OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

An end to a great injustice

It is a huge relief that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is finally free of his restrictive parole conditions and at liberty to move to Israel.

Farley Weiss
Farley Weiss is chairman of the Israel Heritage Foundation (IHF) and former president of the National Council of Young Israel.

The end of the great injustice to Jonathan Pollard has finally come. The video of the call from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to him displayed the warmth that the convicted spy whose parole restrictions were just lifted deserved to receive from Israel after suffering terribly for 35 years.

The small studio apartment in which he and his wife, Esther, reside shows that even during his past five years of “freedom,” Pollard was still being punished with onerous parole conditions. It is a great relief that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump finally ended these outrageous conditions, which included his having to wear a tracking bracelet 24 hours a day.

Pollard was also confined to a small geographic location in Manhattan and had to be home by 7 p.m. It is welcome news that he is finally able to live as a free man and move to Israel.

The Pollard case has been a litany of examples of improper conduct by Justice Department prosecutors magnifying the previous venomous attitude towards Israel held by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger.

The mistreatment of Pollard has been so blatant that one probation officer stated that among the thousands of cases with which he has dealt, only two others (that of a pedophile and that of a parole violator) were subjected to anywhere near as harsh parole conditions as his.

The Justice Department argued that such conditions were necessary because Pollard allegedly remained a security threat—citing an affidavit by the former director of National Intelligence James Clapper that some of the documents Pollard passed on to Israel were still classified 30 years after he went to jail.

However, Clapper’s affidavit was disputed in bipartisan fashion by former President Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor, Bud McFarlane, and former Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dennis DeConcini. They submitted affidavits stating that Pollard was not a security threat, as the most recent information to which he was privy was outdated by decades.

The Justice Department’s application of a double standard to Pollard is obvious when reviewing its treatment of Ronald Pelton. Pelton was convicted of providing the Soviet Union with national-security secrets, including U.S. efforts to tap Soviet communications, in exchange for $35,000. Pelton’s actions led to his being sentenced to three life terms, but only served 30 years, and was released from prison one week after Pollard.

Pelton was put in a halfway house and home confinement before going to jail, from where he was released after three decades with none of the additional parole conditions that Pollard received. There is little doubt that Clapper would affirm that the information Pelton turned over to the Soviets is still classified. Furthermore, Pelton was known for his photographic memory. Therefore, the danger of his disclosing classified information following his release was far greater than that surrounding Pollard.

Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote that Pollard’s only motive was to help Israel, without any intent to harm the U.S. The same cannot be said of Pelton.

The Justice Department agreed to a plea bargain in Pollard’s case to not seek a life sentence. Pelton’s three life sentences, in contrast, did not contradict a plea bargain. In Pollard’s case, the prosecutors filed two affidavits from Weinberger stating that in the so-called “year of the spy,” no one (not even Pelton) did anything worse than Pollard.

In their victim-impact statement, the prosecutors wrote that “Mr. Pollard’s unauthorized disclosures have threatened the U.S. [sic] relations with numerous Middle East Arab allies … The obvious result of Mr. Pollard’s largesse is that U.S. bargaining leverage with the Israeli government in any further intelligence exchanges has been undermined. In short, Mr. Pollard’s activities have adversely affected US relations with both its Middle East Arab allies and the government of Israel.”

McFarlane wrote that the life sentence given to Pollard was a result of Weinberger’s “unbalanced reasoning” regarding Israel and constituted a “great injustice.”

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, David Durenberger, wrote that he had objected to Pollard’s life sentence and disagreed with Weinberger’s “vehemence” against him. Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb wrote that Pollard’s life sentence was wrong, and attributed it to Weinberger’s “visceral dislike” of Israel.

In other words, all viewed Weinberger’s actions, with the help of the Justice Department prosecutors, as contrary to U.S. national interests.

It is noteworthy that virtually every major U.S. official at the time of Pollard’s arrest—who best knew the ramifications of his actions—have written or commented that they supported his release from prison. These officials include Secretary of State George Schultz, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Lee Hamilton, and FBI (and subsequent CIA) director William Webster. James Woolsey, who was CIA director during Bill Clinton’s presidency, eventually became a strong advocate for Pollard’s release and implied that his continued incarceration was due to anti-Semitism.

Pollard spent 30 years in jail when the average sentence for espionage on behalf of an ally was two-to-four years. He was even told in 1998, during the Wye talks, that he was being released from prison at Israel’s request. But Clinton reneged at the urging of Dennis Ross, and due to CIA director George Tenet’s threat to resign.

Pollard applied for parole after serving 29 years in prison. Israeli President Shimon Peres personally asked President Barack Obama to consent. The Obama Justice Department not only denied Pollard’s application but told him that they would oppose his release, even upon his expected parole after serving 30 years.

It is still not fully known why the Justice Department did not end up following through on this, despite Clapper’s continued claim that Pollard was a threat. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch deserves credit for agreeing to grant him parole after 30 years.

The unsung heroes of Pollard’s case are the many politicians who publicly backed his release after they were no longer in government and reaped no political benefit from doing so. These include former DeConcini, Woolsey, McFarlane and Korb. New York State Assemblyman David Weprin and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson also played significant—albeit non-public—roles.

Most of the letters written on Pollard’s behalf by major political figures were obtained through the relentless efforts of a committed Jew, David Nyer.  Many other people who assisted in various ways cannot be named, according to Pollard and his attorneys.

The National Council of Young Israel was the only major Jewish organization to be thanked by Pollard when he found out more than five years ago that he was going to be released from prison. We believed that even though he broke the law, he deserved to be treated like other similarly situated prisoners. Since he was not, we spoke out and took action to secure his release.

His release comes at a time in American history when committed, observant, pro-Israel Jews occupy major positions in the U.S. government. Yet their support for Israel is matched by non-Jews in similar positions. Under the Trump administration, support for Israel as a national U.S. interest is no longer debatable. The end of Pollard’s parole is a manifestation of this close relationship between Washington and Jerusalem.

Farley Weiss is president of the National Council of Young Israel. He is an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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