Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Should Pollard Be Freed?

If he deserves it, yes; as a diplomatic chip, no

Print Email
Jonathan Pollard.(Haaretz)

“I think it is important to underscore that Mr. Pollard was convicted of some of the most serious crimes that anybody can be charged (with),” said outgoing White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. He was, of course, referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request that President Obama free Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment. Those who want Pollard freed—many of them organized, remarkably, by a 25-year-old volunteer—probably don’t feel particularly comforted. But a decision has apparently not yet been made.

What is nice about the understandably charged debate is that it seems to be playing out largely outside the confines of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Instead—and contrary to the misguided wishes of some—it is properly boiling down to an argument over what one specific criminal’s exact crimes were, and how much punishment those crimes merit. Lovers of justice should be pleased.

First, the “Free Pollard” side. Former deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb (now of the Center for American Progress) several months ago called for Pollard’s release, saying Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s anti-Israel bias played an outsize role in Pollard’s harsh sentence; Gil Troy made the case for Pollard’s freedom in Tablet Magazine; 39 Democratic congressmen also lobbied for it. Since Bibi lodged his request (“Honourable president, in the name of the Israeli people I am turning to you”), Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree—the president’s onetime mentor—also wrote in arguing for a pardon. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey is also on-record on this side. Pollard’s defenders argue not that the honorary Israeli citizen was wrongly convicted—Netanyahu himself states, “Jonathan Pollard was acting as an agent of the Israeli government,” which government’s “actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable”—but that Pollard’s 25 years behind bars are commensurate with his crimes when you compare them to the offenses and terms of others who spied for friendly nations.

On the other side is much of the intelligence community, which insists that a full accounting of Pollard’s crimes would show them to be far more severe than most expect, and eminently deserving of a life term. A lawyer who had been involved in the case recently argued as much, and in 1999, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, relying on intelligence sources, argued, “[His] supporters are mistaken in believing that Jonathan Pollard caused no significant damage to national security.” Earlier this week, the ex-U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Pollard noted a Pentagon estimate that Pollard cost the U.S. between $3 and $5 billion and insisted, “That the country he spied for is seeking clemency is not only unprecedented, it is a joke.” Top intelligence hands from both parties (Sandy Berger, Geroge Tenet) have been reported as adamant that Pollard ought to stay in jail.

What I—who know little about the particulars of the Pollard case and next-to-nothing about U.S. intelligence law—cannot understand is why some Americans wish to see Pollard used as a chip: Most typically as a carrot, in which Pollard’s freedom is traded for some Israeli concession (this would have been the settlement freeze extension, before all sides gave up on that). It is one thing when the U.S. and other countries trade other countries’ spies for their own spies, which makes an internal logical sense. But to make one person’s life a part of grand diplomacy simultaneously elevates his stature and robs him of his humanity. Besides, simple justice dictates that if Pollard has served his appropriate time, he should be let go, and if he hasn’t, he shouldn’t be. Answering that question is tricky, but it is purely forensic—the normative principle of justice is set in stone (pun intended).

I can’t let this blogpost, by Steve Clemons, go uncommented upon. “If Netanyahu were to commit to collapse his government, reassemble with sensible pragmatists in the Knesset, and deliver definitively on an internationally-accepted two state arrangement between Israel and Palestine, then I would support releasing Pollard to the Israelis,” Clemons writes (“Steve Clemons asks a modest price,” Ben Smith quipped).

All due respect, but what planet is Clemons living on? He really thinks Netanyahu can do the political equivalent of snap his fingers (“Israelis and Palestinians say that they could do a deal—if both were serious—in just a few months,” Clemons relates, apparently credulously) and literally bring peace to the Middle East? I had heard that bringing peace to the Middle East was considered more difficult to achieve than that. And what if Netanyahu makes the good-faith effort Clemons demands of him and peace is not achieved because the Palestinian Authority won’t cut “the deal,” or Hamas takes over the West Bank after it does, or the Israeli people vote Netanyahu out before he can? Then I suppose Pollard would stay in jail anyway, because he would no longer be of use to us? Or would that instead be an argument for his freedom?

And why is it so easy for a neophyte like me to pick apart an ostensible foreign policy expert’s reasoning?

Far more sensible is James Besser’s suggestion: Either free Pollard, or keep him and explain—disclosing as much as possible, and more than is currently disclosed—exactly why he deserves to stay there. As one of the citizens he spied on and who is now paying for his incarceration, I am ready to be persuaded either way. I am not ready to see my fellow citizen, or any other human being, reified for the sake of an ill-defined and extremely long-shot diplomatic gambit.

White House Notes ‘Serious Crimes’ of Israeli Spy [AFP]
Copy of Netanyahu’s Letter to Obama [Haaretz]
Netanyahu Seeks Pardon for Imprisoned Spy Pollard [Washington Times]
The Hidden Hand in the Free-Pollard Campaign [SpyTalk]
Price for Jonathan Pollard’s Release Should Be a Done Deal on Palestine [The Washington Note]
Netanyahu’s Pollard Letter: Israel’s Actions ‘Unacceptable’ [The Political Insider]
Related: National Insecurity [Tablet Magazine]

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Pat Silver says:

OF COURSE Pollard should be freed. Enough!!!

Harold Tobin says:

Shame on the USA for the treatment of Pollard.

Punishment completely out of proportion. Under many many layers in subconscious this is pure hatred of Jews. OK, he served a quarter century in prison. We destroyed his life. The many anti-Pollard Jews should be happy and relieved they were not accused. Even in synagogue they should not pronounce the prayer “sh’lo asanu kgoyim haolam”. Or they can say it, as long as Pollard is locked up. My father, zichrono l’bracha did 12 years of prison in Romania for doing nothing. I never imagine absurdities like that can happen in US. Pollard did nothing to deserve to die in a prison. Whatever else he did, he paid dearly for it.

Thanks Tablet for not forgetting Pollard. You continuous coverage will finally bring freedom to Pollard

Can’t agree. He’s a traitor.

However, it ought to be noted Steve Clemons is that he published a piece by arch-antisemite Scott McConnell, founder of The American Conservative, called “The Wasp Diversion.”

Typical ugly innuendo about the malign influence of Jews in public life.

Hersh Adlerstein says:

The problem is that, for nearly 25 years, those calling for Pollard’s release claimed his innocence. Now. at long last, Netanyahu admits Pollard”s guilt. I agree, he has served long enough compared to others who committed similar – and worse – crimes and should be released, but that might have happened lonng ago if his defenders has dealt with the excessive sentence rather than his “innocence”. The facts are clear, let him go, but don’t anoint him as vivtim. He was a (minor league) traitor, and he dis, after all, demand and accep payment from Israel for his stupid behavior.

Jonathan Pollard is a traitor to the U.S and should be executed! Forget about being freed, the guy should be killed!!!

anonymous says:

Who said that every traitor should be killed? He liked Israel more than US. His right was to like whatever he wanted. Besides he was helping his fellows jews.
I don’t like US anymore. Am I a traitor? That’s not a great country anymore, and maybe never it was.
Get Pollard out of jail faster, you are paying you tax money to keep him there.

Bruce from SoCal says:

As a guy who do did have access to the same type of info as Pollard in the the same time frame, I say …

Free the a-hole, but only after Israel releases to us all of the documents stolen. After all, don’t allies help each other out? We need to close out the Pollard affair with a full accounting of the damage done. Our “good buddy Israel” should have no objections to this request from an ally. But then again, we are talking about Israel, a country that believes in take, take, take and never give. Until Israel gives, let him rot!

We could stop paying taxes by executing him. It was his right to like Israel more, but then he was free to resign his commission and emigrate, subject to any restrictions on ex-intelligence officers.

It was not his right to betray his country.

perot says:

I say…Keep him locked up and explain why—disclosing as much as possible, and more than is currently disclosed. Tell exactly why he deserves to stay there.
As one of the citizens he spied on, I am NOT ready to be persuaded either way. I am not ready to see my countries secrets bought and sold…..even though I am a Zionist, who loves Israel and prays for its health and well being each day at minyan.
Pollard is an American traitor who was caught! If he had been spying on Russia we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Mr Mel says:

#1 “Jonathan Pollard is a traitor to the U.S and should be executed! Forget about being freed, the guy should be killed!!!”`

That is not the Jewish way, that is the Muslim way.

#2 “Pollard is an American traitor who was caught! If he had been spying on Russia we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

If that were so, he would have been freed in 10 years.

I agree that Pollard’s punishment should be based on his criminal activities. Unless I am mistaken he was charged with a single count of passing information to a foreign country, a country that happened to be an ally of the United States. Everybody already knows the basic facts, that the Justice Department offered him leniency in exchange for cooperation, that he upheld his part of the agreement; that the government reneged. His sentence on the surface is clearly excessive; time served already exceeds others so convicted by 10 to 1. We also know that the government has consistently withheld the “secret memorandum” which Weinberger theatrically presented to Judge Robinson moments before sentencing, from a multiplicity of Pollard lawyers whose security clearance would allow access to the highest levels of documents.

I don’t know about you, Mr. Tracy, but I detect the distinct odor of rot in the government bureaucracy, and particularly the agency dedicated to protecting our constitutional rights, the Justice Department.

Might it be, Mr. Tracy, that while Mr. Pollard was justly found guilty of his single charge, that perhaps justice demands an inquiry into those who duped him into waiving his rights to a jury trial in order to assist in protecting US state secrets; that those who insist on him dying in prison are motivated by something other than “justice” or “national security,” but something more basic to overzealous patriots, such as schadenfreude, the sheer pleasure of watching one defined as enemy, one unable to defend himself: that his tormentors are just in it for the sheer pleasure of watching him suffer? Or how about his value in the hands of, say, State Department bureaucrats whose sympathies lay with America’s financial interests in the Arab world? Certainly helps to be able to remind friends in the press about Pollard’s perfidy when Israel needs a slight nudge to cooperate.

Am I suggesting the possibility of antisemitism as motive? Didn’t notice!

real_democrat says:

There is no way he should be freed. What message do we send when we agree to let some traitor to America go so he can be greeted as a hero in the nation that betrayed us. Even Israel-can-do-no-wrong Martin Peretz agrees….

Hersh Adlerstein, Perhaps your engagement with the case is fairly recent, and this explains your assumption that until recently Pollard’s “innocence” was the issue favoring his defense. My involvement with Pollard goes back to the 1980’s and I was for the first year of its existence, director of Justice for the Pollards. I visited Israel on his behalf, discussed his case with, among others, his Israeli case manager; in America with his lawyers, paid and pro bono, etc.

NOBODY, beginning with Pollard himself, ever claimed he was innocent. He admitted his guilt, voluntarily complied with the FBI investigation of his activities and, before sentencing, expressed remorse to the judge.

Pollard was never charged for treason, a charge that only applies in time of war, and by passing secrets to the enemy. Caspar Weinberger, himself a lawyer so he knew better, leveled that charge to the press waiting his return from his theatrical last-moment delivery of his “top secret” memorandum prior to Pollard being sentenced. Perhaps just caught up in the excitement of the moment, more likely just continuing his theatrical performance, the Secretary of Defense was the only one to suggest the charge. Pure hyperbole.

As a point of information, Oran’s Dictionary of the Law (1983) defines treason as “…[a] citizen’s actions to a foreign government to overthrow, make war against. Or seriously injure the [parent nation].” (from Wikipedia). None apply to the Pollard case.

As to the charge that Pollard “demanded” payment for service, this too is wrong. For better or worse, depending on your politics, Pollard was a “walk-in,” a volunteer to provide Israel information he believed critical to her defense, and being illegally, according to state-to-state agreements, withheld from Israel. I was told by Israeli intelligence personnel that it is standard procedure to require “walk-ins” to accept payment as a CONDITION of service, that Pollard initially refused payment.

Hope this helps clear air.

We should let him go

Here is a Youtube viedo dealing with the same quastion:

Michael says:

Unlike most of the comments here, this was a very well reasoned and balanced piece.

AmericanSoldier says:

‘It’s ok’, they say. He was ‘only SPYING for a (supposed) friend’. He did nothing wrong.


How about YOUR treatment of the man who divulged Israel’s nuclear capacity to the world? You drugged, kidnapped, and imprisoned him.

Pollard BETRAYED MY COUNTRY. He STOLE SECRETS. I don’t care what your country wants. You should be ASHAMED of yourselves for thinking it’s ok to damage US national security as long as it’s for the gain of YOUR country.

AmericanSoldier says:

My post contained no offensive language, no personal attack, no bigoted remarks. Yet you deleted it. Probably because it hurt your feelings that someone would disagree with you. That’s a shame. Apparently you don’t believe in the power of freedom of speech. I won’t be returning to read your publication any longer. Goodbye.

Harrietb98 says:

I think that Jonathan Pollard should be freed. He was never found guilty of anything.

Those supporters of Pollard who are citizens of the United States you are sympathizers for an evil man. And stop with the technicalities! He wasn’t found guilty? It was only one count?
Make up your minds. Do the interests of the United States come before the Interests of Israel? If the answer is anything but “YES” you should change your citizenship and I say good riddance to you. At least you will not become another Jonathan Pollard and be confused about loyalty to the United States and loyalty to a foreign country.

Joshua says:

To all those saying Pollard should be executed/rot in prison/etc., consider this piece of evidence:

Aldrich Ames wrote the Victim Impact Statement for Weinberger. This was at the time he was working as a double-agent for the Soviets. Think maybe that plays a role in your perception?

You could definitely see your expertise in the paintings you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. At all times go after your heart. Executive Elite, 18a Greycoat Gardens, Greycoat Street, London, SW1P 2QA, 028 2088 0135

I’ve said that least 710257 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wish i had time and patience to make a informative post like yours. A ton of info on all the states. Bookmarked your blog.

Very interesting info!Perfect just what I was looking for!

I have been reading out some of your stories and it’s clever stuff. I will definitely bookmark your site.

Home mortgages they can be handy among the many alot of the time, at a remortgage rating finding a more desirable percentage rate, perhaps even the use of a number of becoming a guarantee in the house to get investing in guaranteed mortgage, increasing capitol examine eliminate main credit card debt or perhaps performing most people inevitably desired property benefits.

Trade Shows in India – Find information on India trade shows,trade fairs, trade exhibitions, business trade shows, business trade fairs, business Details on

Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with? I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

I think other web-site proprietors should take this website as an model – very clean and fantastic style and design, not to mention the content. You’re an expert in this area!

Good – I should definitely pronounce, impressed with your web site.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Should Pollard Be Freed?

If he deserves it, yes; as a diplomatic chip, no

More on Tablet:

The Kindergarten Teacher Who Won Cannes

By Vladislav Davidzon — Hungarian actor Géza Röhrig stars in Auschwitz drama Son of Saul