Pollard? Maybe.

The New Republic’s Marty Peretz, of all people, has written an angry piece making the case against clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

MARTY PERETZ?!? If as ardent and angry a Zionist as Marty Peretz opposes clemency for Pollard, it is hard for anyone to his left to disagree, especially when so much of what he says echoes my own feelings. 

And, yet... 

When it came to Jonathan Pollard, I used to say I was with the Jewish War Veterans; Pollard is a traitor to his country, and he can rot in jail his entire life as far as I'm concerned. If he loved Israel so much (1) he shouldn't have taken money for his efforts, and (2) he should have renounced his US citizenship and made aliyah.

And, let us not forget, as Peretz reminds us, that Pollard also spied for Pakistan.

Yes, the details of Pollard’s plea arrangement and sentencing raise questions, and yes, Pollard's sentence may have been somewhat disproportionate and, given he was spying for an ally, perhaps a minor injustice was done

But, given his crime, I'm not going to lose any sleep over the fact that some other traitorous scumbag got a shorter sentence than he did; it's maybe #438th on my list of injustices needing righting when I get the time, which I won't.

Moreover, like Peretz, I suspect that most of those who do lose sleep over Pollard really believe that he did nothing wrong, which is a concept I find personally repugnant. I still remember Shelly Silver once sending out a press release implying exactly that, only to walk it back within 24 hours.

I remember nearly coming to blows over these issues with a woman I met at a restaurant opening in 1993, who advocated “Justice for Jonathan Pollard.” I told her Justice for Jonathan Pollard required that he spend a lot more time in jail.

But, it is now 2010 and that essential requirement of justice has surely been met.

So, while I may be far closer to the Zionist left than Peretz, I still must acknowledge that whatever prophylactic purpose was served by Pollard’s sentence has long been achieved. Pollard was sentenced in 1987! He’s been in jail so long that no one is going to take his release as a sign that his crime has paid. Even those with the hardest of hearts must admit that a quarter century’s incarceration pretty much gives one maximum incentive not to commit the crime.

I see no great moral imperative to release Pollard, but at this point, I think there is little great national security imperative to keep him locked up. The great questions have been pushed aside by the smaller ones. The arguments over clemency at this point can be made by weighing less compelling questions like rachmonis, unintended consequences, and what can be gotten in the bargain.

I share Peretz’s fear about the hero’s welcome Pollard would probably get in Israel. There is an easy way to deal with that; the terms of the clemency could be such that Pollard could be denied the ability to get a passport. I suppose some  might also take the opportunity to give Pollard such a welcome here, but it would almost be worth the price just see which groups and figures have that much chutzpah.

Additionally, or in the alternative, Pollard might serve as a bargaining chip to prevent expanded settlement activity,
especially in remote area far from the Israeli border. Such a deal, struck in a public or semi-public manner (say, a cable discretely leaked to Assange), would certainly mute the celebration on Pollard’s release on Israel’s militant far right. It would also serve a productive long term purpose far more important to Israel‘s future: ensuring the continued survival of Israel as a state which is both Jewish and democratic.

If this was the deal on the table, we should make the trade.

However, I suspect that if push came to shove on such an option, the Israelis would prove as they have for decades that their purported concern for poor Jonathan Pollard is not worth the actual expenditure of any effort. And while I believe that a freeze on such settlement activity is strongly in Israel’s long term interest, I would have to agree.

Jonathan Pollard himself is not worth much effort.