On June 13, 2012 Shimon Peres, the president of the State of Israel, was awarded the highest distinction bestowed upon civilians by the United States – the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In choosing to present this honor to Mr. Peres, US President Barack Obama made a strong statement about the level of respect and admiration that he has towards his Israeli counterpart and the joint values that they both espouse. In the spirit of the idea of “freedom” that these leaders claim to embrace, now is the perfect time to make good use of this honor and announce the immediate release of Jonathan Pollard from US prison.
Many have asked how this stain on our people has festered unresolved for so many years. I believe that is because one reason and one alone. The Jewish people have not sufficiently and effectively cried out and pressured for his release. The American Jews were largely embarrassed by the issue although action has finally come there - albeit too little, too late. And similarly with few exceptions, the leaders of Israel have opted to deal with the “other” pressing political issues, and their legion, over the Pollard plight. This must change, beginning with President Shimon Peres. Jonathan must move to the absolute top of our priority list for urgent immediate action.
No one denies that Jonathan Pollard acted inappropriately. He knowingly broke the laws of his country and betrayed the trust put in him by his government when they appointed him to a sensitive intelligence position. Nevertheless, it is now clear that in passing information to an American ally about dangerous nations that threatened Israel’s security, Pollard thought he was acting in the best interest of both the United States and Israel. More importantly, most experts now agree that the punishment of a life sentence that Pollard received was most definitely not at all proportionate to the crimes that he was convicted of.
Unique positionPresident Obama and President Peres are uniquely positioned to be the leaders that bring about Pollard’s release. The both, in their own ways, owe it to the Jewish people to right past wrongs and rectify earlier mistakes that they made. By announcing Pollard’s immediate release they would be taking a very positive step in that direction.
While today President Peres is Israel’s most respected and admired leader on the international stage, in 1985, when Pollard was arrested, Peres was the prime minister of Israel who denied any wrongdoing and claimed that Pollard was part of a rouge operation that was not officially sanctioned by the State. In 1987 when Pollard was convicted, Peres was the foreign minister who refused to cooperate with the American investigation, thus denying crucial testimony from Israelis that might have affected the outcome of Pollard’s trial. President Peres, perhaps more than any Israeli leader in the past, should be the one to finally bring about Pollard's release.
As is well documented by this point, President Obama has not missed an opportunity to insult the State of Israel. Earlier in his presidency he visited Cairo in June 2009 where he gave his ill-advised speech which, now in hindsight, was almost completely divorced from reality as he spoke about freedom and liberalism finally taking root in the Middle East. At that time, President Obama insulted the US’ so-called ally Israel by not bothering to make the short trip from visiting Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt to paying respects to the only true democracy in the Middle East.
To add insult to injury, President Obama forced a so-called “construction freeze” upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attempted to cut off all natural growth in the communities of Judea and Samaria. Not only was this a biased policy that forbade Jews from building in their ancestral homeland while allowing Palestinians to continue to grow and expand their communities without any restrictions, the way it was pushed upon the Israeli government was disrespectful to the democratic will of the Israeli people. More than any past president, President Obama needs to make amends to the people of Israel by releasing Jonathan Pollard.
The time is nowWhile President Peres’ past connection to Pollard is more direct, both he and President Obama have made grave mistakes which negatively affected the people and State of Israel. This can now be rectified.
As of June, 2012 Jonathan Pollard will have been imprisoned in the US federal penitentiary system for over 26 years. While the two presidents hosted the venerable who’s who of the Wall Street and Hollywood elites while feasting on the finest cuisine available, Jonathan was sitting alone in his cell just as he has for almost three decades, as the state of his physical and mental health continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate.
The time is now for President Peres to directly approach his friend President Obama and simply demand Jonathan Pollard be immediately released following the White House ceremony in his honor last week. An historic opportunity exists where these two leaders can end this saga that has hung like a cloud over US-Israeli relations for decades. This opportunity must not be squandered.
Member of Knesset Danny Danon is Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of the World Likud