Gingrich, Pollard's Jailkeeper?

Recalling the 1998 Wye River Summit

Avi Klar - HaModia - July 13, 2010

The news that the former Speaker of the House, a fiery and controversial orator, has "never before been so serious" about running for president, should make all of us nervous. It isn't his politics that disturb me. I supported much of the policy paper he dubbed the "Contract with America," and still agree with him on a host of issues. (Many readers of this column may find that surprising.)

What gets me worried is his personality, his personal ethics and his view of humanity.

We saw a glimpse into his true nature one Friday in November of 1998. He was under mounting pressure from his own rank and file, who blamed him for the loss of five House seats. Bill Clinton was still in the White House. Gingrich was fearful that he was about to be deposed as speaker, so he chose the cowardly option of resigning - not only as speaker, but also from Congress.

"I'm willing to lead, but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals," he famously declared.

"Cannibals"? Remember, these weren't some "blue Democrats" he was ranting about, but his very own Republicans, the party that he supposedly had devoted his life to building and promoting.

Presumably realizing that he had gone too far, he hastened to add, "My only fear would be that if I tried to stay, it would just overshadow whoever my successor is."

But, true to form, he promptly backpedaled again.

"Frankly ... I could use a break."

So was it a vacation, a question of overshadowing or cannibalism?

Washington is a city renowned for short tempers and swollen egos. The average politician never heard of the Mesilas Yesharim and probably doesn't attempt to work on his middos. But some are worse than others, and Gingrich is certainly someone none of us would ever wish to emulate.

Gingrich is also remembered for at least two very serious lapses of personal ethics, one of which earned him a reprimand from the House. The vote to discipline Gingrich was 395 to 28 - which translated to an awful lot of Republican votes. He was also ordered to pay a $300,000 penalty, and it marked the first time in the history of the House of Representatives that a speaker was disciplined.

The infamous government shutdown -which embarrassed this country in the eyes of the world in late 1995 - was another one of Gingrich's fiascos, although to be fair, the Democrats deserve their share of the blame for that.

But for this writer, Gingrich will always be remembered in the annals of infamy for a telephone call he made to then-President Bill Clinton on October 23, 1998.

After CIA Director George Tenet reportedly leaked word that Clinton had acceded to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's demand to commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard, Gingrich personally phoned his political arch-enemy, who was negotiating an accord between Netanayahu and, lehavdil, terror chieftain Yassir Arafat, ym"s, at the Wye River Plantation.

It is believed that it was Gingrich's phone call that essentially doomed the effort to free Pollard. The next day, after Clinton had reneged on his promise to free Pollard immediately, instead promising only that he would look into it, Gingrich went public declaring, "I think it would be a tremendous mistake for the United States to start putting traitors on the negotiating table as a pawn, and I hope the administration will now say they will not, under any circumstances, release Pollard."

His release, Gingrich added, "may well endanger American security."

The inherent unfairness of the Pollard case has often been described in these pages. Mr. Pollard was never charged with harming the United States, or with compromising codes, agents, or war plans.

Pollard was not charged with treason, and so Gingrich's description of him was downright libelous.

Pollard was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally - only Jonathan Pollard. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years. Even agents who have committed far more serious offenses on behalf of hostile nations have not received such a harsh sentence.

But for Gingrich, none of this mattered.

Yes, I know that there are those who claim that Gingrich - a savvy politician - was a great friend of Israel during his tenure.

I respectfully disagree. Anyone who could do this to Jonathan Pollard is an enemy masquerading as a friend.

For the sake of Jonathan Pollard, and for the sake of American people, let's hope that Gingrich's political aspirations never get off the ground.

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