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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Israel’s Medal of Freedom

Sign calling on Israeli president Shimon Peres to help free Jonathan Pollard.

Sign calling on Israeli president Shimon Peres to help free Jonathan Pollard.
Photo Credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90

The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award that exists in the United States. It is bestowed by the President in a ceremony of honor and respect. The award was created in 1945 and was more recently re-titled the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It can be given to anyone – including someone who is not a citizen of the United States.

President Shimon Peres will soon receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Hussein Obama. Peres has already taken one noble stand in telling Obama that he is accepting the medal on behalf of the entire State of Israel: “I have come here as the representative of the whole of the State of Israel to say thank you for the great friendship that America has demonstrated towards Israel.”

Medal of Freedom – named for the fact that there are few things Americans (and Israelis) value more than their freedom. It is an honor – bestowed on a noble person, someone who acts bravely to protect the interests of their country, world peace, humanity.

According to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding signed between Israel and the United States, Israel was entitled to vital information related to its security. The United States was breaking that agreement, withholding strategic information that Israel should have been given. A man, an American, and yes, a Jew found out and went to his superiors. He asked why Israel was not being given this information and, according to sources, was told, “Jews get nervous talking about poison gas; they don’t need to know.” Yes, Jews do get nervous about poison gas…call us crazy but even this rather human tendency does not undercut the fact that Israel had a right to know, and the US had an obligation to honor its agreement.

When he could not find another way, Jonathan Pollard leaked this information to Israel…yes, he turned over secret US documents to an ally. What vital information was contained in these papers? Well, sources say it included information about Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

American government officials caught on and Pollard was arrested in 1985. But here is where it gets tricky…Pollard never had a trial. He was never charged or indicted with most of the charges people think he has been convicted of doing. Before it came to a trial, Pollard was encouraged by both the Israeli government and the US government to accept a plea bargain that would save the embarrassing details from coming to the surface – that the Americans had broken an important agreement with an important ally; that Israel had spied on a valued ally.

Since he was never given a trial, Pollard was never found guilty – rather, he pleaded guilty to one charge. No, not treason, not harming the United States. He was never charged with compromising codes, agents or war plans. The one charge that he pleaded guilty to was one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. That is all.

After Jonathan Pollard admitted guilt for this minor charge the US broke the plea bargain agreement and sentenced him to life in prison with no opportunity for parole. He was not released even for a few hours to attend the funeral of his father; he remains isolated in prison.

No one in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally – not before nor after Jonathan Pollard. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years. Jonathan Pollard has served more than 26 years.

It is time for Jonathan Pollard to be set free. Whatever crimes he committed, he did so out of a deep love of Israel and the knowledge that he was only passing to Israel what it should have been given in the first place. He has served his time and what might once have been considered justice has now become injustice.

On Wednesday, Shimon Peres will receive the Medal of Freedom – I urge him to thank President Obama and the United States and then, on Thursday, to go visit Jonathan Pollard and give the Medal of Freedom to him. Freedom is nothing if it is at the expense of others; justice for some is not enough. Israel cannot accept such an honor from the United States so long as the US continues to hold Jonathan Pollard in captivity.

Jonathan Pollard has repeatedly expressed his remorse publicly and in private letters to the President and others. He has made it clear that he regrets breaking the law, and wishes he could have found a legal way to act upon his concerns for Israel. If he were freed, after more than 26 years in jail, he would be on the next plane to Israel, to live out his life here.

If the Medal of Freedom is to mean anything it must come with action. The US should release Pollard now; he can fly back on the plane with Shimon Peres and end an ugly and dishonorable chapter in US history…or, Peres should go to the prison where Jonathan is being held and give him the Medal of Freedom. Israel can only accept it and all it means when Jonathan comes home. We’ll have it here – when Jonathan brings it home.

We released 1,027 terrorists for Gilad Shalit; we can give up one medal and perhaps embarrass the US government just a little for another man captured and held in darkness for so many years. Gilad’s captivity has ended; he’s back in the sunshine of Israel. Jonathan Pollard deserves no less.

About the Author: Visit Paula Stern's blog, A Soldier's Mother.

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