Pollard. Imprisoned for 26 years
Photo: AP
Obama. Under consideration
Photo: AFP

The Pollard debacle

Portraying spy Jonathan Pollard as national hero keeps him in US prison

In about two weeks, in the Oval Office at the White House, the US president will end his meeting with Israel’s prime minister. Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu will get up from their seats, straighten up their ties, and prepare to head towards the journalists waiting for them outside.


“Oh,” Netanyahu will then turn to Obama, seconds before leaving the room. “Oh,” he will mutter, “with regards to Mr. Pollard…”


Obama will place his arm on Netanyahu’s shoulder. The president will have been briefed about the Pollard affair before the prime minister’s arrival. “We’ll take it into consideration,” Obama will say, and the two leaders will head to the cameras. Netanyahu will know that he did the minimum he had to do and brought up the painful affair with the president. The President will also do what he had to do. After all, he said what he had to say.


Jonathan Pollard has been imprisoned in the US for 26 years now; plenty of time based on any criteria. The Navy intelligence officer spied for Israel, was caught, and was sentenced to a life term. He is expected to be released, maybe, in four years.


I wrote “maybe,” because this also depends on the State of Israel’s conduct and the behavior of some Israelis. Should the US continue to be dissatisfied with the conduct of Israel and some Israelis, Pollard will come out of prison on a stretcher, covered with a sheet. It’s terrible to say it, write it, and think that way.


Pollard belongs to an era where Israel believed it was the queen of the world and had the right to do whatever it wished. He caused grave damage to the US, to America’s intelligence agencies, and to US national security. In the eyes of the Americans, and certainly those entrusted with safeguarding America’s security and secrets, he is a traitor, criminal, and a scumbag. In another era, he would have gotten the electric chair. The US establishment despises him.


The greatest Jew of all

And what do Israelis do? Our governments (mostly rightist governments, and rightist Israelis) turned Pollard into a national hero; a brother and savior, the greatest Jew of all. They granted him Israeli citizenship, created a lobby in parliament, and spoke about him at the Knesset and in the cabinet. Prime ministers and ministers (mostly from the Right) spoke wonders about Pollard, making him a national hero in Israel.


Well, the Americans entrusted with the Pollard issue are telling themselves, and also telling some Israelis: A despicable spy who harmed us and exposed our secrets is a national hero in your view? The Jewish God’s deputy? Okay, we’ll show you how it works! Your national hero (they don’t say it out loud, merely hint) will get out of here only on a stretcher, covered by a sheet.


“You’re unfair,” Israeli rightists tell the Americans. “Much more dangerous spies have already been released.”


“Indeed,” reply the Americans. “Yet they weren’t and will not be national heroes.”


The right path in the past 26 years should have been to present Pollard as small fry, a smalltime criminal, and a man who didn’t do anything significant. We should have explained the affair was “a mishap that will not be repeated.” Then, his fate would be the same as that of tens of thousands of criminals, including spies, who were released from prison in the last generation. We could have postponed the celebrations.


Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, is very much an American, and he is well familiar with the psyche and way of thinking of his countrymen. Last week, purposely or not, he portrayed Pollard’s masters as members of a “rogue organization in the Israeli intelligence community.” Even if he did not think this through, it was the right thing to say.


However, around here, our national erection works overtime, and Oren was reprimanded by his masters, an Israeli government that is still willing to return Hebron to the Palestinians in exchange for Pollard’s release.


About 20 years ago, a Likud minister initiated a journey of support to Pollard’s jail cell; this also served as a photo opportunity for Likud primaries candidates. Each such photograph prominently published in Israel got the Likud candidate into the Knesset, and kept Pollard in prison for a few more years. Everyone gained at his expense.


Pollard serves many people in Israel as a source of national pride, and a great hero; should this continue, everyone will rush to get photographed with him even next to the stretcher with the sheet.


פרסום ראשון: 06.28.10, 11:00
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