Navigate to News section

Bibi to Formally Ask for Pollard’s Freedom

Without haggling, convicted spy could gain freedom

Dan Klein
December 21, 2010
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

It’s time to re-read Gil Troy’s piece on Jonathan Pollard, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today that he would formally ask President Obama to pardon the convicted spy, who is now spending his twenty-fifth year in prison. Huge deal. Israel has never publicly asked for clemency. Instead, as he told former deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb and Esther Pollard just yesterday, he had six times broached the subject in private with Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, but was worried that a public request would in fact hurt Pollard’s chances for freedom.

So what happened? As Marc Tracy noted on November 22nd, a swell of momentum has been building since September.

As talks of extending the freeze were first broached, Pollard’s release was raised as maybe being part of a deal; then, last month, in a big step, former deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb alleged that Pollard’s harsh sentence was partly the result of a strong anti-Israel bias on the part of his former boss, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. This revelation allowed smart people like Gil Troy to make an even more persuasive case for Pollard’s release in places like Tablet Magazine. And the past week has seen a flurry of activity: Last Thursday, 39 Democratic congressmen, including prominent ones like Barney Frank and Anthony Weiner, asked Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.

What’s changed since then? The catalyst for all this, the peace process, has fallen apart. This decreases Netanyahu’s leverage—it’s hard to hold any cards when the game is over—but enormously increases Obama’s freedom. Trading a man’s freedom for questionable diplomatic progress left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (so did trading airplanes, but that’s another matter) and left both Prime Minister and President open to criticism from their respective countrymen.

Now, Pollard’s pardon won’t be a referendum on America’s Israel policy, Israel’s nuclear program, or really anything else. Instead the President can consider on the merits of his case whether a man who, as Gil Troy said in his Tablet piece, was “guilty of a reprehensible crime, and… has been treated abominably,” has been punished long enough. Netanyahu is betting that politics removed, Obama can and will do what he thinks is right, whatever that might be.

Support Our Podcasts

In addition to Unorthodox, the world’s No. 1 Jewish podcast, and Take One, our daily Talmud meditation, we’re hard at work on exciting new Jewish audio series.