As the debate over whether to pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard continues, the most vocal support for his release is coming from the conservative side: AIPAC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, most recently, families of Israeli terror victims. Meanwhile, outlets like the Forward are arguing against the release, unwilling to send the message that espionage should be punished more leniently when performed by an ally.
But the Free Pollard campaign shouldn’t be left to conservatives alone. There are several good reasons why a liberal — a liberal Zionist, a liberal Jew, or just a liberal human being — should want to see Pollard pardoned. Here are the top five.
1. It would be a basic humanitarian act.
Jonathan Pollard has already spent nearly 30 years behind bars. His health is so poor that his ex-wife fears this is the last chance to have him freed. This alone should be enough to make the case for his release on humanitarian grounds.
It has been argued that pardoning him is not the same thing as releasing him on humanitarian grounds, and that it would send the message that he did no wrong and is excused. It should be noted, however, that the act of pardon, albeit different from prison release for health reasons, does not in any way imply the prisoner’s innocence. It is an act of clemency toward an individual who is guilty. And an act of clemency is exactly what Pollard deserves.
2. Pollard shouldn’t keep paying the price for Israel’s decisions.
Pollard was not some crazy guy sneaking out NCIS classified material for the sake of it. He passed such material on to Israeli intelligence. In other words, he was part of an Israeli intelligence scheme. This is no justification whatsoever, of course. But the fact is that Pollard is now the only individual paying for a crime that involved many others, including Israeli officials.
After the scheme was revealed, there was a period of tension between the U.S. and Israel, with Washington even threatening to cut economic aid. Since then, however, the relationship between the two allies has been mended. So, if the U.S. has de facto “pardoned” Israel, why shouldn’t it pardon Pollard?
3. Left-wingers have a history of campaigning for Pollard.
There’s a widespread misconception that campaigning for Pollard must imply the belief that Israel is to some extent above international law. Yet major Israeli public figures with impeccable left-wing credentials have either campaigned or privately asked for his release. Yitzhak Rabin asked Bill Clinton to release Pollard on humanitarian grounds. Aviv Geffen, the rock sensation of the 1990s who turned into a peace activist, spoke in favor of the release in an interview with Yair Lapid. Again, asking for Pollard’s release doesn’t imply admiration for what he did.
4. Pardon is what the peace process is all about.
The world “pardon” comes from the Latin word “perdonare,” to forgive. When you think about it, isn’t that what making peace is all about — forgiveness? Mind you, forgiving does not imply forgetting or condoning. It’s not about telling your enemy “what you did to me is fine” or “let’s pretend it didn’t happen.” It’s about accepting the fact that your enemy has indeed hurt you, that what he did was and still is wrong, but that, to some extent, it must be let go.
Last but not least, forgiveness does not always coincide with our perception of fairness or justice. In some cases — as when a guilty individual is pardoned — it may even be in conflict with it. Mercy and justice are two separate values, and it’s not unusual for them to be in tension with each other.
5. Nope, Jews don’t need to be taught a lesson on dual loyalty.
There’s a widespread perception that the strictness with which Pollard’s case has been handled has something to do with the desire to teach American Jews a lesson on so-called dual loyalty. The reasoning goes something like this: Jonathan Pollard is an American Jew who spied for Israel; if we don’t make an example out of him, then other American Jews will feel entitled to spy for Israel against the U.S.
This reasoning seems to imply that Diaspora Jews are inherently more likely to harbor dual loyalties. Taken just one step further, it could mean that Jews are likely to be inferior citizens as compared to non-Jews — a notion that is deeply troubling at best. No need for a “lesson,” thanks.
So go ahead and campaign for Pollard’s release. It’s the liberal thing to do.