Thirty years after he was arrested outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, former Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard is expected to be paroled from a federal prison in North Carolina on Nov. 20.
The day of his release may prove to be Pollard’s Rip Van Winkle moment. Although the convicted spy for Israel has not been asleep since 1985, the brash 31-year-old who provided “material that was of such high quality, so accurate and so important to the security of the state,” according to his Israeli handler, is likely to find at 61 that much of the world he knew has changed.
Yet, the deep questions of dual loyalty regarding Pollard’s actions persist. News of his impending release set off volleys of commentary arguing, on one side, that Pollard remains a traitor who damaged the United States and got what he deserved, and on the other side, that the life sentence he received for a single count of spying for a friendly country was grossly disproportionate.
Will these arguments be put to rest once Pollard is a free man? Or will they continue due to the terms of his parole that require him to stay in the United States for the next five years? From published reports, it appears that Pollard wants to make aliyah with his wife, Esther. And it is here that President Barack Obama could show a true act of kindness.
Pollard’s parole after 30 years was pretty much mandated by federal guidelines. So, the fact that the administration didn’t object to the parole decision isn’t major news. Waiving roadblocks that would otherwise prevent Pollard from moving to Israel, however, would be a welcome gesture by the president.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear likely. As much as people are trying to frame the impending release as a humanitarian gesture or a way of placating an Israel angry at the recently concluded nuclear deal with Iran, letting him free but not letting him go to Israel is an incomplete act, and unnecessary.
The sordid Pollard story adds focus to how things have changed between Israel and the United States over the last 30 years. Three decades ago, Israel, though an ally, was mistrusting enough to allow an American analyst with qualms about his nation’s handling of intelligence relating to the Jewish state to betray his own country. But the moves were all covert. Today, the bilateral mistrust has ruptured into open and vehement disagreement over broader policy differences, including the Iran deal.
While allowing Pollard to rebuild his life in Israel will not solve any of those issues, it might help decrease the rising tensions between two friends.