A time to shout

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The new campaign calling for the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard from prison in the US is in many ways a curious development. Pollard was arrested in 1985 and convicted on one count of transferring classified information to Israel during his service in US Naval Intelligence. He pleaded guilty to the charge in the framework of a plea bargain in which the US attorney pledged not to request a life sentence.


Despite this, Pollard was sentenced to life. So far, he has served 25 years, much of it in solitary confinement and in maximum security prisons. His health is poor. He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime.


Pollard’s sentence and the treatment he has received are grossly disproportionate to the sentences and treatment meted out to agents of other friendly foreign governments caught stealing classified information in the US. Their average sentence is seven years in prison. They tend to serve their sentences in minimum or medium security prisons and are routinely released after four years.


The only offenders who have received similar sentences are Soviet spies Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames. While Pollard transferred documents to Israel over a period of 18 months, both Ames and Hanssen served the Soviets – the US’s primary enemy – for decades. Their espionage led to the death of multiple US agents operating behind the Iron Curtain.


Pollard was given a life sentence because then secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger wrote a classified victim impact assessment to the sentencing judge in which he insinuated that he had transferred information to the Soviet Union as well as to Israel. Weinberger reportedly attributed the deaths of US agents to Pollard’s activities.


Weinberger’s accusations were proven false with the subsequent arrests of Hanssen and Ames. As it turned out, the damage Weinberger ascribed to Pollard was actually caused by their espionage.


OVER THE past five years, and with increased urgency over the past several months, several former senior US officials who had in depth knowledge of Pollard’s activities have called for his immediate release. Former CIA director R. James Woolsey has stated that, contrary to Weinberger’s allegations, none of the documents Pollard stole were transferred to the Soviets or any other country. A few months ago, former senator Dennis DeConcini, a past chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to immediately release Pollard from prison. And in October, Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense under Weinberger, became one of the most outspoken champions for Pollard’s release. Korb currently works for the Center for American Progress, which is closely allied with the Obama White House.


The renewed interest in Pollard’s plight has garnered a great deal of attention in the local media as well. After Korb’s initial call for Pollard’s release in an op-ed published in The Los Angeles Times in October, Ma’ariv published a cover story in its weekend news supplement about Pollard’s suffering. Reporter Ben Caspit demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu formally request that Obama commute Pollard’s sentence and release him from prison.


Ma’ariv’s article caused a spike in media coverage of Pollard in November. And this month, Pollard was back in the news when the government intervened to help his former wife Ann and her father make aliya after the consulate in New York discovered they were both ill and living in poverty.


Public pressure on Netanyahu seems to be working. Before Monday, Netanyahu refused to make any public statements regarding Pollard. At his recent meeting with Obama, he refused to deliver a letter signed by 109 of the Knesset’s 120 members formally requesting Pollard’s release. On the other hand, heavy public pressure caused Netanyahu to initially agree to speak at Monday’s rally for Pollard’s release at the Knesset. Netanyahu canceled his appearance at the last moment however, and insisted on sufficing with a private meeting with Korb and Pollard’s wife Esther. Obviously more pressure can and should be applied.*


On the face of things, it seems that this is a particularly inauspicious time to renew the campaign to release Pollard. This is true first of all because of the nature of the current president who is the only one with the power to release him.


By now there is little question that Obama is the most hostile US leader Israel has faced. It is hard to imagine the circumstances in which he would agree to do something for Israel that his vastly more sympathetic predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton refused to do.


In light of Obama’s attitude, at first blush it makes more sense to try to advance Pollard’s case through quiet diplomacy. This is the argument that cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser made in testimony before the Knesset earlier this month. Hauser appeared before the State Control Committee to respond to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’ recommendation that Netanyahu set up a ministerial committee to oversee a public, formal campaign calling for Pollard’s release.


But on second thought, the current campaign is eminently sensible. To understand why, we must consider the relative benefits of quiet, behind the scenes diplomacy and loud, public diplomacy.


Quiet diplomacy works well when all sides share a perception of joint interests and when its exposure is likely to change that perception. For instance, Israel and its Arab neighbors perceive a shared interest in blocking Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But given the nature of Arab politics, that perception, which enables the likes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain to work with Israel on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, disappears the moment cooperation is made public.


Likewise, Lebanon’s Sunnis and Christians share an interest with Israel in defeating Hizbullah. But their ability to work with Israel on defeating Hizbullah is destroyed the moment such work becomes public.


Quiet diplomacy does not work when there is no perception of shared interests. For instance, regimes that repress human rights to maintain their grip on power have little interest in cooperating with free societies, when the latter demand that they free political dissidents from prison. Quiet diplomacy in the field of human rights between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War never succeeded, because the Soviets realized that opening up their tyranny to domestic criticism would destroy the system.


And today, as Cairo’s fake parliamentary elections and Teheran’s continued repression of democracy protesters shows, the Obama administration’s quiet diplomacy with the Muslim world regarding human rights and democracy has utterly failed.


It is in cases like this where public, noisy diplomacy comes in handy. Public campaigns are helpful when one government wishes to persuade another to do something it doesn’t want to do. Last week we received a reminder of the effectiveness of such behavior with the publication of protocols of meetings held by president Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.


One such meeting involved a conversation between Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger following a meeting with prime minister Golda Meir. She had asked Nixon to support the Jackson-Vanek amendment that linke
d US economic assistance to the USSR to the latter’s willingness to permit Jews to emigrate. Kissinger opposed the request, telling Nixon, “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”


On the face of it, Kissinger was right. Using humanitarian considerations to weaken Soviet tyranny probably didn’t help US arms control negotiators score points with Leonid Brezhnev. But on a deeper lever, he was completely wrong.


The Jackson-Vanek amendment not only forced the Soviets to permit limited emigration of Jews. It started a process of opening the Soviet system, which ended up destroying the regime just a decade later.


SINCE TAKING office, Obama has only used public diplomacy in the Middle East to convince one government to take action it believed was antithetical to its interests. Last year he waged a forceful, unrelenting public diplomacy campaign to convince Netanyahu to abrogate Jewish property rights in Judea and Samaria. And it worked.


Although it harmed the sacrosanct pillar of Zionism that Jewish rights are nonnegotiable, although it weakened Netanyahu’s standing with his party and voters and although it empowered the Palestinians to expand their political war against Israel on the international stage, Netanyahu gave in. The public pressure Obama exerted on him compelled him to act against his interests.


The US is not an evil empire. And it is hard to see how a clear demand for Pollard’s release on humanitarian grounds will have any fundamental impact on its nature.


And that is fine. But the fact is that Obama has no interest in freeing a suffering Israeli agent who was railroaded by Weinberger and remains in prison due to the efforts of Israelhaters who wrongly insist he did untold damage to US national security. Indeed, many of Pollard’s detractors are members of Obama’s political camp.


Israel can’t expect a lot of help on this from American Jews, although they stand to be major secondary beneficiaries if Pollard is released. The impact of his case on the US Jewish community has been debilitating. Although the US and Israel are strategic allies which share many of the same interests and fight the same enemies, Israel’s detractors in the US foreign policy community use the Pollard case as an excuse for questioning the loyalty and patriotism of American Jews who serve in the US government and support Israel. His continued incarceration casts a long shadow over American Jewry.


The odds are poor that a public campaign to win Pollard’s release will succeed. But if Israel is going to do anything at all, its actions should be concentrated in the public realm. As we have seen, quiet diplomacy, the strategy the Netanyahu government tried until now, will never get him out of jail.


And Israel must act. Pollard’s unfair, unjustified and discriminatory sentence and treatment are a dismal symbol of Jewish vulnerability. His personal suffering is inhumane, real and unrelenting. He needs us to stand up for him.


And so we must. And so we will. The time has come, against all odds to shout that Pollard must be freed. Now.


*Tuesday afternoon Netanyahu announced he will formally request that Obama release Pollard. 
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  • Anonymous 12/21/2010 at 23:35

    Treason is treason, whether for Israel or for others.

  • Tuvia 12/22/2010 at 1:45

    In her essay, Our World: A time to shout, December 21, 2010, Ms Glick details the story of Jonathan Pollard’s continued imprisonment, even after the ‘evidence’ that had been presented against him at his sentencing has been shown to be false.
    Her argument is simple: quiet diplomacy, in this case, will not succeed—for reasons she enumerates; rather, as her title suggests, the time has come for a loud and public campaign.
    The case to shout out for Pollard at this time is an interesting one, and Ms Glick’s logic on this point is impeccable. Her description of when and why quiet diplomacy does and does not work should be included in every textbook on International Relations—it is that clear, that accurate, that illuminating.
    But the call to free Pollard might also pay a secondary dividend, a benefit that may be bigger than the case itself .
    As Ms Glick suggests, the Pollard case has created risk for the American Jewish community. I think she is correct to believe that the Pollard case could be used to drive a wedge between US Jews and Israel, especially when most in the American Jewish establishment lean Left.
    Leaning Left already, with a Left-leaning President they can finally love, this influential and powerful group could see Pollard as nothing more than all the proof they need to support Obama and not Israel. After all, this group is politically sophisticated. For the first time in decades, they have a President they can support. Why should they put any barrier between themselves and the President they want so much to help? They understand the subtleties of power, which means that, so long as Pollard is imprisoned, with his shame and treachery indelibly before them every year, they are reminded constantly how ‘treachery’ and ‘Israel’ can go together. A modern, powerful Jew does not need to be slapped in the face to be told which side his bread is buttered on, especially with a President who seems to share their Left-leaning beliefs. Pollard’s imprisonment does that already.
    Then, into this context, we now introduce a public, loud campaign to release Pollard.
    What happens?
    Well, at first, the American Jewish community will probably be frightened. You know, as in, “Shhh, don’t get the sleeping gorilla angry!”
    They will not be happy. But then what happens once the message gets out that the ‘evidence’ used to imprison him was ‘cooked’, and has been discredited?
    Put another way, how might American Jews react, especially the secularized Jews who make up the bulk of the American Jewish power establishment, if this message of discredited evidence is repeated, loud and clear?
    To make my point, allow me to digress, to the early 1990’s, to tell you a story about a Law School Professor, Barry Scheck, at Yeshiva University’s Cardoza School of Law.
    At about that time, Mr Scheck and others, along with some students, created a program called the “Innocence Project”. This project has a singular goal: to look at prison inmates in the US, to see if new evidence—usually DNA —can show that there is ‘reasonable doubt’ in their cases, to justify releasing them from prison.
    Their track record is impressive—261 exonerations, 175 through DNA testing, since 1992.
    Indeed, they have been successful enough to include as their goal the reform of the US criminal justice system, and already, there have been stories where the police themselves start the process to ‘set the record straight’, without the Innocence Project: people in the criminal justice system, in other words, are beginning to correct their methods and investigative behaviour independent of outside influence.
    So. How does this fit into the Pollard case? There is no DNA. There is no Murder or Sexual crime here. There are no sentencing-related eyewitnesses, at least, so far as we know.
    True, but perhaps this tale presents us with a kind of precedence for our case , because the Innocence Project is based on a now-accepted truth that testimony at the original trial of these men can sometimes be clearly discredited: discredit the evidence, overturn the case.
    Yes, Pollard pleaded guilty. There is no way anyone can overturn the case.
    But can we use this ‘precedence’ to’ overturn’ the term of imprisonment?
    Read what Ms Glick says about the apparent arguments used to convince the judge to give the sentence he gave. What would typically be the sentence if there had been no such letter(s)?
    Reads what Ms Glick reports.
    Does the sentence match the crime, now that we know the ‘evidence’ provided at his sentencing might be discredited?
    Certainly, I am a realist. I believe that Ms Glick is correct—the outlook is not good for a successful campaign for Mr Pollard. I do not believe that there is, right now, any legal ground to argue successfully for his release. But, as the success of the Innocence project illustrates, sometimes a full-blown legal intervention may not be necessary to win the day—if we can discredit the evidence sufficiently.
    I do not know if we can get Pollard released, but I would suggest that, successful or not, the efforts to discredit the evidence against him may actually create a secondary, or ripple, effect– to drive a wedge between Obama and the Jewish establishment, to weaken the ties between the two .
    Look, of all scenarios possible for this case, two are most obvious: Obama says yes, he will release, and Obama says no, he won’t.
    If he says, yes, he will release, case closed.
    But if, as expected, he continues to say no, then a properly-run public campaign might make a major impact on American Jews.
    Well, for one thing, Jews may often look stupid, but they aren’t always as stupid as they look. Many who support the Innocence Project are establishment Jews. They may understand ‘discredited evidence’ . And, most important here, Pollard’s term has reached a serious, perhaps ‘death row’ style imprisonment—the only end appears to be death, and he is isolated (as are all Death Row inmates) from the rest of the prison population. For all practical purposes, he appears to be a ‘death row’ inmate in all but name, and therefore, perhaps, a legitimate candidate for a case that discredited evidence has been key to an unjust prison sentence.
    Do the Jews who champion the Innocence Project, formed to save citizens from unjust arrest and prison sentences, believe that discredited evidence can be used to give an unjust sentence in our case alone?
    The first goal here is to free Mr Pollard. But this campaign can also be an opportunity to discredit more than the evidence against Pollard—it can be used to discredit Obama’s credibility with the American Jews who support him. Jews in the American Jewish power establishment have been known to use the phrases, ‘Tikun Olam’ and ‘Social Justice’ in the same paragraph or speech. If the facts surrounding the Pollard case have in fact changed sufficiently so that one can argue that he, too, has become a legitimate focus for their Tikun Olam efforts, then an opportunity opens: convince American Jews, especially the secular Jews who champion the Innocence Project, that Pollard’s case, in at least one sense—bad evidence—is the same as the prisoners they wish to free, then, I believe, you may also convince them to question Obama’s stubbornness in this case. Once those questions begin, others can follow, until Obama is revealed for what he is, an enemy of Israel.
    If Pollard’s current and continuing imprisonment could be used by others to drive a wedge between US Jews and Israel, can a campaign to free him be used to drive a wedge between these same US Jews and Obama?
    I think that such a case can be made.
    Of course, until Jews in the US have the courage to speak up for Pollard’s release, the initial effort must come from Israel—and Mr. Netanyahu’s offer on December 21 to take that first step is crucial. However, I would caution that Mr Netanyahu might not be the best point man for this job, for if Mr Obama should decide to do something silly—like tie the release of Mr Pollard to Israel’s signing a ‘peace’ accord with pre-1967 borders—we do not want the Prime Minister in the room at that moment. Better an envoy to be there, so that no matter what is agreed to or signed, the Prime Minister can still disclaim, as he did with Barak’s recent Washington speech and, indeed, as Obama himself apparently did with Mrs Clinton’s recent ‘guarantees’
    Perhaps Mr Pollard’s horrible imprisonment can create, in the end, both something for himself—and bigger than himself.
    Perhaps, from this point forward, we can win his freedom or open the eyes of American Jewry—or both.
    While nothing can repair or replace what Mr Pollard has lost, perhaps the fall-out from our efforts will give him some kind of poetic justice, after all.
    We pray that it will be so.
    We pray for his release.

  • independentpatriot 12/22/2010 at 7:16

    Yes, the Jews of the US have abandoned Pollard. Sorry but rightly so. We are American citizens not citizens of the State of Israel. Our allegiance is to the US. We fight and care about the survival of our fellow Jews worldwide, but we are Americans. If you swear to handle classified material for the US you swear to keep it from everyone (including US allies if required), with the penalty of violation going to prison. Pollard is not an American hero, he is an American traitor.
    The issue here is the sentence and how it came about. Aldrich Ames the Soviet spy, was the one who wrote the impact statement that Weinberger (a former Jew whose own antisemitism was a matter of whispers) used to get Pollard the life sentence. It is well established that Ames deflected his crimes onto Pollard and the CIA/State Dept accepted his assessment without forethought. Being that Pollard is Jewish and these two agencies are inherently antisemitic probably made it easier for them to take Ames at his word as well.
    Should Pollard’s sentence be commuted knowing what everyone knows now about who actually caused the deaths and mayhem that Pollard has gone to prison for. Perhaps, and perhaps not. There are legal avenues in this country when new information becomes available. If it has been rejected by the Courts that is not the fault of the American Jewish community.
    The truth of the matter it is not up to the Jews of the US to get Pollard out of prison. He betrayed our nation, the US, for the nation of Israel. It is Israel who is at fault today for not pushing for Pollard’s release over his decades of incarceration. He is a hero for Israel but an American traitor.
    Lastly, we Jewish Americans are not afraid of some kind of backlash if we defend Pollard. We are not afraid of antisemitism and being accused of dual loyalty if we defend Pollard. What we are, is furious at him for doing something so incredibly revolting as betraying his country and don’t care if he rots in prison forever.

  • naomir 12/22/2010 at 8:11

    Caroline, you are as astute as always, but you missed one salient fact, Jonathan Pollard’s Jewishness. Of course American Jews and perhaps to a lesser extent Israeli Jews are keeping their distance. We have enough to “atone” for according to world opinion concerning our oppressive behavior and don’t want to bring even more attention to ourselves. Pollard’s “sin” shows how devious we Jews actually are. Pollard has certainly suffered excessively and we are criminally negligent if we don’t shout to the rooftops for his immediate release. It’s time for all of us who care to tell Mr. Obama that we are fed up with his intransigent behavior toward Israel and the Jews. Way overdue is the Israeli government’s responsibility to Jonathan Pollard whose main crime is being Jewish.


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