Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pardoning Pollard

The name of Jonathan Pollard has come up again. The reason should be obvious. President Bush is at the end of his final term in office. That is the time where many Presidential pardons are given. This is the law of the land. Pardons may be granted by the President as he sees fit. No justification needed.

And so as was the case at the end of the Clinton administration many in the Jewish community are advocating Jonathan Pollard's release. And I add my name to theirs.

Yes - the time has come for Mr. Pollard to be released. Let him go to Israel where he can live out the rest of his life in peace and freedom. There has in fact been over the years many repeated appeals for his release from some of the biggest names in the Torah world - not the least of which was my own Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik. It is a matter of Pidyon Shevuyim. Aside from virtually all Charedi Rabbis in America and all Modern Orthodox rabbis, there is The Agudah, The RCA, National Council of Young Israel - those requesting a pardon for Jonathan include names like Rav Elyashiv, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, and all Religious Zionist Rabbis in Israel. In fact the appeal for his release seems to be near universal in the Orthodox world.

I have expressed my views about Mr. Pollard in the past. I do not consider Mr. Pollard to be a hero. In fact I agree that he was a traitor to his country. His country was the United States of America and he betrayed it. It doesn’t matter that his intentions were good (…although not pure – he took payment for it.) He took voluminous amounts of top secret documents with sensitive information and passed it on to a foreign country. Tons of material!

He compromised the entire intelligence community of the United States and put - who knows how many lives at risk! It doesn’t matter that he released that information to an ally. Once that information is out – it is compromised it may as well have gone to an enemy. I therefore understand the severity of his punishment.

It is however also true that he co-operated with the government after he was caught in exchange for leniency. That is one part of his severe consequences that I do not understand. One would think that a plea bargaining deal offered by the government should be honored. It wasn’t.

But neither does anyone except those involved in his sentencing know the full extent of the damage he did. That information - if I understand correctly - is still classified. The government argued that despite the plea agreement, the crime was so severe that Jonathan Pollard deserved the punishment he got. He was lucky to have his life spared.

Many of Pollard’s supporters feel that there was anti-Semitism involved here. I don’t know that I can buy that. Pollard could have never gotten such a highly sensitive job with top security clearance if there was. No - the punishment seems to have been based on what the court felt was just.

Several Presidents including those who have very strong positive feelings toward the Jewish people and Israel have refused to pardon him. There is something there that the rest of the world does not know about the severity of his crime.

But that said, 21 years is enough. The intelligence he released over 20 years ago cannot have any relevance today. Any possible relevance disappeared long ago. Although I agree that this fact does not minimize his crime.

In the end, I do not believe he intended to act maliciously towards his country. Though he was paid by the rogue Israeli officials who encouraged him to spy and received that intelligence, Pollard thought he was passing on vital information to the Jewish State. He did not think he was being anti US. He just thought he was being pro Israel. He was wrong on both counts. He betrayed his country and whatever value that intelligence may have had to Israel it was outweighed by far by the negative fallout.

So in my view Jonathan Pollard has paid for his crime. 21 years is a long time. And it was hard time. Not some ‘country club’ prison. Much of it was spent in solitary confinement.

Jonathan Pollard’s crime may have been greater than we can imagine. And we may never fully know why. But I think after 21 years that it is time for President Bush - the ‘compassionate conservative’ - to have the compassion and mercy that I know he has - and let Jonathan go.