U.S. President Barack Obama doesn’t want to disappoint an old friend, nor does he want to end his presidency on a sour note with Israel, and he certainly wants to sidestep a political minefield.
What’s a president to do?
Faced with the eternal American dilemma over how to deal with the Jonathan Pollard debacle, it could be that Obama believed he had finally figured out a win-win solution to evade responsibility for the endless nightmare.
Let Eric make the call.
If Attorney-General Eric Holder recommends to let him go for whatever reason, Obama will be hailed as a hero by the Jews, and by the now-countless political and community leaders who have said for years Pollard should be freed. Justice will prevail and Israel will be grateful. Israeli and Jewish gratitude is a precious gift, because neither tends to forget their friends. Or their enemies.
If Holder recommends to keep him in jail for whatever reason, Obama will have someone else to blame.
He’ll also join the list of presidents before him who rejected a request from the State of Israel and ignored the Jews again. Pollard will likely die in prison, and Obama will go down in history as having been the president on whose watch justice was not served – along with all the others. He will be vindicated by the anti-Semites within the U.S. State Department and justice system, and vilified by a host of others. And life will go on.
So that’s the answer he gave his good friend Israeli President Shimon Peres on Wednesday during a visit at the White House. Peres, who just turned 90 and who is ending his own term in office next month, is in Washington on a final state visit in that capacity.
By the way, it was Peres who was Israel’s prime minister when he handed over documents with Pollard’s fingerprints that were used to incriminate the Israeli agent and jail him for life, after being initially charged on a single count of passing classified information to America’s ally, Israel.
On Wednesday, he and Obama – the only two current heads of state to both have won the Nobel Peace Prize – met in the White House to discuss the matter. Peres had promised Pollard’s wife he would make one more try to convince Obama to grant her husband clemency – a presidential privilege used for humanitarian purposes.
Speaking with with uncharacteristic realism to Israeli media in Washington after his meeting with Obama, Peres briefed reporters on his attempt to secure freedom for Pollard, now entering his 29th year of incarceration in a U.S. prison.
But Obama ducked, apparently – and passed the buck to his attorney general.
Speaking with obvious reluctance, Peres told reporters in a briefing following the meeting, “I cannot say that he answered me on the spot. I don’t want to go with more than what he said,” Peres began. “He said the attorney general would [get involved.]
“His answer was, ‘The attorney general, it belongs to him. He will decide,’” Peres continued.
“There is a problem if I am optimistic, if I would say more than what he [actually] said,” Peres continued. “We have to cautious, and not to inflate or exaggerate … I asked specifically to be given the wording of what I could and could not say — and I have used precisely [the wording] that I was told I could say,” he concluded.
But it is very important to realize that the privilege of clemency — moderating the severity of a sentence in an act of mercy or leniency — is one unique to a president. Not an attorney general.
About the Author: Rachel Levy is a freelance journalist who has written for Jewish publications in New York, New Jersey and Israel.
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