“Why is Jonathan Pollard still in jail?” The question is a Rorschach test for American Jews. Some Jewish pundits, like Martin Peretz, would be glad to tell you why the Navy intelligence analyst convicted in 1987 for spying for Israel deserves his life sentence. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peretz writes that those urging clemency “cannot let go of their image of Pollard as a man of virtue and bravery.” However, he writes, “there is no cloud about Pollard’s guilt, no illusion of his innocence. And he did not spy for Zion out of idealistic motives. This is a retrospective improvisation.”
Others ask the question as an accusation. They wonder why Pollard remains incarcerated after nearly 27 years, despite having pleaded guilty and despite much more lenient sentences handed down to those who spied on behalf of America’s enemies. “While we do not condone Mr. Pollard’s actions, we believe he has served his time,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in April. “In studying precedents, no other individual convicted of similar crimes has served such a lengthy sentence. Further, the humanitarian justification is intensified by his deteriorating health condition.”
Pollard proponents, including top leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, may have been heartened by a recent letter by a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. James Woolsey once argued against clemency for Pollard, but now says it is time to commute his sentence. “Pollard has cooperated fully with the U.S. government, pledged not to profit from his crime (e.g., from book sales), and has many times expressed remorse for what he did,” Woolsey wrote in response to Peretz.
Perhaps a decade ago, when a vocal pro-Pollard camp continued to portray him as some kind of hero, calls for clemency were premature. But with Pollard reportedly ailing and a generation of political and diplomatic water under the bridge, his continued incarceration seems harder and harder to justify.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t look like Pollard will taste freedom anytime soon. At a news conference in Jerusalem this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected clemency for Pollard. “I do not have any expectations that that is going to change,” she said, referring to his life sentence.