Jonathan Pollard has been in prison far too long. Although the former U.S. naval intelligence officer deserved jail time for spying for Israel, his life sentence was excessive when it was meted out nearly three decades ago and his time for clemency is long past due.
Pollard’s supporters are hoping that calls for his release might find new resonance with the Obama administration in light of recent revelations that spying between Israel and the United States has not been a one-way street.
Documents leaked by former defense contractor Edward Snowden reveal that U.S. intelligence had targeted the emails of two Israeli prime ministers. There’s also speculation that a Pollard pardon could be used to help sweeten for Israel any eventual deal that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing between Israel and the Palestinians.
But while the revelations about U.S. spying on Israel make the prolonged punishment of Pollard seem especially hypocritical, they only strengthen an already just case to free him on humanitarian grounds.
His life sentence was unfair from the start. It was the longest sentence ever given to a spy like Pollard, who was convicted of passing classified information to an ally and who copped a plea bargain in exchange for leniency, which he never got.
As he begins his 29th year behind bars, some of which included solitary confinement, he is, according to those closest to him, in failing health.
The American Jewish community is nearly united in the belief that enough is enough. Jewish leaders have called on Obama repeatedly, as they did his predecessors, to release Pollard from the North Carolina prison where he has been languishing these many years. Israeli lawmakers have also made a poignant plea for his freedom, with more than 100 Knesset members signing on to a recent letter appealing to the U.S. president.
And U.S. officials who once held key positions, including former CIA director James Woolsey and former U.S. ambassadors to Israel, Samuel Lewis and Thomas Pickering, recently have added their voices to many in the intelligence and diplomatic corps calling for his release, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Pollard’s fate now lies in the hands of President Barack Obama. With or without connections to U.S. spying revelations or an elusive peace deal, it is time for him to do the right thing.