- - Monday, July 27, 2015


Close relationships, whether human or nation-to-nation, are always complicated. Almost any Thanksgiving Day dinner table is a demonstration of that, with brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts stepping carefully to avoid spoiling the turkey and spilling the cranberries. So it is with nation-to-nation relationships, too. As close it is, no country-to-country relationship is more complicated than America’s relationship with Israel.

Many Israelis were born here, and many guard their American citizenship as something precious beyond rubies and pearls. The Christian beliefs and convictions on which the United States was founded are rooted in the ancient Hebrew. The democratic ideals celebrated in Israel are those of the United States, and in the grand scheme of geopolitics Israel is an anchor for U.S. policy in a critical region of the world. For all that, unlike other allies dependent on American military might, Israel has never called on U.S. troops for its defense.

But as close as the two nations are, they are separate nations, each with its own ultimate interests. Jonathan Pollard, an American, was a spy for Israel, dealing in American secrets. He was not a nice man. He sold American secrets for cash, a diamond ring for his wife, a European vacation. He was an unprincipled mercenary with no convictions. That he sold the secrets to a friendly nation is legally as irrelevant as if he had sold secrets to France, Brazil or even our British cousins. He deserved to be punished, and punished harshly.

Intelligence officials, including senior officers of the CIA, argued that Pollard not only passed on information about an Arab power, Iraq, with which the United States would later have extended conflict, but revealed sources and methods, the keys to the kingdom in the murky world of espionage. Given the rapid advance in the technology of spying in the years since, what Pollard did then might not seem so important now. That may be beside the point, too. He sold the merchandise he had.

The life sentence he received was harsh, and perhaps excessive. He has served 28 years, and languishes in an American prison as a broken, ill man. Selling out your country, even to a friendly power, exacts a heavy price. But there are extenuating circumstances that make a parole now fair and just. Others charged with similar offenses have received lighter sentences, and he has “done his time.”

The world of 1987 in which Pollard was convicted is eons behind us in geopolitical terms, particularly in the Middle East. His sentence is due for parole later this year. The Obama administration is said to be considering releasing Pollard as a gift to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in hopes that this would soften his fierce opposition to the disastrous deal President Obama cut with Iran.

This misreads Mr. Netanyahu. He opposes the Iranian giveaway because it threatens the survival of his country, and only those who measure every policy and intention in crass political terms would try to tie these two issues together.

If Pollard is to be released because he has paid his debt, the release should not be part of a deal in consideration of other issues. Jonathan Pollard should be released because it’s the right thing to do.

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