Jonathan Pollard: A Valuable Pawn?

The word on the street (and in the tabloid ink) is that Jonathan Pollard may soon receive a pardon from President Donald Trump, and then relocate to Israel.  That story has made the rounds before, but perhaps this time things may end differently.

Pollard received a disproportionate sentence for his espionage activity under circumstances that suggested highly questionable behavior on the part of the United States government and the Israeli government as well.

I am not a great fan of Jonathan Pollard; my primary reason for wanting to see his current movement restrictions removed is that his arrival in Israel as a free man would be a definitive slap in the face to those individuals, living and dead, who asserted their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agendas to prosecute and incarcerate him.

The reasons for my lack of enthusiasm regarding Pollard are no doubt colored by the fact that following his arrest, I and other Jewish people employed by the U.S. Department of Defense felt a heightened degree of scrutiny regarding our security clearances; the subsequent emergence in the news of David Tenenbaum's experiences in that regard gave us strong reason to at least suspect that our perceptions were not unfounded, notwithstanding some lingering questions regarding the Tenenbaum affair.

Personal experiences aside, Pollard himself has given me little reason to join his fan club.  His case file shows that he often disregarded the good advice of his handlers, and was known to be given to fantasies and delusions of being a Mossad super spymaster. 

Pollard and his supporters attribute his misdeeds to his supposed love of Israel, but that explanation is called into question by the fact that he and his then-wife were paid significant sums of money and other lagniappes for their services.  He apparently also explored (if not consummated) transactions with "customers" other than Israel.  The business imperative seems to have played no less a role in Pollard's actions than any affinity towards Israel.

[If you wish to talk about love of Israel, a far better role model would be my wife's grandfather, who walked away from a secure and comfortable position as the cantor in Washington, D.C.'s largest synagogue for more than two decades, and moved to an ill-heated in the winter and sweltering in the summer Jerusalem apartment in 1950, a time when there was rationing of food, fuel, and other necessities there; he could have sat in the Knesset had he been willing to renounce his American citizenship (as was required at the time).].

Spying is an inherently dirty business.  Once remuneration is received, the spy has sold not only the intangible information delivered to the foreign government, but also himself or herself, and is effectively owned by the paying customer; the foreign government that tendered payment has sufficient information to blackmail and coerce the spy it has purchased.  It is all but impossible for someone to be "temporarily" engaged in espionage if he or she has received anything in excess of insignificant out-of-pocket business outlays such as telephone calls, photocopying expenses, or taxicab fare.

Anne Henderson Pollard, Jonathan's then-wife who served prison time in connection with the espionage, now lives in Israel; Since my relocation to Israel I have yet to meet her personally (a distinct possibility, inasmuch as she and I now have some mutual acquaintances).  Her hands were not clean in the matter, and my main empathies for her are because her plea deal was wired to Jonathan's; she may well have received less severe punishment had Jonathan better fulfilled his part of the bargain.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, Jonathan Pollard is a hero on the Israeli "street."  It is not unusual to see Israeli schoolchildren express solidarity with Pollard in classroom projects. 

Jonathan Pollard has been a valuable hostage to American presidents from the time of his arrest until the present, but his shelf life is not unlimited.  His current wife, Esther, is now seriously ill with breast cancer, and if she succumbs to her disease then she (and, by extension, Jonathan) would become a martyr (as would Jonathan if he were to die before his current movement restrictions are lifted).

Having voluntarily commoditized himself by playing the espionage game, Jonathan Pollard is now a U.S. government asset in President Donald Trump's armamentarium.  The President certainly knows how to make deals with the tangible and intangible assets under his control.

As recently demonstrated, President Trump is quite adept at exercising his Constitutional prerogative "to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States."  His recent 18 February 2020 tranche of pardons and commutations was a brilliant political rope-a-dope move.  Now, all of the lefties are being offered the bait of complaining that the pardons are contrary to law and order, and that the sentences have effectively been made too lenient by the President's actions.  If they take the bait (as some already seem to be doing), then they would be left open to being associated with de Blasio's and Cuomo's so-called "bail reform."

Israeli national elections are coming up in less than two weeks.  If Trump wishes to boost Benjamin Netanyahu's (or any other contender's) standing among the electorate he can remove Jonathan Pollard's current restrictions in a manner to give the Israeli candidate of his choice a portion of the credit.

I am not taking or placing bets one way or the other, but Jonathan Pollard's arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport in the next few days would not astonish me in the least.

Kenneth H. Ryesky, a freelance writer currently based in Israel, is an attorney who has taught business law and taxation at Queens College CUNY for more than two decade.  He formerly served as a Contracting Officer and as an Analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. 

If you experience technical problems, please write to