Netanyahu responds to outcry: Israel working to free Pollard regardless of US spy revelations
PM responds to outcry over spy's continued incarceration; Transportation Minister Katz, MK Shaked demand Pollard's release after revelations that US conducted surveillance on former PMs Barak, Olmert.
Gil Hoffman, Lahav Harkov, and Herb Keinon -The Jerusalem Post - December 21, 2013
Reacting to calls that the US must release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard now that it has come to light the US spied on Israeli leaders, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel did not need one specific incident to deal with Pollard's release.
"We do not need a special incident to talk about the release of Jonathan Pollard," Netanyhau said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "We are dealing with this with every US president, including with President Obama, all the time, including now."
Netanyahu said he hoped that the circumstances would be created that will enable "returning Jonathan home."
"This is not conditional nor connected to the recent event, even though we gave our opinion on these matters," Netanyahu said, hinting that there was a private government reaction to the revelations over the weekend that the US National Security Agency had spied on Israeli leaders.
Publicly, however, neither the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry, or the Defense Ministry were commenting on the revelations.
Individual ministers did speak out on the reports that in 2009, the US National Security Agency and its British equivalent, the General Communications Headquarters, hacked into the emails of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former defense minister Ehud Barak. The revelations came to light after Edward Snowden, a former NSA employee, leaked them to the press.
"The secret is out," Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said on Sunday. "The US is systematically spying on the defense and diplomatic leadership here in Israel. Is this how friends treat each other?"
"Pollard was arrested for much less," Katz said. "I plan on proposing in today's cabinet meeting that Israel demand an American statement vowing to put an end to the surveillance and to immediately release Pollard in light of the most recent revelations."
Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, who heads the parliamentary lobby devoted to advancing the cause of Pollard's release, said on Sunday that "the most recent revelations about spying and surveillance by the US against its ally needs to light a red light of morality for any logical person."
"There needs to be reciprocity in any relationship between countries," Shaked said. "It is inconceivable that while Pollard has been rotting in an American prison for decades for spying, which was considered an unforgivable crime by the American government, we are now informed that the US has been spying against Israel, and this is just swept under the rug."
US President Barack Obama granted clemency to 21 criminals over the weekend, as part of the pardons and commutations traditionally approved ahead of the Christmas holiday. Obama pardoned 13 criminals and commuted the sentences of eight.
Most of the convicts on the list were drug dealers and thieves, some of whom would have received lesser sentences if convicted of the same crimes today.
Despite a recent request from his close ally and former cabinet member Bill Richardson, Obama did not include Pollard on his holiday clemency list. Pollard is in his 29th year of a life sentence.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog told Israel Radio that he hopes Snowden's revelations will lead to new thinking by the Israeli government about how to bring about Pollard's release in an effective manner.
"There needs to be new thinking because the time has come," Herzog said.
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau told reporters outside the cabinet meeting that "if there ever was a time to bring Pollard home, it's now."
Labor MK Nachman Shai, who heads the Knesset Caucus on US-Israel Relations, called for a special meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the American espionage.
He said that Israel has not spied on the US since Pollard was caught in 1985.
"The silence of Israeli officials following these reports is disappointing and shameful," Shai said.
"We cannot let such revelations pass quietly. Like Germany and Brazil, we should ask the US for clarification, or at least confirmation that such spying has stopped."
Former US deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb responded to the reports by saying that these revelations make Pollard's continued incarceration for spying for Israel "completely absurd."
Obama commuting Pollard's life sentence would "remove the moral embarrassment," Korb said. Richardson called on the president to commute the convicted spy's life sentence in a letter on Tuesday.
The president tried unsuccessfully to appoint Richardson as his commerce secretary after he dropped out of the 2008 presidential race and endorsed Obama rather than his rival candidate, Hillary Clinton. Richardson was energy secretary in Bill Clinton's cabinet, so his endorsement of Obama gave him a big boost that helped him get elected.
Richardson also served as ambassador to the United Nations and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. He maintains a close relationship with Obama.
"I am aware commutations are being considered at this time," Richardson wrote, referring to presidential clemency directives traditionally issued before Christmas. "Please add Jonathan Pollard to the list of those to be released."
In the letter, Richardson noted that nearly all those with first-hand knowledge of Pollard's case now support allowing him to leave prison.
He recalled discussions on Pollard in Bill Clinton's cabinet 15 years ago.
"In my view, there is no longer a need for a discussion today," Richardson wrote.
"Virtually everyone who was in a high position of government - and dealt with the ramifications of what Pollard did at the time - now support his release."
Richardson pointed out that many of these major decision makers have issued public calls for Pollard's release, including former secretary of state George Shultz, former national security adviser Robert McFarlane, and William Webster, the head of the FBI at the time of Pollard's arrest and the only man in history to head both the FBI and the CIA.
In his letter, Richardson blamed then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger for Pollard receiving a life sentence despite a plea bargain in which the government committed to not seek a life sentence.
Pollard has already spent 28 years of the life sentence in a federal prison for passing classified information to an ally.
No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for this offense, whose median time served is two to four years.