Editorial: Taking Responsibility for Pollard

Hamodia - September 7, 2009

Israel's state comptroller, retired judge Micha Lindenstrauss, last week released a report on the country's handling of the Pollard affair. In a nutshell, the report exonerates Israel's political leadership and blames Jonathan Pollard's continued incarceration on the "fierce and consistent" opposition of U.S. administration and intelligence officials. It also recommends that Israel press the Americans to give Pollard a new trial. The report is, to put it charitably, a huge disappointment.

For starters, it makes contradictory claims. On one hand it states categorically that since 1996, the governments of Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert acted "continuously and consistently" to obtain the release of Pollard. "The Pollard issue challenged the prime ministers of Israel," it states. "Their actions were continual and consistent, and the issue was brought up in their meetings and conversations with U.S. presidents."

At the same time, Lindenstrauss admits that Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon and Olmert made sure that their discussions with U.S. presidents and senior administration officials on this sensitive issue were never documented. (He calls this failure a "significant transgression," because it makes it impossible to reassess past efforts to get Pollard freed and try to come up with a more successful approach.)

But if Lindenstrauss didn't have any transcripts of these meetings, how could he be so sure that these prime ministers acted "continuously and consistently" on Pollard's behalf?

Without going into all of the details of the Pollard case, the pertinent facts are as follows: Jonathan Pollard is an Israeli citizen (as of 1995); the government of Israel has recognized him as an Israeli agent (as of 1998); and he has spent the past

24 years in prison

for providing Israel with information that saved many, many lives.

In this sense, Pollard is like any other Israeli prisoner, be it Ron Arad, the navigator downed over Lebanon in 1986, or Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier kidnapped at the border with Gaza three years ago. But there's one crucial difference: While Arad and Shalit are being held in unknown locations by terror organizations, Pollard is in the hands of Israel's closest ally, the United States. And it is inconceivable that Israel leaders acted "continuously and consistently" and still came up empty-handed.

How can it be that 24 years have passed - with U.S. administrations that were Republican and Democrat; more friendly to Israel and less friendly; with prime ministers from Labor and the Likud - and that at no time was it possible to close a deal that would send Pollard home?

If the efforts of Israeli prime ministers were truly continuous and consistent, if there was the proper sense of hakaras hatov to Pollard for what he did for Israel, then surely there were ample opportunities in the past 24 years - be it at the signing of Oslo or the disengagement or the end of the administration of former president George W. Bush - to gain the release on humanitarian grounds for a man who is sick and who has expressed remorse for his deeds? (The notable exception was then-Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who truly tried to engineer a deal upon signing the Wye Plantation agreement on a Chevron withdrawal, only to be bitterly disappointed by Bill Clinton.)

The inescapable conclusion is that if prime ministers raised Pollard's case in all top-level discussions, it was done for the record, latzeis yedei chovah. The prime minister in question raised his name, the president noted that it had been raised and then they moved on to more "important" matters.

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who chairs the Knesset subcommittee that commissioned the state comptroller's report, refuses to join Lindenstrauss in applauding the work of previous prime ministers. "In the test of the result, the work surrounding Pollard did not succeed," he told The Jerusalem Post. "The fact that Pollard is still in jail is a failure."

To be sure, there is no denying that there are forces in the U.S. administration and among top intelligence officials who have consistently blocked efforts to gain Pollard's release. It is also crystal clear that he was denied due process, given an excessive prison sentence and deserves an immediate release on humanitarian grounds due to his physical condition.

But the main problem is the way the Israeli government relates to Pollard. All along it was reluctant to assume responsibility for his actions, waiting more than 10 years to acknowledge that he had been acting as its agent.

Of all the prime ministers, Netanyahu is the one who has shown the greatest willingness to accept such responsibility. In 2002, he visited Pollard in prison. In 2007, he said that if he were elected prime minister he would bring about Pollard's release. Now it's time for him to try to keep that promise.

Let us keep Yehonoson ben Malkah constantly in our tefillos, and may Jonathan Pollard be written and inscribed for a good year, one that sees him released to Israel where, at long last, he will have a chance to regain his health and begin life anew.

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