Pollard’s Poor Choices


 Jonathan Pollard, in jail for 23 years, should be freed — not because he is a hero or a Jewish paragon but because his continued incarceration for spying for Israel makes no sense from a legal, national security or humanitarian perspective. That said, Pollard and his supporters continue to say and do things that can only prolong his torment.

Case in point: this week’s campaign in Israel to greet the visiting George W. Bush with posters on Jerusalem buses likening the American president to the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah, who are holding kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

According to a news report circulated by Pollard’s organization here, the Israeli Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home acknowledges the campaign is “potentially offensive … to the one man who has the power to free Pollard with his signature,” but insists that it is a necessary and appropriate “last resort” tactic.

Last resort? Some pro-Pollard forces have been attacking American presidents and Israeli leaders with harsh invective for years.

The simple, unavoidable truth is that since Pollard has rejected the parole option, only a presidential commutation or pardon can free him. Every virulent attack on a U.S. president is another disincentive for the one person who holds the key to his freedom. Far from generating a public groundswell of support for commutation, comparing Bush to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya will generate only revulsion in Washington and reinforce those who say the only calls for Pollard’s release are coming from extremists.

Every time Pollard or his supporters argue that his actions in the early 1980s were somehow justified, or explainable by a U.S. betrayal of Israel, the political costs a president would face in offering commutation jump another notch.

Israeli leaders, not exactly moral exemplars in the Pollard affair, could have an impact by genuinely pleading for his release on humanitarian grounds. Every bitter outburst by Pollard backers makes it less likely that Israel officials will make more than a perfunctory effort.

Jonathan Pollard’s plight is a continuing tragedy — of a young man who made poor decisions and betrayed the country he lived in for another he loved, of a spy callously ignored by the nation that put him in harm’s way, and of a family torn apart.

But it is also the tragedy of an inmate and a movement unable to decide if their ultimate goal is freedom — or martyrdom.