Obama should rethink approach to Israel

Ben Caspit - Al Monitor, Israel Pulse - October 29, 2013

Dear Mr. President, I hope that you are not too upset about the commotion being created around the NSA's [National Security Agency] eavesdropping incident. The diplomatic world in general, and the world of espionage in particular, is a paradise of hypocrisy. I don't think it would be too risky to conclude that there isn't a single informed leader who does not begin with the assumption that all the various spy agencies make every effort to eavesdrop on anyone they can. That means all of them, including [you]. Here, when Benjamin Netanyahu wants to hold a discussion without Ambassador Dan Shapiro getting a transcript of it in English (though Netanyahu does love speaking English, even in his own discussions), he goes to Mossad headquarters. It is considered relatively safe from the ominous antennas posted on the roof of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Apparently, Israel also listens in to whomever it can, and it seems to me, Mr. President, that when you visited Israel last March, there were quite a few efforts to learn exactly what you said behind closed doors to your staff. Those are the rules of the game. True, the Europeans are getting all huffy now and acting like they are hurt, but that's only because the leaker, Edward Snowden, exposed America publicly and forced you to admit, from atop the diving board, that there are things you do underwater in the public swimming pool shared by all of us.

Nothing can be done about it. In an era in which a group of madmen with enriched uranium can obliterate a city or land a crowded jet on a skyscraper, it is necessary to get used to concessions. One of those concessions is relinquishing privacy. The people who invented an electronic network with which everyone can correspond with everyone else and post pictures of everyone else - a network based on the guiding principle of "file and content sharing" - cannot expect high standards of privacy.

So why am I writing to you, Mr. President? For one simple reason. Now that the whole world knows that you are shamelessly eavesdropping on your allies without distinction, now that everyone is talking about how you spy on all your friends, all the time and everywhere, and after you forced Israel for the umpteenth time to release the worst of the murderers of its citizens back into the region, isn't it time, Mr. President, to release Jonathan Pollard?

Forget about all the other considerations for a moment. Concentrate only on moral and human values. Pollard has been wasting away there, in the American federal prison system, for close to thirty years. His life is ruined. His health has been destroyed. He will never start a family. He wasn't at his mother's funeral, and he was unable to bury his father. You have stomped him into the ground, without leaving any memory of him. He learned his lesson. The Jews of America learned theirs. Israel learned its lesson too. And we must not forget that Pollard never killed, he never murdered, and he never eavesdropped. He transferred classified information to an "ally." Yes, an ally like the kind you listen to all the time, Mr. President. It is time for a purely humane act from you, Barack Obama. Release Jonathan Pollard.

Ben Caspit is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers, and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.

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