Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jonathan Pollard

Pollard Parole Denial Is Unjust

Throughout the decades during which the fate of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has been debated, those advocating for his freedom have been told that they need to follow the legal process rather than relying on political pressure, whether from sympathetic Israelis or Americans, to grant him clemency. In particular, once the time drew near for his first parole hearing, those who considered his life sentence disproportionate were warned to focus on that avenue rather than others that merely provoked the usual round of apoplectic responses from the U.S. security establishment. But now that the news has belatedly come out that Pollard was summarily denied parole in August after his first request for parole since his 1985 imprisonment on grounds that are inarguably false, the arguments for some sort of presidential intervention in the issue appear much stronger.

Read More

Throughout the decades during which the fate of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has been debated, those advocating for his freedom have been told that they need to follow the legal process rather than relying on political pressure, whether from sympathetic Israelis or Americans, to grant him clemency. In particular, once the time drew near for his first parole hearing, those who considered his life sentence disproportionate were warned to focus on that avenue rather than others that merely provoked the usual round of apoplectic responses from the U.S. security establishment. But now that the news has belatedly come out that Pollard was summarily denied parole in August after his first request for parole since his 1985 imprisonment on grounds that are inarguably false, the arguments for some sort of presidential intervention in the issue appear much stronger.

Let’s specify, as I wrote in a COMMENTARY magazine essay in 2011 after he had already spent 25 years in prison, that Jonathan Pollard is not the hero or the martyr some of his less reasonable supporters claim him to be. The former U.S. Navy analyst did great damage to the United States when he spied for Israel from 1984 to 1985. He also did great harm to the alliance between the two countries, the blame for which also belongs to his cynical Israeli handlers as well as the trio of leaders of the Jewish state at the time, of which only one, Shimon Peres, is still alive after the deaths of Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir. The spy also deserves opprobrium for lending credence to those anti-Semites and foes of Israel who have tried to cast a shadow on the service of the many loyal American Jews that work in the defense establishment.

But once we admit that, the argument for his continued incarceration is insubstantial. Pollard’s sentence was far greater than that given to anyone who has ever spied for a nation that is a close ally of the United States. Moreover, the claims made at the time of his arrest that he was somehow responsible for the penetration of U.S. intelligence by the Soviet Union was exploded in the years following his arrest when it was revealed that naval officer John Walker, national security analyst Ronald Pelton, and especially Aldrich Ames, a top CIA counterintelligence officer, were actually working for the Russians. Those facts now make the over-the-top claims that Pollard’s espionage was the worst in American history by then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger look more like hyperbole than analysis. Even Weinberger subsequently backtracked from that assertion and admitted that the Pollard case was a relatively “minor matter.”

But if reports of the Parole Board’s deliberations are correct, Weinberger’s outdated claims were precisely what led to Pollard being denied parole.

That’s why a group of eight former top U.S. defense officials have signed a letter denouncing the decision and calling for clemency for Pollard.

It should be understood that although what Pollard did was wrong and deserved harsh punishment, there is simply no rationale for keeping him in prison. Considering that other spies for friendly foreign powers have been routinely deported, exchanged, or given far less harsh sentences, the treatment meted out to Pollard is disproportionate and therefore unjust. Nor, despite the hysteria in the defense establishment about keeping him in prison, is there any reason to keep him there for security purposes. There is literally nothing secret that he might still remember from his days at the Navy Department that is of the least utility to anyone 30 years later.

One doesn’t have to think well of Pollard or even of some of his vocal supporters to understand that there is something egregious about the desire of some in the government to see him die in prison after so much time served. As I documented in my magazine article, Pollard has suffered from bad legal representation and just as inept efforts by some who have worked on his behalf in the public sphere. But for the Parole Commission to buy into the old Weinberger myths about the fantastic nature of his crime presented by the government at the hearing was wrong.

The Obama administration, which is the least friendly to Israel since that of Dwight Eisenhower, would seem an unlikely candidate to free Pollard and it is doubtful that anyone in the White House is seriously considering his fate. But if the president is interested in a cost-free way to lower tensions with Jerusalem caused by the egregious “chickensh*t” controversy as well as the debate about nuclear negotiations with Iran, they might consider putting an end to the travesty of his continued imprisonment. Pollard constitutes a permanent irritant to the alliance. That is especially true because of the predilection on the part of some in both the Clinton and Obama administrations for spreading loose talk about using his freedom as a bargaining chip in Middle East negotiations even though it is doubtful than any Israeli government would give up on its security interests for the sake of the spy.

Keeping Pollard in prison on the basis of old and inaccurate accusations is just wrong. What he did was bad enough and for that all associated with the incident should hang their heads in shame. But it is time for someone in the U.S. government to put an end to this mockery of justice and let him go.

Read Less

The Disturbing Pollard Debate

The decision of Secretary of State John Kerry to inject the question of Jonathan Pollard into his quest to keep Middle East peace negotiations alive was a complete and total fiasco. As I noted earlier today, not only was it a futile “Hail Mary” pass that was contemptuously torpedoed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, even if both the PA and Israel had agreed to the terms of the proposed deal—which would have required Israel to free another batch of terrorist murderers and several hundred other security prisoners—it would have only meant continued negotiations with little hope that they will lead to an actual agreement.

The collapse of this effort is a great disappointment to those who have worked for Pollard’s release and a relief to those who want him to rot in jail. But the most disturbing element of this incident is not so much the latest proof of Kerry’s foolishness as it is the way that the discussion over Pollard has brought back to the surface the myths and misinformation about the case that come to the fore every time his name is in the news. Though advocates for his release are right to view Pollard’s sentence as excessive, much of what we have been hearing about him this week demonstrates anew the extent of the damage that he and his handlers did to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Read More

The decision of Secretary of State John Kerry to inject the question of Jonathan Pollard into his quest to keep Middle East peace negotiations alive was a complete and total fiasco. As I noted earlier today, not only was it a futile “Hail Mary” pass that was contemptuously torpedoed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, even if both the PA and Israel had agreed to the terms of the proposed deal—which would have required Israel to free another batch of terrorist murderers and several hundred other security prisoners—it would have only meant continued negotiations with little hope that they will lead to an actual agreement.

The collapse of this effort is a great disappointment to those who have worked for Pollard’s release and a relief to those who want him to rot in jail. But the most disturbing element of this incident is not so much the latest proof of Kerry’s foolishness as it is the way that the discussion over Pollard has brought back to the surface the myths and misinformation about the case that come to the fore every time his name is in the news. Though advocates for his release are right to view Pollard’s sentence as excessive, much of what we have been hearing about him this week demonstrates anew the extent of the damage that he and his handlers did to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

At its heart, the debate about Pollard is about two competing themes. As I wrote in a comprehensive summary of the case three years ago, both Pollard’s defenders and his critics exaggerate their arguments. Though the information Pollard passed to the Israelis was, no doubt, useful to them, the assumption that it was a game-changer in terms of its security is unfounded. So, too, is the notion that the Israelis had a “right” to the information.

By the same token, the comparisons made between Pollard and various Soviet agents are absurd. Pollard was not spying for a hostile power and there is no evidence, nor even a reasonable argument to be made on behalf of the notion that he was in any way responsible for the deaths of U.S. agents in the field. Nor was what he did was in any way comparable to the revelations of Edward Snowden who deliberately sought to undermine U.S. intelligence operations and then fled to the safety of a hostile nation where he continues to thumb his nose at the United States. What he did was bad enough and deserving of severe punishment, but the manner with which the intelligence establishment has demonized him and made his release even after decades in prison and long after any information he might have possessed was relevant is as excessive as it is illogical.

The fact remains no one who ever spied for an ally—something that the U.S. has no scruples about doing itself with regard to Israel or other friendly nations like Germany—has ever received such a harsh sentence. Most such incidents are quickly covered up and forgotten. While Pollard’s espionage was particularly egregious, the life sentence he received violated the plea bargain negotiated with him by the government. The main reason he is still in jail is not so much the desire of the government to keep him locked up but the result of legal errors by his original attorneys that prevented appeals that would have almost certainly been successful in reducing his sentence. After 28 years, many of them in solitary, it cannot be asserted that he has not been punished or that defense of the rule of law depends on his continued incarceration. Since he will be eligible for parole in the fall of 2015, the talk about keeping him in prison forever is just hot air.

Nevertheless, this is an apt moment for both Israelis and Americans who are campaigning for his release to recognize that efforts to portray him as a hero are as damaging as they are misguided. It is legitimate for the Israeli government to seek the release of someone who is being punished for acts committed in the name of their country. But those who succumb to the temptation to treat his actions as anything other than a profoundly misguided operation are dead wrong.

Anyone listening to the debate about Pollard being conducted in the last week must understand that his name is synonymous with charges of dual loyalty against American Jews who serve in both the U.S. government and its armed forces. As I detailed in my 2011 article, the damage that the cynical decision to employ a foolish and unstable person as a spy has done to American Jews and to the vital alliance between the U.S. and Israel is incalculable.

While after serving so much time in prison he is deserving of clemency, I stand by my previous conclusion about what should be the final word about this subject:

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

Read Less

Kerry’s Hubris Leads to a Great Fall

It was just a couple of months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was being lauded as, in the words of CNN, “a surprise success.” He was hailed by the chattering classes as having exceeded Hillary Clinton’s record by showing daring instead of her instinctive caution. After all, hadn’t he managed to preside over a nuclear deal with Iran, saved President Obama’s face by negotiating a good deal with Russia about Syrian chemical weapons, and made progress on a withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan? Most of all, his audacious decision to restart Middle East peace talks when everyone was warning him it was a fool’s errand was seen as having great promise. As the Atlantic gushed, “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early-21st-century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.”

But that was then. Today, Kerry is being rightly lambasted by the left, right, and center for his idiotic decision to introduce the issue of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release into the Middle East peace negotiations. The collapse of those talks and Kerry’s frantic and desperate Hail Mary pass merely to keep the sides talking after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to scuttle the effort illustrates the secretary’s flawed strategy and lack of a coherent backup plan. But the Middle East is not the only place where Kerry’s supposedly inspired leadership has failed. Kerry ignored and then mishandled unrest in Egypt and alienated allies across the Middle East. The special relationship that Kerry had cultivated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (according to the Times the two had bonded over their love of ice hockey) has also not only proved useless in getting the Russians to do what they promised in Syria but has led to further humiliations for the U.S. as the Putin regime overran Crimea and threatened the rest of the Ukraine. Kerry’s dependence on the Russians is also likely to lead to more failure on the Iranian nuclear front since Moscow is even less inclined than it already was to pressure Tehran to sign an agreement that can be represented as a victory for U.S. diplomacy.

A generous evaluation of Kerry’s actions might merely ascribe this to a string of bad luck. But luck has nothing to do with it. The common thread between these various diplomatic dead-ends isn’t that small-minded and recalcitrant foreign leaders thwarted Kerry’s bold initiatives. It’s that in all these situations, Kerry believed the force of his personality and his tenacity was equal to the task of solving problems that had flummoxed all of his predecessors. Aaron David Miller perceptively wrote last fall at a moment when Kerry’s fortunes seemed to be on the rise, “Rarely have I encountered anyone — let alone a secretary of state — who seemed more self-confident about his own point of view and not all that interested in somebody else’s.” It was this hubris that has led to his current humiliation.

Read More

It was just a couple of months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was being lauded as, in the words of CNN, “a surprise success.” He was hailed by the chattering classes as having exceeded Hillary Clinton’s record by showing daring instead of her instinctive caution. After all, hadn’t he managed to preside over a nuclear deal with Iran, saved President Obama’s face by negotiating a good deal with Russia about Syrian chemical weapons, and made progress on a withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan? Most of all, his audacious decision to restart Middle East peace talks when everyone was warning him it was a fool’s errand was seen as having great promise. As the Atlantic gushed, “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early-21st-century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.”

But that was then. Today, Kerry is being rightly lambasted by the left, right, and center for his idiotic decision to introduce the issue of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release into the Middle East peace negotiations. The collapse of those talks and Kerry’s frantic and desperate Hail Mary pass merely to keep the sides talking after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to scuttle the effort illustrates the secretary’s flawed strategy and lack of a coherent backup plan. But the Middle East is not the only place where Kerry’s supposedly inspired leadership has failed. Kerry ignored and then mishandled unrest in Egypt and alienated allies across the Middle East. The special relationship that Kerry had cultivated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (according to the Times the two had bonded over their love of ice hockey) has also not only proved useless in getting the Russians to do what they promised in Syria but has led to further humiliations for the U.S. as the Putin regime overran Crimea and threatened the rest of the Ukraine. Kerry’s dependence on the Russians is also likely to lead to more failure on the Iranian nuclear front since Moscow is even less inclined than it already was to pressure Tehran to sign an agreement that can be represented as a victory for U.S. diplomacy.

A generous evaluation of Kerry’s actions might merely ascribe this to a string of bad luck. But luck has nothing to do with it. The common thread between these various diplomatic dead-ends isn’t that small-minded and recalcitrant foreign leaders thwarted Kerry’s bold initiatives. It’s that in all these situations, Kerry believed the force of his personality and his tenacity was equal to the task of solving problems that had flummoxed all of his predecessors. Aaron David Miller perceptively wrote last fall at a moment when Kerry’s fortunes seemed to be on the rise, “Rarely have I encountered anyone — let alone a secretary of state — who seemed more self-confident about his own point of view and not all that interested in somebody else’s.” It was this hubris that has led to his current humiliation.

In a rare example of agreement between the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, both ridiculed Kerry’s use of Pollard as a pathetic Hail Mary pass to revive the peace negotiations that had been scuttled by Abbas. Though the two papers came at the issue from different perspectives—the Journal correctly thought it was wrong to trade a spy for the terrorist murderers Abbas wanted Israel to free while the Times thought that the gesture would advance the negotiations—they spoke for just about everybody inside and outside the U.S. foreign-policy establishment in declaring the Pollard gambit to be a sign of desperation on the part of the secretary.

The problem here isn’t just that including Pollard in the talks was wrong-headed and unlikely to yield positive results. It’s that Kerry is so invested in trying to prop up a process that never had a chance of success that he’s willing to gamble with America’s credibility. While he proved able to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, Kerry’s naïve miscalculation about Abbas being willing or able to make peace has led to the current stalemate. Even worse, Kerry’s desperation has emboldened Abbas to keep asking for more and more with no sign that he will ever risk signing a deal that will end the conflict. The talk about Pollard is significant not just because it’s a bad idea but because it reflects American weakness rather than boldness.

But while Kerry’s self-image is sufficiently grandiose to insulate him against criticisms, those who will pay the price for his failures will not be so fortunate. The Ukrainians know they cannot count on the U.S., and by raising expectations that were inevitably dashed the secretary has increased the chances of violence in the wake of his Middle East fiasco. Nor will those who may eventually be faced with the reality of an Iranian bomb remember him kindly. Not long ago liberal pundits were singing his praises. Now he should consider himself lucky if he is not soon considered a consensus choice for the title of the worst secretary of state in recent memory.

Read Less

Abbas Fled Talks the First Chance He Got

Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

Read More

Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

 It should be remembered that getting Abbas to rejoin peace talks after boycotting them for most of the last five years was no easy task. Rather than talk without preconditions, the Palestinians had to be bribed with the release of four batches of terrorist killers. Though, as it is now clear, he did little in the talks other than to continually say no to any measures that would indicate the Palestinians were finally willing to end the conflict with Israel, he was continually praised and petted by both Kerry and President Obama for his commitment to peace. While the two continued to berate Israel as the obstacle to peace, it was always Abbas who was proving those who said last year that the Palestinians weren’t ready for peace right He refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even in exchange for statehood and independence. Nor would he budge on the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants. Even when Netanyahu unhappily agreed to Kerry’s framework for future talks that was rooted in the 1967 borders, Abbas still said no.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that once the initial period of talks was about to expire, Abbas had no interest in continuing the negotiations even on terms that tilted the diplomatic playing field in his direction.

Why?

The answer is the same one that was apparent to just about everyone except Kerry last year before the process recommenced. With the Palestinians divided between Abbas’ fief in the West Bank and the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, Abbas had no room to maneuver to make peace even if he were truly willing to do so. Negotiating an agreement, even one that would give the Palestinians pretty much everything they want in terms of statehood in the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, isn’t in his interest because signing such an agreement is far more dangerous than being blamed for scuttling the peace talks. The safer thing for Abbas is to seize any pretext to flee the talks and claim he’s seeking Palestinian independence via the UN, a futile gesture that will do nothing for his people.

While Abbas and his apologists claim he has done Kerry and Israel a big favor by sitting at the table with them the last several months and gotten nothing for it, the Palestinians have the most to gain from the process the secretary has promoted. Without it, there is no path to independence or economic stability for them. But since abandoning the talks allows Abbas to avoid having to sell a deal that ends the conflict to a Palestinian people that has been taught to view their national identity as inseparable from the struggle against Zionism, he prefers it to negotiations.

Were Abbas truly interested in peace, he could sit back and wait for Kerry to keep spinning deals that traded tangible Israeli concessions for continued talks. Instead, he has done what he did in 2008 when he fled the table to avoid having to say no to Ehud Olmert’s peace offer. While this isn’t the last chapter of Kerry’s efforts, those who are quick to blame Israel for everything should take note of Abbas’ behavior and draw the appropriate conclusions. 

Read Less

Kerry’s “Last Chance” Diplomacy Implodes

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today attempting to breath life into the peace talks that he initiated last year. With the Palestinians refusing to accept the framework for further talks the secretary tried to broker, and the Israelis seeing little purpose in releasing more Palestinian terrorist murderers to bribe Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas if the PA won’t keep negotiating, the whole scheme is on the brink of collapse. Thus, Kerry is working furiously to try and come up with a way to entice the Israelis to give Abbas what he wants in terms of either more prisoner releases or a settlement freeze.

The latest idea on the table, which has now been publicly confirmed by U.S. officials speaking off the record, is for the U.S. to hand convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to the Israelis in exchange for the last batch of terrorists already scheduled for release from Israeli jails as well as a further group to be let go after that. Presumably this latest batch of terrorist prisoners would be enough to bribe Abbas to keep talking even though he has already signaled that he isn’t that interested in the discussions, especially if they require him to agree to measures that herald an end to the conflict with Israel. As I wrote last week, the idea of trading Pollard for murderers is a bad deal for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is to keep making concessions to Abbas then he should expect something of substance in return from the Palestinians that would bring peace closer. Doing so for the sake of Pollard makes no sense for anyone.

But the real problem here isn’t the unbalanced nature of such a deal that is not likely to be carried out anyway. Rather, it is the sense of hysteria that has been invested in the latest iteration of the Middle East peace process. Having decided to try to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed, Kerry did so by claiming that it was the region’s last chance for peace even though there was no reason to believe the conflict was in danger of re-igniting or there were reasonable prospects for success. But now that he appears to be failing, his frequent predictions of doom have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today attempting to breath life into the peace talks that he initiated last year. With the Palestinians refusing to accept the framework for further talks the secretary tried to broker, and the Israelis seeing little purpose in releasing more Palestinian terrorist murderers to bribe Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas if the PA won’t keep negotiating, the whole scheme is on the brink of collapse. Thus, Kerry is working furiously to try and come up with a way to entice the Israelis to give Abbas what he wants in terms of either more prisoner releases or a settlement freeze.

The latest idea on the table, which has now been publicly confirmed by U.S. officials speaking off the record, is for the U.S. to hand convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to the Israelis in exchange for the last batch of terrorists already scheduled for release from Israeli jails as well as a further group to be let go after that. Presumably this latest batch of terrorist prisoners would be enough to bribe Abbas to keep talking even though he has already signaled that he isn’t that interested in the discussions, especially if they require him to agree to measures that herald an end to the conflict with Israel. As I wrote last week, the idea of trading Pollard for murderers is a bad deal for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is to keep making concessions to Abbas then he should expect something of substance in return from the Palestinians that would bring peace closer. Doing so for the sake of Pollard makes no sense for anyone.

But the real problem here isn’t the unbalanced nature of such a deal that is not likely to be carried out anyway. Rather, it is the sense of hysteria that has been invested in the latest iteration of the Middle East peace process. Having decided to try to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed, Kerry did so by claiming that it was the region’s last chance for peace even though there was no reason to believe the conflict was in danger of re-igniting or there were reasonable prospects for success. But now that he appears to be failing, his frequent predictions of doom have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The secretary invested time, energy, and the prestige of the United States on a negotiation that few thought had a chance because he was convinced there was no alternative and that a failure to advance a peace process that has been stuck in neutral ever since the Palestinians rejected the third Israeli offer of independence and statehood would lead to disaster. But as Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl aptly noted today, prior to the start of Kerry’s talks, “Israel and the Palestinian territories” were “an island of tranquility in a blood-drenched Middle East.” If the Palestinians preferred meaningless symbolic victories at the United Nations to statehood, such folly was rooted in Abbas’s belief that his people were not ready to give up their century-long war to destroy Israel.

Though Netanyahu has reluctantly agreed to a framework that is based on the 1967 lines, the Palestinians are still not ready to give up their “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants or to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, thereby signaling an end to the conflict. But by raising the stakes in the conflict and repeatedly warning the Israelis that they would suffer violence in the form of a third intifada and increased boycott efforts if they did not agree to peace, Kerry has raised the stakes for the Palestinians. In a foolish repeat of earlier mistakes made by the Obama administration, the Palestinian leadership is being put in a position of having to match Kerry’s warnings with provocative actions of their own. And since a resolution of these disputes is beyond Abbas’s power or will to achieve, the collapse of Kerry’s diplomacy may spiral out of control.

Continually crying that this is the “last chance” for peace is not only inaccurate—diplomats have been saying the same thing for decades and have always been wrong, since peace will come the day the Palestinians give up their illusions about re-writing history and not one day sooner—it is also the sort of sentiment that rationalizes the actions of extremists who don’t want peace on any terms. 

It is true that many Israelis worry about the long-term consequences of the current impasse which leaves the West Bank in limbo while Hamas-ruled Gaza functions as the independent Palestinian state in all but name. But as Diehl says, the alternative to Kerry’s apocalyptic warnings was an embrace of the reality of a conflict that couldn’t be solved but might be managed. Measures aimed at giving the Palestinians a bigger stake in an improved economy and better governance wouldn’t have cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace but would have provided Abbas and his Fatah Party a reason to keep a lid on the territories as well as more of an incentive to think about preparing the way for eventual peace. Instead, Kerry has brought Abbas to the brink where he feels he has no alternative but to give the back of his hand to a negotiation that he never wanted to be part of in the first place. If violence in the form of a third intifada (perhaps funded in part by Iran via aid to Islamic Jihad or Hamas) follows, then it should be remembered that it was Kerry who set a potentially tragic series of events in motion.

What the secretary is learning is that as bad as a situation seems, it can only be made worse by hubris and naïveté, qualities Kerry possesses in abundance. Whether or not he manages to bribe either the Israelis or the Palestinians to keep talking in the coming days, the most important point to be gleaned from this chapter is that stoking fear in order to build support for peace isn’t merely counter-productive. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Read Less

Pollard for Murderers? A Bad Deal

Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

Read More

Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

As I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his imprisonment, Pollard’s case is a mixed bag for supporters of Israel. As much as his sentence was an injustice, he is no hero and did grave harm. Moreover, the prospect that someone who committed espionage in the belief that he was helping Israel would gain his release in exchange for the freedom of those who indiscriminately shed Jewish blood is more than an irony; it’s an outrage that even the spy should reject.

Having already released scores of Arab murderers, who have been subsequently honored and embraced by Abbas, there is little incentive for Netanyahu to keep letting them out if the Palestinians are not going to commit to peace talks whose purpose is an end to the conflict. If he is going to be blamed for the collapse of Kerry’s initiative no matter what he does, it would be a mistake to start making further concessions that will come back to haunt him later. The problem with injecting Pollard into peace talks is that it is the sort of American concession for which Israel will pay a disproportionate price with little prospect of receiving what it wants. That’s what happened the last time he offered to make territorial concessions in exchange for Pollard’s freedom. In the end, the Palestinians got the land, and Israel got neither Pollard nor peace.

If the Palestinians want something from Israel they should be prepared to pay for it by demonstrating their willingness to end the conflict and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In essence a trade for Pollard now would be a substitute for getting the Palestinians to make those assurances. However much they may want Pollard, making such a swap would be against the long-term prospects of both Israel’s security and peace.

Read Less

Snowden, Spying, and Pollard

The outrage in Europe about the revelations by Edward Snowden of U.S. spying on allies embarrassed the Obama administration and caused the president to speak of trying to impose new guidelines on the National Security Agency and to try and distance himself from the affair. As Max Boot wrote here in October, the White House’s decision to throw the intelligence community under the bus was disgraceful. But the hypocrisy of America’s critics on this point was no less absurd. No one should doubt that the U.S. spies on its friends and that, in turn, its allies spy on America. Thus, the latest round of Snowden leaks published in the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times on Friday giving further details about such spying should surprise and outrage no one. But there is one aspect of the topic that is understandably causing something of a ruckus: U.S. efforts to keep tabs on Israeli leaders. According to the Snowden leaks, the United States worked with British intelligence to intercept the emails of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as other Israeli targets. The reports also state that Barak’s home was under surveillance by the Americans.

For those inclined to outrage about friends spying on friends, this is no more nor less infuriating than the stories about other such incidents, such as the U.S. efforts to monitor German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. But there is one difference between the incidents involving other allies and what happened to Israel. The U.S. is not holding a German or French spy in prison for more than 28 years for doing what America did to them.

By that I refer to Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who betrayed his oath and spied on his country at the behest of Israeli handlers. Jailed in 1985, Pollard is still serving a draconian life sentence for espionage. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wisely not seeking to exacerbate the already tense relations between his government and the United States over the Snowden leaks, some in his Cabinet as well as other Israelis are saying the stories about U.S. spying should cause the Obama administration to rethink its determination (shared by all of its predecessors) to let Pollard rot in jail. Though I deprecate the attempt by some in Israel and elsewhere to depict Pollard as a hero or to minimize the severity of his crimes, they happen to be right.

Read More

The outrage in Europe about the revelations by Edward Snowden of U.S. spying on allies embarrassed the Obama administration and caused the president to speak of trying to impose new guidelines on the National Security Agency and to try and distance himself from the affair. As Max Boot wrote here in October, the White House’s decision to throw the intelligence community under the bus was disgraceful. But the hypocrisy of America’s critics on this point was no less absurd. No one should doubt that the U.S. spies on its friends and that, in turn, its allies spy on America. Thus, the latest round of Snowden leaks published in the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times on Friday giving further details about such spying should surprise and outrage no one. But there is one aspect of the topic that is understandably causing something of a ruckus: U.S. efforts to keep tabs on Israeli leaders. According to the Snowden leaks, the United States worked with British intelligence to intercept the emails of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as other Israeli targets. The reports also state that Barak’s home was under surveillance by the Americans.

For those inclined to outrage about friends spying on friends, this is no more nor less infuriating than the stories about other such incidents, such as the U.S. efforts to monitor German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. But there is one difference between the incidents involving other allies and what happened to Israel. The U.S. is not holding a German or French spy in prison for more than 28 years for doing what America did to them.

By that I refer to Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who betrayed his oath and spied on his country at the behest of Israeli handlers. Jailed in 1985, Pollard is still serving a draconian life sentence for espionage. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wisely not seeking to exacerbate the already tense relations between his government and the United States over the Snowden leaks, some in his Cabinet as well as other Israelis are saying the stories about U.S. spying should cause the Obama administration to rethink its determination (shared by all of its predecessors) to let Pollard rot in jail. Though I deprecate the attempt by some in Israel and elsewhere to depict Pollard as a hero or to minimize the severity of his crimes, they happen to be right.

As I wrote in an analysis of the Pollard case in the March 2011 issue of COMMENTARY, both the spy’s defenders and his worst critics tend to exaggerate his importance. But there should be no doubt that what he did was wrong and badly hurt Israel as well as the United States:

There is no underestimating the damage that Pollard and his Israeli handlers did to American Jewry. The decision on the part of a few operatives and their political masters to exploit what may well have been the romantic delusions of a man of questionable judgment and character did far more injury to the countless loyal Jews who have served the United States so well for generations than anything else. It is not inappropriate that Israel’s government would seek the freedom of a man who, however misguided and harmful his mission, served that nation. But whether or not Obama or a future president ever accedes to Israel’s request for Pollard’s release, his unfortunate example will always be exploited as a pretext to justify those enemies of Israel and other anti-Semites who wish to wrongly impugn the loyalty of American Jews.

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

But once we concede that point, it is difficult to view his continued incarceration as justified. While the United States, like any other country, has every right to capture and prosecute spies, Pollard’s sentence was disproportionate. No one who has ever spied for a U.S. ally has ever received a sentence of this kind. Indeed, such spies are usually quickly ushered out of the country rather than prosecuted in order to avoid unpleasantness. As a U.S. citizen, Pollard had to be punished, but the determination of the U.S. intelligence establishment to see that he dies in jail seems to be based more in a desire to let him serve as a warning to Israel than anything else.

Just as Pollard’s spying is not justified by America’s efforts to do the same to Israel, his lawbreaking can’t be rationalized by U.S. activities. Serious people understand that this is what nation states do. Some of the spying is more outrageous than others (certainly the decision of Israelis to use an American Jew and to loot the Navy’s intelligence falls into that category). But the Snowden leaks make it clear that the self-righteous attitude of U.S. intelligence about Pollard is, at best, hypocritical.

Washington’s attitude on this point may be that small allies that are dependent on big ones for help, such as Israel, can’t expect to be treated fairly or to be granted the same leeway on such matters. That may well be so. But the Snowden leaks erase any doubt that such a position can be justified. Though it’s doubtful that President Obama will make it up to Israel by granting Pollard clemency, there is no reason based in justice or morality for him not to do so. Whatever else Snowden (who deserves punishment no less than Pollard did) has accomplished, he has made it clear that it is long past time for the U.S. to end the Pollard affair by setting him free.

Read Less

Euro Spy Hypocrisy Is Absurd; So Is Ours

Commenting on the hypocrisy being expressed about the news that the United States spies on its European allies is more or less like trying to describe the universe. It’s infinite. The idea that there is anything particularly new or shocking about nations spying on each other even when they are theoretically allied is as childish as it is disconnected from any knowledge of history. Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State Henry Stimson shut down the country’s main intelligence operation in 1929 and explained the action by infamously saying, “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” Stimson lived to rue his decision a dozen years later when, while serving as Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of war, an unprepared U.S. was surprised at Pearl Harbor. Our Max Boot summed up the stupidity of this sort of naïveté here last week and followed up today with another post highlighting the disgraceful effort by the White House to throw the intelligence community under the bus in an attempt to disassociate the president from a policy that it is hard to believe he knew nothing about.

But there’s another angle to this story that deserves to be noted. The complaints of our European allies about the supposedly dastardly behavior of the National Security Agency deserve to be treated with scorn. It should also remind us that the same kind of hypocrisy has sometimes been exhibited by the institutions that should be defended by security-minded citizens today. And by that I’m referring to the near-hysteria that erupts within the U.S. intelligence establishment anytime the notion of clemency for someone else who spied on an ally is mooted. Everyone who is defending the right of Americans to spy on allies, as well as those who think mistakes were made in doing so, should take a deep breath and consider that the crimes of Jonathan Pollard should perhaps be seen in a somewhat different context.

Read More

Commenting on the hypocrisy being expressed about the news that the United States spies on its European allies is more or less like trying to describe the universe. It’s infinite. The idea that there is anything particularly new or shocking about nations spying on each other even when they are theoretically allied is as childish as it is disconnected from any knowledge of history. Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State Henry Stimson shut down the country’s main intelligence operation in 1929 and explained the action by infamously saying, “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” Stimson lived to rue his decision a dozen years later when, while serving as Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of war, an unprepared U.S. was surprised at Pearl Harbor. Our Max Boot summed up the stupidity of this sort of naïveté here last week and followed up today with another post highlighting the disgraceful effort by the White House to throw the intelligence community under the bus in an attempt to disassociate the president from a policy that it is hard to believe he knew nothing about.

But there’s another angle to this story that deserves to be noted. The complaints of our European allies about the supposedly dastardly behavior of the National Security Agency deserve to be treated with scorn. It should also remind us that the same kind of hypocrisy has sometimes been exhibited by the institutions that should be defended by security-minded citizens today. And by that I’m referring to the near-hysteria that erupts within the U.S. intelligence establishment anytime the notion of clemency for someone else who spied on an ally is mooted. Everyone who is defending the right of Americans to spy on allies, as well as those who think mistakes were made in doing so, should take a deep breath and consider that the crimes of Jonathan Pollard should perhaps be seen in a somewhat different context.

Pollard is, of course, the U.S. Navy analyst who broke his oath and spied for Israel against the United States. What Pollard did was indefensible. He deserved to be punished and that has happened. As I wrote back in a COMMENTARY article on the subject in 2011, much of the case made for him by those backing clemency is overblown and underestimates the problems he caused:

There is no underestimating the damage that Pollard and his Israeli handlers did to American Jewry. The decision on the part of a few operatives and their political masters to exploit what may well have been the romantic delusions of a man of questionable judgment and character did far more injury to the countless loyal Jews who have served the United States so well for generations than anything else. It is not inappropriate that Israel’s government would seek the freedom of a man who, however misguided and harmful his mission, served that nation. But whether or not Obama or a future president ever accedes to Israel’s request for Pollard’s release, his unfortunate example will always be exploited as a pretext to justify those enemies of Israel and other anti-Semites who wish to wrongly impugn the loyalty of American Jews.

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

But having said that, the ongoing effort by some to use Pollard in an effort to demonize Israel or to claim that the Jewish state behaved in a manner unbecoming an ally is undermined by the revelations about the United States’ own considerable efforts to snoop on its friends.

What is normal and even expected when it is conducted in the dark can seem indefensible when it is dragged out into the light of day, as American officials hauled before Congress are learning today. One can only hope that the backlash from the Edward Snowden leaks will not lead to a trend in which all intelligence operations will be viewed negatively. The U.S. is still locked in a life-and-death struggle with Islamist terrorists and the last thing we need is a revival of the spirit of the Church Committee, which essentially drafted the CIA into the Boy Scouts back in the 1970s when it dug up the dirt on embarrassing Cold War spy activities.

To acknowledge that American spooks are trying to do the same thing to Germany, France, Britain, and, as has been pointed out before, Israel, does not mean that the decision to use Pollard was not a colossal mistake by his handlers and their political masters. But it should cause those who have been blocking mercy for Pollard to rethink their self-righteous stand.

Though he is no hero and deserves no applause for committing a serious crime, after all these years, there is no rational case to be made for keeping Pollard in prison for spying for a friendly nation. The disproportionate nature of his sentence was obvious even when it was handed down. That is just as true today. America spies on its friends and allies and is, in turn, spied upon in the same fashion. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It’s just the way the world works. That’s a fact that should not be forgotten when clemency for Pollard is discussed.

Read Less

Don’t Involve Pollard in Peace Talks

As I wrote earlier, it is nothing less than a disgrace for the Obama administration to be pressuring Israel to release 82 Palestinian terrorists, including many mass murderers, in order to entice the Palestinian Authority to take part in peace talks. It is even more atrocious for Washington to be ignoring the pain of the families of these killers’ victims when you consider that the PA has made no secret about the fact that any deals they might theoretically sign are a ruse and not a genuine attempt to make peace. But as bad as this story is, it just got worse. Israeli newspapers are reporting that as part of the negotiations over the peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the United States to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

Netanyahu is right to regard Pollard, a man who has served 27 years of a life sentence in federal prison for illegal acts done on behalf of the state of Israel, as his country’s responsibility. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY feature on the issue, there is a good case to be made on behalf of mercy for Pollard after all these years in spite of the terrible damage that he did. But if the spy has a shred of decency or is the Israeli patriot that he claims to be, he ought to refuse to be part of any prisoner exchange in which he would be swapped for terrorists, let alone serve as a sweetener aimed at convincing Netanyahu to agree to join the negotiations. That a man that supposedly sacrificed his freedom in order to strengthen Israeli security should be used as bait to weaken the country is a bitter irony.

Read More

As I wrote earlier, it is nothing less than a disgrace for the Obama administration to be pressuring Israel to release 82 Palestinian terrorists, including many mass murderers, in order to entice the Palestinian Authority to take part in peace talks. It is even more atrocious for Washington to be ignoring the pain of the families of these killers’ victims when you consider that the PA has made no secret about the fact that any deals they might theoretically sign are a ruse and not a genuine attempt to make peace. But as bad as this story is, it just got worse. Israeli newspapers are reporting that as part of the negotiations over the peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the United States to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

Netanyahu is right to regard Pollard, a man who has served 27 years of a life sentence in federal prison for illegal acts done on behalf of the state of Israel, as his country’s responsibility. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY feature on the issue, there is a good case to be made on behalf of mercy for Pollard after all these years in spite of the terrible damage that he did. But if the spy has a shred of decency or is the Israeli patriot that he claims to be, he ought to refuse to be part of any prisoner exchange in which he would be swapped for terrorists, let alone serve as a sweetener aimed at convincing Netanyahu to agree to join the negotiations. That a man that supposedly sacrificed his freedom in order to strengthen Israeli security should be used as bait to weaken the country is a bitter irony.

This is not the first time Pollard’s name has come up during the course of peace talks. Netanyahu tried to get Bill Clinton to throw Pollard’s freedom into a 1998 negotiation for an Israeli territorial withdrawal on the West Bank. Clinton might have gone along with it but the idea of springing Pollard sent the U.S. security establishment into conniption fits and the president backed down. Since then, neither of Clinton’s successors has dared challenged the spooks on Pollard and the spy’s chances of release under almost any circumstance seem dim.

Most Israelis probably approve of Netanyahu’s request and his effort should not be construed as anything but an honorable effort to gain clemency for someone who, however misguided or ill considered his actions, did act on the behest of Israeli officials. But trading murderers for Pollard cannot put a gloss of legitimacy on an immoral swap. However bad Pollard’s crimes were, placing it on the same moral plane as acts of cold-blooded murder cheapens the suffering of the victims of Palestinian terror. As unlikely as Obama acceding to the request might be, should he defy his intelligence chiefs and agree to it, it would only place Israel under further obligation and cast Israel’s latest futile sacrifices for peace in an unsavory light. Though granting clemency to Pollard after so many years of punishment is probably the right thing for Obama to do, it should be kept separate from the peace process.

Read Less

The Truth About Pollard

Last week, the Knesset took up the issue of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew who has been serving a life sentence for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel. Knesset Speaker Benjamin Ben-Eliezer praised the spy as a “true Zionist.” Many members joined the 100,000 Israelis who signed a petition calling for Pollard’s release. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat agreed and said he would nominate Pollard for the prestigious Jerusalem Freedom Award. Pollard’s supporters are hoping this campaign on the eve of President Obama’s trip to Israel will bring attention to the case and lead to his freedom. But they are almost certainly mistaken.

In today’s Haaretz, the paper’s Barak Ravid quotes a “senior American official” as saying that the latest round of public advocacy in Israel on behalf of Pollard is having no impact on President Obama. Though the administration is resigned to being subjected to numerous appeals to release the former U.S. Navy analyst who has been in jail since 1985, none of it is likely to persuade the president to grant clemency to Pollard. Indeed, as the official makes clear, the more Israelis and some American Jews treat the spy like a hero, the less likely Obama or anyone else in a position of authority in Washington is to listen to their appeals. That’s a hard concept for those who are trying to free Pollard to understand but if they are to ever succeed, they must start trying.

Read More

Last week, the Knesset took up the issue of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew who has been serving a life sentence for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel. Knesset Speaker Benjamin Ben-Eliezer praised the spy as a “true Zionist.” Many members joined the 100,000 Israelis who signed a petition calling for Pollard’s release. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat agreed and said he would nominate Pollard for the prestigious Jerusalem Freedom Award. Pollard’s supporters are hoping this campaign on the eve of President Obama’s trip to Israel will bring attention to the case and lead to his freedom. But they are almost certainly mistaken.

In today’s Haaretz, the paper’s Barak Ravid quotes a “senior American official” as saying that the latest round of public advocacy in Israel on behalf of Pollard is having no impact on President Obama. Though the administration is resigned to being subjected to numerous appeals to release the former U.S. Navy analyst who has been in jail since 1985, none of it is likely to persuade the president to grant clemency to Pollard. Indeed, as the official makes clear, the more Israelis and some American Jews treat the spy like a hero, the less likely Obama or anyone else in a position of authority in Washington is to listen to their appeals. That’s a hard concept for those who are trying to free Pollard to understand but if they are to ever succeed, they must start trying.

As I wrote in the March 2011 issue of COMMENTARY in an in-depth analysis of the case on its 25th anniversary, both sides of the long running argument about Pollard have exaggerated their positions to the point of caricature. Those in the U.S. security establishment have wrongly tried to blame Pollard for American intelligence setbacks at the hands of the former Soviet Union in an effort to justify their desire to continue to make an example of him. But Pollard’s backers have also inflated the value of the espionage that he committed on behalf of Israel while also trying to ignore the far more serious damage he did to the Jewish state by souring relations with its sole superpower ally.

Irrespective of these exaggerations, Pollard committed a crime for which he deserved serious punishment. But after more than 27 years in jail the case for mercy for the spy is stronger than ever. As I wrote two years ago, his sentence was disproportionate to that given any other person who spied for an ally as opposed to an enemy or rival nation. Nor is there any conceivable security justification for his continued imprisonment. But the biggest mistake that his supporters have continually made over the years is to think that his freedom will ever be won by efforts that cast him as a martyr. It was Pollard’s own foolish boasts along those lines in a “60 Minutes” interview and in discussions with Wolf Blitzer (the CNN star was then a Jerusalem Post reporter) that caused the government to trash the plea bargain agreement with the spy and led to his draconian sentence to life in prison.

Praise from the Knesset and awards from the city of Jerusalem merely repeat these mistakes.

What Pollard’s fans don’t understand is that lionizing the spy merely increases the desire of the U.S. security establishment to keep him in prison to set an example that spies are punished, not set free to play the hero. The vengeful attitude toward Pollard may stem in part from hostility to Israel by some in Washington. But it’s hard to blame them for resenting a campaign that treats a U.S. Navy employee who broke his oath and did real damage to the United States as somehow deserving praise.

But the pro-Pollard Jews just can’t seem to help themselves. One of the main lessons of 20th century history for Jews was that they couldn’t afford to be silent in the face of a threat or injustice. Such silence or a reliance on traditional modes of quiet diplomacy failed them in the greatest crisis of modern Jewish history during the Holocaust. A desire not to make the same mistake helped inspire the movements to free Soviet Jewry and to support Israel. It inspired in many Jews an understandable contempt for behind-the-scenes diplomacy or reticence on any issue. But it was that discredited strategy of quiet outreach rather than aggressive advocacy that was always the only formula to help free Pollard.

Had the issue been framed solely on the concept that Pollard was a misguided soul who erred but deserved mercy, he probably would have been out of jail a long time ago. But the attempt to cast him as an American “prisoner of Zion” merely strengthened the hands of those U.S. officials who have always been the roadblock to clemency.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine any circumstance in the immediate future that will lead Obama or his successor to free Pollard. But if there is to be any hope, it must begin with the spy’s supporters dropping any mention of anything but a desire for mercy for a man who has already been severely punished. If they ever want to see him freed, there must be an end to awards or rhetoric about his commitment to Zionism.

Read Less

What Pollard Did and Didn’t Do

More than 27 years after his arrest, the Jonathan Pollard saga continues to fascinate and infuriate Americans. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY article on the subject in March 2011, advocates of the convicted spy tend to exaggerate the assistance he gave Israel during the course of the espionage he carried out while serving as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. Similarly, those who continue to demand that he remain in prison until his death have also tended to inflate the damage he did to his country. While it is unlikely that anything could do much to move the argument one way or the other, the release of a 1987 damage report on the case conducted by the CIA should serve to silence those who have claimed Pollard’s spying was focused on American capabilities. The report, which can be read here (albeit with parts blacked out due to secrecy laws), makes it clear that his interest was solely in helping the Israelis find out more about Soviet and Arab military and intelligence capabilities.

That does not mitigate the scope of Pollard’s crime, as his handing over of a massive amount of material including signal intelligence to a foreign country did great damage to the United States. But the account of what he did and did not do does serve to bolster the arguments made by those seeking his release that his motive was a desire to help Israel rather than pure venality or treason.

Read More

More than 27 years after his arrest, the Jonathan Pollard saga continues to fascinate and infuriate Americans. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY article on the subject in March 2011, advocates of the convicted spy tend to exaggerate the assistance he gave Israel during the course of the espionage he carried out while serving as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. Similarly, those who continue to demand that he remain in prison until his death have also tended to inflate the damage he did to his country. While it is unlikely that anything could do much to move the argument one way or the other, the release of a 1987 damage report on the case conducted by the CIA should serve to silence those who have claimed Pollard’s spying was focused on American capabilities. The report, which can be read here (albeit with parts blacked out due to secrecy laws), makes it clear that his interest was solely in helping the Israelis find out more about Soviet and Arab military and intelligence capabilities.

That does not mitigate the scope of Pollard’s crime, as his handing over of a massive amount of material including signal intelligence to a foreign country did great damage to the United States. But the account of what he did and did not do does serve to bolster the arguments made by those seeking his release that his motive was a desire to help Israel rather than pure venality or treason.

Much of the report is familiar territory to those familiar with the case, as it details the narrative of his espionage as well as a lengthy psychological profile. The more one learns of Pollard’s background and unstable character the more one wonders about the faulty judgment of those who hired him to serve in such a sensitive capacity. But the important information here consists of the details about what sort of material he sought and then handed over to the Israelis.

His priority was to obtain the following information: Arab (and Pakistani) nuclear intelligence; Arab exotic weaponry, including chemical weapons; Soviet aircraft, air defenses, air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface missiles; and Arab order-of-battle, deployments and readiness.

Though arguments made by his friends that Israel was entitled to this information fall flat, this sort of material was clearly intended to bolster Israel’s ability to deal with valid threats to its security rather than to harm the U.S.

This is important because the prejudicial statements made by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to the court that sentenced Pollard to life in prison were thought to have given the impression that the spy’s crimes represented a direct threat to U.S. security. Indeed, the file makes clear something that was already understood: The willingness of the prosecutors and the judge to renege on the plea bargain by which Pollard had been persuaded to tell all about his activities had more to do with pique over the spy’s decision to speak about the case to reporter Wolf Blitzer (the CNN anchor was then a writer with the Jerusalem Post) in an inflammatory prison interview rather than the egregious nature of his crime.

While the report is explicit about the Israelis not requesting data about the U.S. or its intelligence resources or military, there were some other interesting tidbits that give us an idea about the dynamic between the spy and his handlers. Among them is the fact that Rafi Eitan, the head of the spy unit running the operation, wanted to know about Israelis providing the Americans with information as well as  “dirt” about Israelis the Americans might have. Pollard refused this request with the support of Yosef Yagur, a consulate official who was part of the plot.

As I have written elsewhere, what Pollard did was bad enough. There is no need for anyone to misrepresent his spying as part of an Israeli effort to undermine the United States. None of this is likely to change the minds of those in the U.S. intelligence establishment who take the position that Pollard must die in jail so as to set an example for other potential spies. Nor will it dampen the desire of some who have used him to justify unreasonable suspicions or even attempts to single out and prosecute other American Jews. It remains a fact that while Pollard’s espionage was a unique chapter in American intelligence history, his sentence is still the most severe ever handed out to a spy for a friendly country.

After 27 years in jail, it can no longer be asserted that he represents a threat to American security or that he has not already been severely punished. Though his most damning legacy may be the way his name continues to be used to bolster false accusations of dual loyalty on the part of American Jews, it can no longer be credibly argued that his goal was to harm the United States. While the chances of clemency for Pollard seem no better today than at any other point during his incarceration (something that is as much due to the poor judgment of the spy and some of his advocates), the release of the CIA report does place the case in perspective.

Unlike the others arrested in what became known as the year of the spy, Pollard’s goal was not to assist America’s enemies. That ought to make it just a bit easier to justify the commutation of his disproportionate sentence should President Obama or a successor ever care to seriously review the case.

Read Less

What Money Won’t Buy Even for Adelson

If you listen long enough to liberals complaining about the Citizens United decision, you’d think the country is being sold lock, stock and barrel to wealthy donors to presidential candidates. But the most publicized political contributor in the country isn’t getting much deference for the big bucks he’s throwing in the direction of Mitt Romney. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has been pilloried from coast to coast by liberals who don’t like his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and fund Republicans intent on defeating Barack Obama. Adelson is doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to political speech, but even he can’t guarantee his candidate will do as he wishes. As Eli Lake and Dan Ephron report in the Daily Beast, Adelson asked Mitt Romney if he’ll pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and got little satisfaction.

Romney is rightly staying away from talking about pardoning Pollard. An election campaign pledge on that issue would have been inappropriate as it would have politicized a strong case for clemency that many serious people, including former CIA chief James Woolsey, feel is overdue. As for Jerusalem, while Adelson is dead right in calling out the foolishness of a several-decades-old policy, again, Romney is no fool. By saying he will do so in cooperation with the Israeli government, he is keeping his options open. But the real point here is not whether Adelson’s requests were wrong — they weren’t — but the idea that political donors can call in IOUs from candidates is bunk. While his millions will buy Adelson the ability to make his requests in person and, as his spokesman said, an invitation to the White House Chanukah party — they don’t ensure Romney will give him what he wants.

Read More

If you listen long enough to liberals complaining about the Citizens United decision, you’d think the country is being sold lock, stock and barrel to wealthy donors to presidential candidates. But the most publicized political contributor in the country isn’t getting much deference for the big bucks he’s throwing in the direction of Mitt Romney. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has been pilloried from coast to coast by liberals who don’t like his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and fund Republicans intent on defeating Barack Obama. Adelson is doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to political speech, but even he can’t guarantee his candidate will do as he wishes. As Eli Lake and Dan Ephron report in the Daily Beast, Adelson asked Mitt Romney if he’ll pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and got little satisfaction.

Romney is rightly staying away from talking about pardoning Pollard. An election campaign pledge on that issue would have been inappropriate as it would have politicized a strong case for clemency that many serious people, including former CIA chief James Woolsey, feel is overdue. As for Jerusalem, while Adelson is dead right in calling out the foolishness of a several-decades-old policy, again, Romney is no fool. By saying he will do so in cooperation with the Israeli government, he is keeping his options open. But the real point here is not whether Adelson’s requests were wrong — they weren’t — but the idea that political donors can call in IOUs from candidates is bunk. While his millions will buy Adelson the ability to make his requests in person and, as his spokesman said, an invitation to the White House Chanukah party — they don’t ensure Romney will give him what he wants.

Unlike a great many political donors, Adelson’s political contributions are not primarily related to promoting his business. Instead, he is interested in promoting causes he cares about, principally the security of the state of Israel. The willingness of Jewish Democrats to smear Adelson because he rightly sees President Obama as no friend to Israel is unconscionable, especially because he is well-known for his generosity to a host of non-political issues and charities.

Adelson is hardly alone in his desire to see Pollard freed after 27 years in prison. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY article on the Pollard case published last year, the former U.S. Navy analyst is no hero. He broke his oath to the United States and did much damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as to loyal American Jews who serve in the government. But his punishment was disproportionate–no spy for a friendly government has ever received anything close to a life sentence. Nevertheless, it was foolish of anyone to expect even someone as sympathetic to Israel as Romney to say anything about the case during the election campaign.

As for moving the embassy, that is an evergreen request from pro-Israel contributors and activists of all political stripes. Romney has come closer to pledging to move the embassy than most candidates. It’s an idea that makes sense, because it is absurd for the U.S. to pretend Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital and doing so only allows the Palestinians to go on dreaming that America will someday help them drive the Jews out of Jerusalem. If Romney does move the embassy, it will be a shocking case of a candidate actually keeping a promise that no one expects him to keep. But if, in the unlikely event that happens, it will not be the result of Adelson’s contributions, but a decision on the part of the new administration that President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from Israel needs to be symbolically reversed.

But the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this discussion is not about the rights and wrongs of Adelson’s requests but how this story effectively debunks liberal myths about campaign contributions. Not only is Adelson not getting his way on these requests, but the Romney campaign isn’t shy about making it clear that even the most beneficent contributor to the candidate’s coffers can expect nothing more than a civil hearing.

Try as they might, liberals will never be able to take money out of politics. But the free flow of political contributions and the speech such money buys rarely results in the quid pro quo that horrified leftists assume such transactions always entail. Adelson is backing Romney because he can’t stand Obama. The only thing he can be sure of getting for his money is helping the chances that the president will be defeated. Beyond that, all he can do is hope his candidate will live up to his promises and do the right thing on those issues where there is no promise. Which puts Adelson pretty much in the same boat as every other citizen, even those without millions to give politicians.

Read Less

Peres and the Pollard Petition

Israeli President Shimon Peres said today he would make an appeal to President Obama for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during his visit to Washington. Peres, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony on Wednesday, has previously spoken out on Pollard’s behalf. More than 70,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling for the release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel on the United States.

The appeal, as was the case with previous Israeli efforts on Pollard’s behalf, will probably result in yet another round of pro- and anti-Pollard opinion pieces and statements from his defenders and those in the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment who want to see him die in jail. But even if after more than 26 years of his imprisonment, the case for clemency based on what Peres called “humanitarian” grounds is getting stronger, it is no more likely to meet with success than previous appeals. As I wrote last year in a COMMENTARY feature on the subject, the Pollard affair has become a seemingly permanent distraction to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But if there is anyone who has a moral obligation to try to free Pollard, it is Peres.

Read More

Israeli President Shimon Peres said today he would make an appeal to President Obama for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during his visit to Washington. Peres, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony on Wednesday, has previously spoken out on Pollard’s behalf. More than 70,000 Israelis have signed a petition calling for the release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel on the United States.

The appeal, as was the case with previous Israeli efforts on Pollard’s behalf, will probably result in yet another round of pro- and anti-Pollard opinion pieces and statements from his defenders and those in the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment who want to see him die in jail. But even if after more than 26 years of his imprisonment, the case for clemency based on what Peres called “humanitarian” grounds is getting stronger, it is no more likely to meet with success than previous appeals. As I wrote last year in a COMMENTARY feature on the subject, the Pollard affair has become a seemingly permanent distraction to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But if there is anyone who has a moral obligation to try to free Pollard, it is Peres.

It should be remembered that Pollard’s spying took place during the period in 1984 and 1985 when Israel’s government was run by a grand coalition in which the Likud Party led by Yitzhak Shamir and Labor, led by the late Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, shared power. Though in the aftermath of this fiasco, Israel claimed the intelligence operatives running Pollard were acting as part of a rogue operation, this was always absurd. Rafi Eitan, the head of the Defense Ministry Office of Scientific Liaison, was in charge of Pollard’s spying. But his close ties to both Rabin and Shamir, as well as the specific involvement of the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, made it clear that responsibility for this action as well as knowledge of the U.S. data procured from Pollard went all the way to the top. That means Peres was almost certainly in the loop on what was going on.

Pollard’s behavior was illegal and indefensible, but even worse can be said about the cynical way an obviously unstable individual was exploited by his handlers. The same holds true for those leaders who enabled this catastrophic error in judgment. Given the nearly sacrosanct way the intelligence apparatus is viewed by most Israelis, none of those involved in the Pollard affair were ever really held accountable for what must be termed as among the worst mistakes made in the country’s history. That is especially true of the Shamir-Rabin-Peres troika that continued to run the country for the next seven years, with Rabin and Peres governing on their own for three years after that. Indeed, Israel made no real effort to appeal for Pollard’s release until Benjamin Netanyahu came to office for the first time in 1996.

Thus, it is only fitting the octogenarian Peres should use the opportunity afforded by his receipt of the Medal of Freedom to speak of Pollard.

As to the merits of the case for clemency, they have been rehashed endlessly. Suffice to say that though Pollard does not deserve to be treated as any kind of hero, after this much passage of time, there is no rational argument to be made that the damage he did is still vital to U.S. intelligence or defense. Nor can it be claimed that after spending more time in prison than many murderers and far more than any spy for a friendly nation has ever served that his release would send the wrong message about the severity of his crime.

Nevertheless, even as one hopes that Peres’ message is well received, it should also be pointed out that the damage Pollard did to the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as to the many American Jews who have loyally served their country cannot be overestimated.

As I wrote in the March 2011 COMMENTARY:

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

Read Less

Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

Read Less

The FBI Thought AIPAC’s Rosen Was a Spy for Israel

The Washington Times reported today that the FBI believed that former AIPAC lobbyist Steven Rosen was a spy for Israel when it got a warrant to search his office in 2004. The evidence? Rosen was allegedly taking notes during meetings with U.S. officials and then passing the information along to other officials. So basically, he was being a lobbyist. Which makes sense, since that was his job.

But that logic didn’t seem to faze the FBI, which used the information to portray Rosen as an Israeli agent in order to embark on what sounds like a fishing expedition. “Based upon my training and experience as an counterintelligence investigator, I believe Rosen is collecting U.S. government sensitive and classified information, not only as part of his employment at AIPAC, but as an agent of [Israel],” FBI agent Eric Lurie wrote in the affidavit for the warrant.

Of course, FBI officials never actually found any evidence of spying during their searches, and Rosen was never charged with espionage.

“The FBI followed me around for five years, they searched my office and searched my home, and they never found any classified documents, because there were none to find,” Rosen told the Times.

Which raises a troubling question — why was the FBI so eager to go after an AIPAC official for activities that seem typical for the job description of a lobbyist?

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told the Times that some segments of the intelligence community are still highly suspicious of Israeli intelligence-gathering, even decades after the convicted of Jonathan Pollard.

“I believe this goes back to this notion that there was a second Pollard and it was bigger than Pollard,” Foxman said. “I would rather they pursue this, come up with nothing, rather than not be given the opportunity to pursue it and saying, ‘if only they let us, we would find something.’”

I agree with Foxman that the officials should have the opportunity to carry on these searches, because it may help debunk this illogical suspicion. But I also find it concerning that the FBI can harass someone for years based on flimsy evidence simply because of a connection to Israel.

The Washington Times reported today that the FBI believed that former AIPAC lobbyist Steven Rosen was a spy for Israel when it got a warrant to search his office in 2004. The evidence? Rosen was allegedly taking notes during meetings with U.S. officials and then passing the information along to other officials. So basically, he was being a lobbyist. Which makes sense, since that was his job.

But that logic didn’t seem to faze the FBI, which used the information to portray Rosen as an Israeli agent in order to embark on what sounds like a fishing expedition. “Based upon my training and experience as an counterintelligence investigator, I believe Rosen is collecting U.S. government sensitive and classified information, not only as part of his employment at AIPAC, but as an agent of [Israel],” FBI agent Eric Lurie wrote in the affidavit for the warrant.

Of course, FBI officials never actually found any evidence of spying during their searches, and Rosen was never charged with espionage.

“The FBI followed me around for five years, they searched my office and searched my home, and they never found any classified documents, because there were none to find,” Rosen told the Times.

Which raises a troubling question — why was the FBI so eager to go after an AIPAC official for activities that seem typical for the job description of a lobbyist?

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told the Times that some segments of the intelligence community are still highly suspicious of Israeli intelligence-gathering, even decades after the convicted of Jonathan Pollard.

“I believe this goes back to this notion that there was a second Pollard and it was bigger than Pollard,” Foxman said. “I would rather they pursue this, come up with nothing, rather than not be given the opportunity to pursue it and saying, ‘if only they let us, we would find something.’”

I agree with Foxman that the officials should have the opportunity to carry on these searches, because it may help debunk this illogical suspicion. But I also find it concerning that the FBI can harass someone for years based on flimsy evidence simply because of a connection to Israel.

Read Less

RE: Why Pollard’s Release Is Unlikely Right Now

Alana, one of the reasons you suggest for the improbability of Jonathan Pollard’s release is the public nature of the campaign to free him, since such a prisoner release would typically be done with arguments behind closed doors.

But arguably, a public debate is the only way in which a Pollard release would become proper, because public discussion is necessary before such a step occurs. The whole world is watching, so to speak.

In an editorial today entitled “Netanyahu’s Plea for Pollard, the New York Sun provides a useful addition to the public debate, focusing on a “magnificent dissent” by Judge Stephen Williams in the 1992 case in which the Court of Appeals rejected Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing:

It happens that we don’t think a life sentence is too long a punishment for conviction of secretly passing classified information to a foreign government, even, in serious cases, if conviction is for only one count, as it was in the case of Pollard. … But it also happens that the sentence meted out to Pollard was vastly disproportionate to sentences handed down against other spies, including some who spied not for a friend of America, which is what Pollard did, but for countries that could be expected to use the fruits of spying in actions against us, like the Soviet Union or communist China.

… [Judge Williams] was one of three judges who heard Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing. The two other judges on the circuit panel, Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sided against Pollard in a highly technical opinion. Judge Williams’s dissent accused the government of having broken both the spirit and, in one respect, even the letter of the binding agreement under which it had obtained Pollard’s guilty plea.

The Sun covers the arguments made by both sides in that case, and concludes that there was a miscarriage in the sentencing proceeding whose correction is long overdue after Pollard has served nearly 25 years. For those still seeking to make up their minds, the Sun’s review is worth reading.

Alana, one of the reasons you suggest for the improbability of Jonathan Pollard’s release is the public nature of the campaign to free him, since such a prisoner release would typically be done with arguments behind closed doors.

But arguably, a public debate is the only way in which a Pollard release would become proper, because public discussion is necessary before such a step occurs. The whole world is watching, so to speak.

In an editorial today entitled “Netanyahu’s Plea for Pollard, the New York Sun provides a useful addition to the public debate, focusing on a “magnificent dissent” by Judge Stephen Williams in the 1992 case in which the Court of Appeals rejected Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing:

It happens that we don’t think a life sentence is too long a punishment for conviction of secretly passing classified information to a foreign government, even, in serious cases, if conviction is for only one count, as it was in the case of Pollard. … But it also happens that the sentence meted out to Pollard was vastly disproportionate to sentences handed down against other spies, including some who spied not for a friend of America, which is what Pollard did, but for countries that could be expected to use the fruits of spying in actions against us, like the Soviet Union or communist China.

… [Judge Williams] was one of three judges who heard Pollard’s plea for a new sentencing hearing. The two other judges on the circuit panel, Laurence Silberman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sided against Pollard in a highly technical opinion. Judge Williams’s dissent accused the government of having broken both the spirit and, in one respect, even the letter of the binding agreement under which it had obtained Pollard’s guilty plea.

The Sun covers the arguments made by both sides in that case, and concludes that there was a miscarriage in the sentencing proceeding whose correction is long overdue after Pollard has served nearly 25 years. For those still seeking to make up their minds, the Sun’s review is worth reading.

Read Less

Why Pollard’s Release Is Unlikely Right Now

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.

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.

Read Less

Israel’s Opposition Leader Puts Politics Before Pollard

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

Read Less

Netanyahu, Clergy Call on Obama to Release Pollard

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

Read Less

New Yorker Editor Just Can’t Take Israel Anymore

Examples abound of leading American Jewish liberals who find the State of Israel to be beneath their sympathy. There is also no shortage of those who have just gotten bored with the Middle East conflict. But you’d have to go far to do better than New Yorker editor David Remnick’s comments to Yediot Ahronot’s Friday Political Supplement available in English translation on Coteret.com. Remnick trots out the usual stuff about a new generation of Jews who only see Israel as an “occupier” and rants that:

Even people like me, who understand that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.

The U.S. administration is trying out of good will to get a peace process moving and in return Israel lays out conditions like the release Jonathan Pollard. Sorry, it can’t go on this way. The Jewish community is not just a nice breakfast at the Regency. You think it’s bad that a U.S. president is trying to make an effort to promote peace? That’s what’s hurting your feelings? Give me a break, you’ve got bigger problems. A shopping list in exchange for a two-month moratorium on settlement construction? Jesus.

It might be easier to understand Remnick’s position if he didn’t throw in that line about the Palestinians in 2000. But since he acknowledges that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace (and rejected an even better offer in 2008 and will now no longer even negotiate directly with Israel), it’s hard to accept his criticism of the Jewish state. After all, if Israel already knows that sacrifices of territory won’t bring peace, why should it make unilateral concessions simply to appease an American president who acts as if history began on the day he took office? Shouldn’t the fact that Israel is still faced with a Palestinian foe that is so committed to its destruction that it won’t make peace on even favorable terms influence the discussion?

As for Pollard, why shouldn’t the Israelis ask for clemency for a spy who has already served 25 years in prison when those who have spied on the United States for hostile powers — rather than a friend — have received far less or no prison time at all (such as the recent haul of Russian spies who were quickly exchanged)?

The point here is that Remnick, and other Jewish liberals like him, simply can’t be bothered to think seriously about the Middle East anymore. Sure, Israel, like the United States or any other democracy, has its flaws and its unpleasant actors, such as the rabbis who issued a directive opposing the sale of property to Arabs, which Remnick cites elsewhere in the interview without also noting that they were condemned by Israel’s prime minister and many Israeli rabbis. But why should that be a reason for Jews to distance themselves from it? The answer is that liberals like Remnick are simply tired of standing up for a cause that has become unpopular on the left.

Since being pro-Israel these days requires a degree of moral courage, they simply stamp their feet with childish impatience at the willingness of Israelis to stand up for themselves. While Israel will continue to struggle with a difficult security situation and a flawed political system, the unwillingness of liberals like Remnick to stick with it says far more about them than it does about the Jewish state.

Examples abound of leading American Jewish liberals who find the State of Israel to be beneath their sympathy. There is also no shortage of those who have just gotten bored with the Middle East conflict. But you’d have to go far to do better than New Yorker editor David Remnick’s comments to Yediot Ahronot’s Friday Political Supplement available in English translation on Coteret.com. Remnick trots out the usual stuff about a new generation of Jews who only see Israel as an “occupier” and rants that:

Even people like me, who understand that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.

The U.S. administration is trying out of good will to get a peace process moving and in return Israel lays out conditions like the release Jonathan Pollard. Sorry, it can’t go on this way. The Jewish community is not just a nice breakfast at the Regency. You think it’s bad that a U.S. president is trying to make an effort to promote peace? That’s what’s hurting your feelings? Give me a break, you’ve got bigger problems. A shopping list in exchange for a two-month moratorium on settlement construction? Jesus.

It might be easier to understand Remnick’s position if he didn’t throw in that line about the Palestinians in 2000. But since he acknowledges that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace (and rejected an even better offer in 2008 and will now no longer even negotiate directly with Israel), it’s hard to accept his criticism of the Jewish state. After all, if Israel already knows that sacrifices of territory won’t bring peace, why should it make unilateral concessions simply to appease an American president who acts as if history began on the day he took office? Shouldn’t the fact that Israel is still faced with a Palestinian foe that is so committed to its destruction that it won’t make peace on even favorable terms influence the discussion?

As for Pollard, why shouldn’t the Israelis ask for clemency for a spy who has already served 25 years in prison when those who have spied on the United States for hostile powers — rather than a friend — have received far less or no prison time at all (such as the recent haul of Russian spies who were quickly exchanged)?

The point here is that Remnick, and other Jewish liberals like him, simply can’t be bothered to think seriously about the Middle East anymore. Sure, Israel, like the United States or any other democracy, has its flaws and its unpleasant actors, such as the rabbis who issued a directive opposing the sale of property to Arabs, which Remnick cites elsewhere in the interview without also noting that they were condemned by Israel’s prime minister and many Israeli rabbis. But why should that be a reason for Jews to distance themselves from it? The answer is that liberals like Remnick are simply tired of standing up for a cause that has become unpopular on the left.

Since being pro-Israel these days requires a degree of moral courage, they simply stamp their feet with childish impatience at the willingness of Israelis to stand up for themselves. While Israel will continue to struggle with a difficult security situation and a flawed political system, the unwillingness of liberals like Remnick to stick with it says far more about them than it does about the Jewish state.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.