    In light of the recent disclosure that Israeli leaders have been spied upon by the NSA, there has been a renewed public call and push for Jonathan Pollard’s release by Israel. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has expressed its public support for Pollard’s release. The Prime Minister of Israel met with Esther Pollard today and emphasized the need for Jonathan Pollard’s release.

    Israel committed 29 years ago to no longer seek U.S. classified information, even though the now unclassified CIA report on Pollard showed that the information he obtained for Israel was mainly on U.S. intelligence on Arab countries chemical, biological, and nuclear programs. Former Attorney General Mukasey wrote that Pollard ‘never intended to harm the US.’

    We encourage everyone to call or email the White House to let them know that releasing Pollard is an important matter to our community. The White House computes the calls as if it each call represents the views of many people and provides the President with a breakdown of the calls. Please make your voice known at this critical time.

    In an interview with the press earlier this week, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Cabinet Minister, and Governor Bill Richardson advocated public advocacy in coordination with private advocacy as the best means to achieve the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence. Richardson further stated that he expects Pollard to be released by President Obama no later than 2014 and possibly in the next two weeks. He himself is planning on speaking to the President privately about Pollard in the near future.

    In response to his statements and to show support for Governor Richardson’s efforts, the National Council of Young Israel is calling on the Jewish community and our non-Jewish friends to respectfully call the White House at 202-456-1414 to express support for the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served and his release from prison. It is important that the President hears that this is a critical issue as he weighs further commutations at this time and to bolster Governor Richardson’s efforts when he meets with the President.

    The National Council of Young Israel lauds Governor Richardson for his statements and upcoming actions. We further thank Jason Lyons of the Young Israel of Boca Raton, Florida, whose friendship with Governor Richardson helped lead to his involvement in this important effort. Governor Richardson previously helped get Jacob Ostreicher out of jail in Bolivia that eventually led to his recent freedom.

    Please support Young Israel’s efforts by making a donation by clicking on this link:

    For the past 100 years, the National Council of Young Israel has ably served the broader Jewish community. With more than 25,000 member families and nearly 200 branch synagogues throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel, the National Council of Young Israel is a multi-faceted organization that embraces Jewish communal needs and often takes a leading role in tackling the important issues that face the Jewish community in North America and Israel.