Over at the indispensable FrumForum, John Vecchione disagrees with my conclusion yesterday that President Obama is unlikely to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard at this point. Obviously, anything can happen in politics, but there are three major reasons why I believe Pollard’s release is improbable:
1. The public nature of the campaign to free him. Typically, prisoner releases between allies are dealt with relatively quietly and diplomatically, letting the country releasing the prisoner save face. Would Obama really want to give the impression that he caved to foreign pressure? If it was going to happen, you can bet that Netanyahu would be making his plea to Obama behind a closed door at the White House, not televised from the floor of the Knesset.
2. There is no political incentive for Obama. Vecchione makes an interesting case that the president “could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government.” But I have a few questions about this prediction. First, what percentage of the U.S. population actually makes up the pro-Pollard constituency? I’m no polling expert, but I assume this isn’t an overwhelmingly large figure.
Second, how many of these people care so deeply about the issue that they would base their presidential vote on whether a candidate supports Pollard’s release? It just doesn’t seem likely that this group of voters would register very high on the president’s radar at the moment. Most of the American Jewish community would already vote for Obama regardless, and the rest of it isn’t daft enough to believe that a token gesture like this could make up for the president’s disastrous Israel policy.
I also find the idea of Obama’s granting clemency for Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions problematic. If the guy deserves to be released from prison, then let him out. We don’t hold hostages in America, and publicly shaking down an ally like Israel over a prisoner would be catastrophic for Obama’s image.
3. Finally, releasing Pollard could have some negative political implications for Obama. I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of the far-left in this country is anti-Israel (if not the majority). And in recent years, a particularly nasty section of the left has become a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S.’s relationship with the Jewish state. Not only would releasing Pollard draw the ire of this group; it would also damage Obama’s image with the left as an allegedly “balanced arbiter” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Plus, it would interfere with the president’s broader goal of Muslim outreach. There is no doubt that the Islamic world would see Pollard’s release as a sign of Israel’s supposed power over the U.S. — especially in light of the public nature of the clemency campaign. Obama has tried hard to portray himself as tough on Israel, and it seems unlikely that he’d risk marring this image by releasing Pollard.
So for those three reasons I remain skeptical that this current pro-Pollard crusade will end in success. But then again, stranger things have certainly happened.