The topic comes up every time a prime minister flies to the United States and meets with the president or vice-president: Jonathan Pollard’s release, the American man who spied for Israel and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Any Israeli politician who does not demand his release is viewed as anti-patriotic.
The whole issue became even more complicated in terms of Israel’s internal politics when Pollard found God, and from then on the kippah [religious skullcap] sits firmly on his head. Now he is perceived not only as a patriot but as a right-winger. Therefore, anyone who does not demand his release is necessarily a left-winger, God forbid.
Israeli politics also has an American lobby, as is customary. A senator here, a CIA chief there, letters to the President in Washington. This week, they even involved Hillary Clinton [during the Secretary of State’s visit to Israel] in the matter in a press conference that was convened after her meeting with the prime minister. And the Secretary of State, just like all the presidents, said that the answer to the request for release will be one big “no.”
Is Pollard entitled to be released? By American criterion, definitely yes. The Americans have released spies more dangerous than Pollard, and it would seem to be self-evident to release a junior spy like him. But Pollard had chutzpah [insolence]: he spied for a friendly country, a country that has never arrested and incarcerated a spy for the United States. Therefore, there is no wiggle room for bargaining as with Russia and China. If Israel really wants to free Pollard, that’s the method: find a spy of theirs here, and bargain like Putin.
By Israeli criteria, there certainly is no basis for releasing Pollard. Now that he is a Kippah-wearing patriot, many have forgotten that he was simply a greedy fellow who stole documents and tried to sell them to the highest bidder. To anyone who has forgotten, Israel was not high on Pollard’s financial priority list. But that is another story.
Israel caught someone they viewed as a spy: Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu, in case someone has forgotten, was never really a spy. Just like Anat Kamm is not a spy. [Kamm received a 4.5-year sentence for passing classified information to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau. [The Anat Kamm-Uri Blau affair refers to a leak of thousands of classified Israel Defense Forces (IDF) documents by the then-Israeli soldier Anat Kamm to the Haaretz journalist Uri Blau. The information leaked suggested that the military had defied a court ruling against assassinating wanted militants and fighters in the West Bank who could potentially be arrested safely.] Vanunu worked in the nuclear reactor in Dimona, and decided to publicize what he learned at work. He sold his wares to a British paper and not, for example, to Hezbollah. When he was caught, he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 18 years behind bars.
There were those who thought, then and afterwards, that Vanunu was judged too harshly. In contrast to Pollard, Vanunu only dealt with publicity, not spying. But Israel judged Vanunu severely, according to the letter of the law. And even then some: a lawbreaker is entitled to receive a sentence reduction of one-third for good behavior in prison. Vanunu met all the “good behavior criteria,” but never received the one-third time off.
And after Vanunu finished serving his sentence, the government continued to conspire against him: he was prevented from leaving the country. He was not allowed to meet with journalists. In general, Israel connives against Vanunu long after he served his time. By these criteria, the Americans are treating Pollard very fairly: they are carrying out his sentence [life imprisonment] without adding to it, as Israel did, and continues to do, to Vanunu.
Were Vanunu’s actions proper? The court ruled against him, and punished him severely. Were Pollard’s actions proper? If we take a lenient approach, he is like Vanunu. So what kind of Israeli Chutzpah [insolence] is it, to demand more for Pollard than what was meted out to Vanunu?
This [dissonance] is not by chance: our political life is rife with [double-standards], expecting preferential treatment for ourselves while we estrange our fellowman. The ultra-Orthodox are entitled to special consideration in comparison to the secular. Hundreds of [Jewish] settlements were built in the state since its establishment, while the Arabs have less settlements than the fingers in one hand. A French Jew may live here, but an Arab who fled during wartime cannot. To us, it is permitted; to them, forbidden.
That is Israel. Its throat emits cries of despair over equality; it even mentioned equality in its Proclamation of Independence and there are some old laws referencing this word. Yet [in practice,] inequality is rife. In every domain. Thus, those who refused to pardon Vanunu and continue to harass him, are not embarrassed to adopt a double standard and demand preferential treatment for Pollard.