Prisoner Release: A Two-Way Street to Trust - Risks and Rewards

Mark L. Levinson - The Jerusalem Post - November 12, 1993

For a change, Jonathan Pollard's sister Carol is telling friends that things are proceeding "nicely." Soon Pollard may be released, and Jewish individuals and organizations will likely be scrambling to claim instant credentials as longtime supporters.

Ironically, one of the strongest arguments for Pollard's release reflects one of the ugliest rumors about his original trial - that well before the end of it, the judge was heard to remark at a social gathering, "I'm going to do to Pollard what Israel is doing to the Palestinians."

It's about time now to do to Pollard what Israel is doing to the Palestinians: set him free.

In a speech to a group of Democrats a week or two ago, President Clinton recalled that when Prime Minister Rabin informed him Israel would take risks for peace, Clinton said, "If the premier would take the risks, we would do our best to minimize those risks."

Clinton should be aware that it isn't only Israel and the PLO which have mutual confidence-building to do, worth releasing some prisoners for. The US too needs to convince the parties of its sincerity.

Pollard belongs to a subplot of history that we would be delighted to put behind us. It's worth wondering whether, if America had been sending Israel the vital information it had promised to send, Pollard would have found himself smuggling files out of his office to warn Israel of Syrian gas warfare capabilities and Iraqi nuclear progress.

If the US intends to honor its commitments this time, if there is no reason now to raid US Defense Department files for the information we have been promised, if the conditions that made Jonathan Pollard a spy are all gone, then, by all means, Pollard should go free.

He will never repeat his offense; he won't get the chance. And that can be said more certainly of Pollard than of the Palestinian prisoners Israel is releasing.

Pollard has at least expressed regret for what he did, unlike many of those prisoners. Unlike many of them, he lifted his hand against no one, threatened no one, plotted injury to no one. He isn't a member of any dangerous group that will be morally or politically strengthened by his release. Despite their best efforts, the American authorities turned up no evidence that Pollard had any accomplices.

There is no shame to Israel in requesting Pollard's release. Pollard isn't Ami Popper. Popper, who gunned down Arab civilians at random, is someone many Arabs would be only too pleased to see freed. They would love to be able to say, "Just as we welcome back the terrorists we sent forth, you welcome back yours; our way has been much the same."

But it hasn't. The Arab killers have been, and still are, a dominant social force. Ours are a lunatic fringe. Rather than waving their pictures in the streets, we punish them. We put them in prison for our own good reasons - not for political reasons, but because, in our country, murder is illegal.

Of course, if anyone chooses to interpret Popper's continued punishment as a gesture, directed toward America and the Arabs to show that we intend Arabs to be safe on our land just as we would like Jews to be safe on theirs, then that's fine too.

And if the Americans would like us not to interpret Pollard's release as a gesture, but to see them as simply expelling a convict for their own good reasons - not for political reasons, but because he's been punished sufficiently - then that's fine too. We don't even have to receive him in Palestinian style, with a noisy, chanting parade; just in Jewish style, with a good meal and a quiet tear.

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