THE SPINE DECEMBER 27, 2010
I don’t know exactly how much pressure the president is under to release Jonathan Pollard. But there is certainly much heat on the prime minister from his ultras to persuade Obama to set the convicted spy free.
The pretense is that the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Pollard was a miscarriage of justice. But there are multitudes of such miscarriages in both the United States and Israel (to say nothing of other countries), very few rectified and certainly not through the ugly politics like which we are now witnessing in behalf of Pollard in the Jewish state. Moreover, I am far from persuaded that the sentence was at all unjust. Pollard’s crime demanded a stiff punitive result, and his character even more. He is a sleaze bag transmogrified into not only a hero but a saint.
In any case, the setting of punishment is not a science. It is a mediation between the judge and his conscience, guided by the law under which the defendant was tried. There are no absolutes here. Unless, that is, there are legislated imperatives which is not the case in this instance.
So I find the appeal to justice here false. It is, rather, part of a political strategy to bring Netanyahu under the thumb of the agitators...in anticipation of other political goodies. And don’t be mislead: these people (who have, to be sure, persuaded well-intentioned Israelis to their cause) are fanatics. Today they want Pollard free. Tomorrow they will be arguing the justice of racial discrimination against Arabs. The day after they will be pressing for limitations on civil liberties. Oh my, they already have!
Israel is one of those luminous democracies that survives and flourishes despite the almost unending pressure on its civil life. It is certainly the only free country between the eastern Mediterranean and India. (And I dare you to name another.) That is only one reason why the Arabs of Israel—even though many of them call themselves Palestinians in bursts of braggadocio—wouldn’t for a moment allow their lands and their lives to be shifted to the authority oftheir brothers and sisters a few kilometers eastward. In Israel, Arab legislators in the Knesset are allowed to be treasonous.
This means that even for its Arabs Israel’s democracy is precious. Of course, it is also precious to its Jews. But there is a fanatic strain in the Israeli body politic which obscures the difference between issues that are rightly fought out in a political context.
Still, where is the logic—and the precedent—for an intra-Israeli conflict for the freedom of someone held by the U.S. after a legitimate criminal process found him guilty? This, after all, is not Natan Sharansky held captive after a twisted Soviet judicial proceeding.
Ironically, tragically, the struggle for Pollard’s freedom has all but displaced and replaced the struggle for Gilad Shalit’s freedom. Innocent of any crime, without even a visit from the Red Cross after four and half years in Hamas captivity, Shalit seems to have been all but forgotten by his countrymen, except the hardy few manning a tent outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.
One of my anxieties is that President Obama might in the end make the calculation that he could win some credits with Israel’s zealots if he let Pollard go. Myself, I do not think he would even do that. My fear is that he might read the situation in exactly that way. And squeeze Israel on its real security interests which are to guarantee a peace with the Palestinians who do not really want peace.