US President Barack Obama fancies himself in grand Lincolnesque terms and avers over and over that Abraham Lincoln is his model. Quite shamelessly invoking the Great Emancipator, Obama chose to kick off his first presidential bid on February 10, 2007, in Springfield, Illinois, just where Lincoln voiced his historic challenge to slavery in June 1858. And honing the comparison with a characteristic deficit of humility, after his electoral victory Obama took his family with much pomp to the Lincoln memorial.
But, for all of Obama’s blatant manipulation, it’s not that superficial similarities don’t exist. Like Honest Abe, Obama cuts a thin, lanky figure and sports oversized ears. None too- modestly Obama considers himself a master-rhetorician, a supreme crisis-manager, if not the outright shining beacon of liberty. There’s absolutely no denying that Obama is a dab hand at stagecraft and expediency.
Milking the advantageous analogy for all it’s worth, Obama’s inauguration speech theme was lifted with abundant conceit from a line in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “a new birth of freedom.” Obama just loves the word “freedom.” With theatrical flair he enunciates it liberally at every occasion.
That in mind, it would therefore be reassuring to assume that never far from Obama’s awareness is what Lincoln wrote in 1859: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
At this point in time the only man who denies Jonathan Pollard freedom is Obama.
It’s in the power of the US president to finally do the long overdue right thing and set free the man who now languishes in his 27th year of imprisonment for passing American intelligence (about inimical third countries – Iraq, Libya, and the then-PLO headquarters in Tunis) to a friendly country (Israel). He should have been freed way back, without linkage to his declining health.
Making a sadistic example of Pollard for nearly three decades intrinsically contradicts the most elementary notions of justice and freedom.
This is something for our president, Shimon Peres, to be mindful of when he is awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom – America’s highest civilian award – on June 13.
As a collective, we Israelis can convincingly conjecture about Obama’s motives for thus honoring Peres precisely as the race for the White House heats up. Nonetheless, we’d willingly suspend our not unjustified cynicism were the mutually beneficial presidential ego massages accompanied by a genuine gesture of freedom. We’d like nothing better than to set skepticism somewhat aside and bask in the outwardly warm glow of rare affection for an otherwise serially vilified nation.
Watching Peres wined and dined, feted and gloried (with all four living US ex-presidents partaking in the gala event), could afford us such a nice break from the disparagement and defamation that are our daily lot in the international arena. It’s tempting to forget our own exasperations with the real Peres as we knew him over the years (not always for the best) and join carefree in the celebration.
But we’re not free from care.
According to the 1987 Eban Commission Report (the Knesset committee appointed to investigate the Pollard affair), Peres – prime minister when Pollard was arrested in 1985 – played a pivotal role in the evolving misfortune.
When the story hit the press, Peres conversed with then-secretary of state George Schulz in an attempt at damage control. He lamely denied any knowledge of the operation and undertook to do everything in his power to assist the Americans in prosecuting the suspect they had just apprehended.
Instead of defending Pollard – his agent – or negotiating for his release, Peres essentially delivered Pollard to the prosecution. There’s no mincing words. Peres lied barefaced when he told Americans that Pollard was a freelancer who had purloined secrets for profit.
Also according to the Eban Commission Report, Peres was the one who handed over to the Americans all of the documents that Pollard had provided to Israel. These documents were surrendered, significantly, with Pollard’s fingerprints still on them.
This was crucial. Without these documents, there would have been no case against Pollard, no hard evidence. Without Peres’s direct collusion, Pollard would have likely walked or had his wrist reprovingly slapped. He certainly wouldn’t have been sentenced to life behind bars.
This is the first and only time in the recorded history of modern espionage that a country had cooperated in the prosecution of its own agent abroad.
Assistant US attorney John R. Fisher underscored the centrality of the evidence Israel handed over. Writing in the “Government’s Opposition to Motion to Reduce Sentence” (June 17, 1987, p. 10) Fisher elucidated: “Cooperation was not forthcoming in this case until several months after [the] defendant’s arrest. Indeed, [the] defendant agreed to enter a guilty plea and cooperate only after government attorneys and investigators returned from Israel with additional evidence of [the] defendant’s guilt.”
Fast forward 27-plus years: The man who arranged for the delivery of evidence essential to forcing Pollard to plead guilty is ironically to receive a “freedom” medal from the man who continues to deprive Pollard of his freedom. That sadly is the dishonorable bottom line of the travesty. But it’s hardly all of it.
The punishment meted out to Pollard was from the outset scandalous. It was disproportionate in the extreme, especially considering the fact that he never put American agents or interests at risk, that he never divulged anything involving America but clued in a fellow democracy about the machinations of its enemies, which happened to have also been America’s enemies.
Appreciably lighter punishment was meted to assorted US spies for greater offenses, including those involving tangible and severe security hazards to America.
The fact that Pollard was treated so ultra-harshly by any existing legal yardsticks and the fact that his tribulation is still ongoing, despite his age and infirmity, isn’t just pointlessly cruel. The departure from all punitive precedents in his case smells foul. It’s difficult to escape the impression that the only reason Pollard was over-punished and is still denied his freedom is because he’s Jewish.
Although Pollard’s life term is unparalleled for transferring classified material to an ally, no US administration in nearly three decades countenanced pardoning him. This, despite the fact that in 1991, Pollard publicly apologized and expressed further remorse in a 1996 open letter to then-president Bill Clinton. In 1998, Binyamin Netanyahu admitted Pollard spied for Israel and sought to free him as part of the Wye River deal. Clinton reneged on the agreement.
The demonstrated inequity in Pollard’s case should trouble anyone who profoundly cherishes actual freedom – not just the presidential Medal of Freedom and accruing accolades.
The profuse praises about to be showered upon Peres would all ring hollow should Peres be acclaimed and exalted in the august name of freedom while Pollard is still most literally denied freedom.
Obama most literally holds the key to Pollard’s cell. It behooves Peres to persuade Obama to use it. Peres, thus far, has been true to his promise and did formally ask for Pollard’s release.
The Obama administration issued an ambiguous statement which news outlets spontaneously interpreted as an unconditional rejection of Peres’s request. In response, Peres released a communiqué stressing that he still awaits authorized word from the White House. From that point on nothing further has been heard on the matter.
The stalemate is strange considering that the tributes Obama plans to heap upon Peres aren’t without ulterior motive. Consequently, to rebuff Peres outrightly would constitute a massive discourtesy, effusive blandishments notwithstanding.
As things stand, the last word hadn’t yet been spoken, notably because Obama said nothing personally or officially. Hence, the ball is still presumably in play.
For Obama, releasing Pollard is risk-free, rife with potential reward and wholly without political detriment. Nobody can credibly persevere in the sham that Pollard threatens American national security interests.
Indeed, the pendulum has swung hard and many former US higher-ups now support Pollard’s release and have appealed to Obama to end Pollard’s overlong ordeal. In their words, this is a matter of simple fairness because his sentence is “grossly disproportionate,” quite apart from humanitarian concerns about his age and precarious medical status.
Pollard, they say, has already more than paid his debt to society. Any additional incarceration is a miscarriage of justice. This is the opinion of, among others, former secretary of state George Shultz, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former White House legal counsel Bernard Nussbaum, former attorney-general Michael Mukasey, former deputy attorney-general Philip Heymann, former Senate intelligence chairman Dennis DeConcini, former CIA director James Woolsey and many more.
Everything now hinges on Peres’s pluck. If he acquiesces in allowing Pollard’s tragedy to be overlooked, then the denial of freedom which Peres facilitated will continue while Peres is pronounced the prince of freedom.
But if Peres musters sufficient courage, he’ll confer upon himself the most exceptional of opportunities. More popular among foreigners than any other Israeli, he can, in the unique circumstance orchestrated by Obama, conjure up prospects for rectifying his own the past. Peres can correct a wrong in which he played a critical part. He can help set things right… if he only truly wants to.
And if Peres is wary of introducing controversy into his dialogue with Obama, the soon-to-be Medal of Freedom recipient would do well to recall that George Orwell defined freedom as “the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Pollard is the American equivalent of Dreyfus…the handling of his case is a S C A N D A L !
Indeed a scandal..and a miscarriage of justice..but no equivalence whatsoever with the Dreyfus case. Dreyfus was a French officer who was falsely accused of something he didn’t do.. while Pollard did indeed commited a crime against his country. Pollard’s punishnment is outrageous and out of proportions.. some kind of vicious “vendeta” of the US administration against Israel. After all Pollard gave Israel information the US should have provide Israel with (as a close ally) in the first place..the whole affair stinks and is very ugly!
Sarah, I always love your historic analogies !
Here is an historic analogy…for your eyes only…
Sadly, Mr.Pollard will never see the light of day, because I don’t think the Arafat tuchus-licker Peres, will ask or demand anything from the latent mass-murderer Obama.
Oh well, such is life, Sarah.
“Everything now hinges on Peres’s pluck.” – I wouldn’t bet either on the man’s courage or his ethics. Admittedly, it’s difficult for a politician to be honorable, but still some are more so than others. The overview of Shimon Peres’s whole career leaves one with a strong impression of dishonour and taint. This would go a long way to explain his popularity abroad and within certain segments of Israeli society.
‘Peres was the one who handed over to the Americans all of the documents that Pollard had provided to Israel.’
The little puppets of Israel know what to do when the strings are pulled.
At this late stage in the game isn’t it amazing how the lowest of Israel has floated to the top ?
We have Shimon the useful idiot of the Globalists who betrays his own people and is rewarded sitting as President .
We have the retreat and capitulate General Barak as defense Minister whose claim to fame is betraying the SLA when he and the IDF fled in the middle of the night from South Lebanon and razing Jewish homes for the globalist Fourth Reich quartet.
And then we have the ultra crafty,slippery and devious Netanyahu who threatens the few Jews left with a conscience that if they ‘freely’ vote to hinder his delivery of Jewish homes turned into rubble to Israel’s enemies that he will throw them out of the government.
Can anyone else see why Israel is in grave and mortal danger from without and within ?
Only God can save Israel from themselves.
Sarah, I am surprised that as readers searched for historical analogies they missed the most important, and far more tragic analogy of all. That is to say the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were accused of passing information to the Russians during a period when Russia was America’s war time ally during WW II.
The story of the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs must be seen as one of the great miscarriages of Justice in human history. Pollard was at least spared execution.
The Rosenbergs were essentially used as Scapegoats at a time when scapegoats were widely sought after to explain how Russia was able to make its own Atomic bomb.
During the time frame of the acts the Rosenbergs were accused of, Russia was probably America’s most important Ally- NOT America’s enemy, just as Israel has always been one of America’s staunchest allies, to this very day. This is critical to understand.
Let no one forget how many mountains of crucial confidential information Israel has passed to the United States over the decades since the birth of Israel. And when Israel achieved the gargantuan military coup of capturing Russian Migs, intact, in Egypt during the Six Day War, the fruits of that military coup were shared with the US.
Furthermore the information the Rosenbergs were accused of passing on was of comparitively very little consequence compared to the mountains of information that was being passed on to Russia during the same time period by dozens of highly placed US government officials and non government individuals in countless official courier cases, suitcases and parcels that were being loaded into planes at US bases in Alaska 24/7 along with the billions of dollars in Lend- Lease shipments that were being shipped to Russia non-stop to feed her people and assist in a multitude of ways, our “at the time, war ally” in the fight against Nazi Germany.
In 1952 the US Army Major- George Racey Jordan, who was in charge of all Lend-Lease shipments originating from the Alaska army bases, published a book: “From Major Jordan’s Diaries”, Harcourt Brace edition, in which Major Jordan recounts that he was ordered not to interfere with what was going on those US aid planes to Russia, from people high in the US govt.
For several decades, and even today, many tried to portray Major George Racey Jordan as some type of conspiracy nut case to deflect attention away from what Major Jordan testified he found in special diplomatic courier cases going to Russia. Indeed, thousands of pages of detailed maps and confidential documents. That is because Russia, in fact, had no need for the Rosenbergs’ alleged important information.
Russia, our World War II ally was choking on confidential and highly classified information it was receiving from countless sources in the United States.
And yes, Russia was fully informed of what the Manhattan Project was all about. In fact both Russia and Germany as well as Japan were all racing desperately to achieve what America fortunately achieved first in the field of nuclear fission.
But scapegoats were required to explain how Russia was able to later detonate its own A-bomb when it was all supposed to have been so “successfully kept a Top Secret”.
From what I have read about Pollard, it appears there are some real questions about his character and type of personality that made him a cause of dislike and an easy and convenient target, especially because he was/is a Jew.
Indeed the fact that the Rosenbergs were Jews, no doubt, made it appear more
“palatable” that the sentence of death was in order- even for Mrs. Rosenberg, which would leave two young children motherless.
Had Pollard not been a Jew and had he possessed a somewhat different personna, he might have met with a far less harsh and unfair Fate.
You deserve much credit, Sarah for revisiting the sordid details regarding a story that the US government, as well as the Israeli government, would certainly much rather prefer that people forgot.
But when all is said and done, one must be deaf, blind and dumb not to notice that both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as well as Pollard, were all accused Jews- the perpetual “Other”. This goes quite far in explaining the very cruel and horrible fates of these most tragic victims of 20th Century history.
Pollard is a spy like the US hostages in Iran were spies. They saw something immoral going on, so they were held as spies. In Pollard’s case it was information that should, by existing agreement, have been given to Israel. In the Iran hostages it was a matter of holding them for ransom for US capitulation of the Shah. Israel is also being asked to capitulate and Pollard is the hostage.
Abraham Lincoln would definitely have freed Jonathan Pollard…when push came to shove, Lincoln acted, and more often than not, did the right thing. Are you listening, Mr. Peres?
NO, President Peres should not go to the White House to receive any medal.
No expectations. By refusing to come will show that this matter is more important that Galas.
President Obama can send Pollard home at any moment, but there must be pressure!
Israel apply Pressure ? That’s the biggest joke I’ve heard in a while !
Didn’t you hear ? Spineless Begin,Barak,Netanyahu,the little grasshoppers of Israel are too afraid of the giant.(and everybody else but them can see it)
The weak,faithless, fearful cowards are too busy appeasing ,retreating and tearing down the homes of fellow Jews to please their golden calf god and pressure is something they do not know.
Thank you for this column. The best yet on this disheartening episode.
Sarah, my uncle was liberated from a concentration camp and couldn’t get out of Germany til 1950, he had to live amongst the murderers. Nobody gives a shit about us. We must be strong
Extremely well written
Let’s pray that everyone who needs to, has read it.
First, a few words of admiration. I love your editorials. You are scintillating and cut to the chase. What a vocabulary!
I couldn’t help but comment on your editorial about freeing Pollard. Everyone is surprised why he wasn’t released yet. You bring the many weird points why it doesn’t make sense. But it makes sense the moment you realize that he’s stuck there not because of the Americans but the Israelis.
There are many subtle things that happened which prove this — he was thrown out of the Israeli embassy, the state gave him a lousy lawyer who didn’t file an appeal which insured he remained stuck in prison for life, refused to hire a better lawyer, the state never supported him, fought giving him citizenship, refused to do a thing for him until the citizenry demonstrated and complained. On a recent attempt to ask for clemency, the US gov’t hinted that it was connected to their embassy in Israel — anyone with a little depth would realize they were hinting it is Israel who is stopping his release. Rav Mordechai Eliahu, who was “his rabbi”, also mentioned years ago in an interview I read that he gave the state leaders assurance from Pollard “not to talk.” What could be more open than that?
You can also see it in the ridiculous excuses which the Americans keep giving why not to free him. He was blamed for causing damage to the CIA’s Russian spies, then it was discovered Ames was behind it– but Pollard’s still stuck in prison. He’s been accused of one wild accusation after another, all proven false. All the VIPs say it’s time to free him, but the gov’t is not listening. Why not? What do they have to gain by keeping him tied up until his death? He’s still doing damage after 30 years? Sure. The US gov’t has one abiding interest to keep him there — because Israel wants it.
If Israel really wanted Pollard’s freedom, they had hundreds of way to get it – when freeing Palestinian prisoners and doing loads of favors for the US, like extricating a CIA agent from Iran (last year). The fact that they never did shows you the true Israeli position.
Peres’s offer to bring up the subject of Pollard — making sure he got his presidential medal first naturally — is just throwing more smoke in the Israel’s public eyes.
I don’t know what Pollard knows that made the entire Israeli gov’t – left and right – want him buried away in jail, but that’s the fact.
Keep up the good work,