For more than three decades Jonathan Pollard has been the center of intense controversy. So it comes as no surprise that news of his November 21 release, after his imprisonment for 30 years (the legal requirement of a life term), is fraught with rumors, theories and counter-theories about why now.
Some suggest that the White House is offering up Pollard, who spied for Israel when he was in the Navy, as a means of placating Jerusalem in the midst of the serious U.S.-Israel rift over the Iranian nuclear deal. Washington officials deny it, and it is hard to believe that they would be so tone deaf to believe that giving up a 60-year-old former spy in exchange for removing sanctions against Iran and assuring that its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, will be even more heavily armed in the near future, would pacify the Netanyahu government. Not to mention all the other longer-term fears about the Iran nuclear deal.
Another theory posits that at a time when American Jews who oppose the deal may fear the accusation of dual loyalty, and that they are more concerned about Israel’s security than what’s best for the U.S., they are being reminded by the White House of Pollard and his misdeeds. When his crime came to light in the mid-1980s it set off a great deal of discussion and concern within the American Jewish community about dual loyalty, for which Pollard became Exhibit Number One.
It’s far more likely, though, that Pollard, who was given an unduly harsh sentence for a single count of giving classified secrets to Israel, an ally of the U.S., was going to be released anyway this November.
It will be interesting to see if he is allowed to go to Israel, where presumably he would like to live, or if he will be restricted to remaining in the U.S. Surely the White House would not like to see Pollard welcomed as a hero in Israel. And no doubt such a scene would embarrass many American Jews as well.
In the end this is a personal tragedy about a young man in his 20s whose misguided efforts to help Israel, and profit from it, robbed him of his best years. He committed a serious crime and he deserved to pay for it. But it became increasingly clear over the years that he was inordinately punished, watching men who spied for Russia and other enemy governments go free while he continued to languish in jail.
We may never know why this happened, or the extent of his crimes. But basic human compassion should be extended to a man who long ago paid the price for his sins.