We were disappointed to hear from President Obama that he would not break with the precedent set by his predecessors, Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, and release Jonathan Pollard. Though we think Mr. Pollard deserved to be punished for his serious crimes, we believe that twenty-eight years of imprisonment is enough.
While a number of former senior U.S. government officials, among them several with direct responsibility for defense and intelligence matters, have come out for his release, the unanimous position of past presidents and the continued strong opposition by some in the intelligence community made Mr. Obama’s decision not exactly unexpected, if lamentable.
Worthy of note, though, are two recent negative Wall Street Journal opinion columns about Mr. Pollard by Bret Stephens, the Journal’s deputy editorial page editor (and a former Jerusalem Post editor) who generally takes a staunchly pro-Israel position in his writing.
The first article, “Don’t Free Jonathan Pollard,” appeared on the very eve of President Obama’s leaving for Israel where he was expected to be importuned by Prime Minister Netanyahu on Mr. Pollard’s behalf. The second, “A Postscript on Pollard,” appeared a week later and was triggered by what Mr. Stephens characterized as “the blizzard of opprobrium” that “piled into my inbox.”
In the second piece, Mr. Stephens went through the usual litany of the seriousness of Mr. Pollard’s crimes, which reflected their seriousness but added little of substance to what is generally known.
The initial Stephens piece came up with some strange new arguments about why the president should not release Mr. Pollard. But the unanswered question about the article is why Mr. Stephens timed it to coincide with Mr. Obama’s visit to Israel.
Mr. Stephens began the piece by noting that “There are a few things I’d like to hear Barack Obama say on his trip this week to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.” He then listed such issues as Israel’s position on Iran, the settlements, the cause of the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, the “right of return” for Palestinian, anti-Israel incitement, Palestinian terrorism, etc., as things he would like to hear the president agreeing with. That took up the bulk of the article.
“But,” he added, “here’s something I don’t want to hear from Mr. Obama, especially not when he’s in Israel: that he has agreed to release former Navy intelligence analyst and convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.”
He conceded the humanitarian case to be made for Mr. Pollard’s release but said that’s just the beginning of the inquiry: “What’s inequitable about Pollard’s sentence isn’t that his is too heavy. It’s that the sentences of spies such as Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and Robert Kim have been too light.”
Remarkable. All the federal judges who handed out those sentences and all the prosecutors who recommended those sentences in consultation with their clients – the responsible federal officials – were wrong. Mr. Stephens is the only one who gets it right. And in Mr. Pollard’s case, the prosecutors who, with the approval of their clients, originally agreed to far less than a life sentence effectively assigned a damage value to his spying.
Mr. Stephens also argued that if Mr. Pollard were to be released, he would be greeted as a national hero in Israel. This spectacle would be bad for Israel’s image and promote anti-Semitism. So, according to Mr. Stephens, keep him in jail for fear of what others will think or do. An interesting theory of justice.
Mr. Stephens also claimed Mr. Pollard hasn’t expressed contrition. Very strange, given the fact that the prosecutors who agreed to the original plea bargain must have been satisfied in this regard. Again, Mr. Stephens knows better.
This is not about defending Jonathan Pollard. He committed serious crimes and deserved and received significant punishment. Rather, it is about Mr. Stephens beating up on a sick guy nearly three decades into a life sentence – and timing it to maximize any negative influence his arguments might have on President Obama.