Evidence is growing that U.S. President Joseph Biden deliberately “took the hit” in a political move for his boss, President Barack Obama, last week over the painful issue of freedom for long-time imprisoned Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard. Obama's unwillingness to grant clemency to Pollard, long a sore point for the American Jewish community, was one that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu officially raised publicly earlier this year.
The question of Biden's true position is especially relevant, given the fact that the former senator has in the past expressed support for Pollard's release via commutation of his sentence to time served. In a 2007 interview with Shalom TV, Biden went on record to plainly state that he supported “leniency” for Pollard. As a result, last week's flip-flop is seen as an exercise in Democratic politics. It is not clear whether Biden's original statement of support for Pollard was also a political exercise as well, since he was also campaigning at the time of the 2007 interview as well; hence the question of the vice president's true position – if in fact he really has one.
In response to a question about the issue at a meeting with 15 Florida rabbis last week, Biden was quoted as saying, “President Obama was considering clemency but I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.'” He added, “If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.”
New York Times journalist Helene Cooper, who broke the story, contended that it appeared that Biden was “taking the punch” for his boss on the issue which increasingly concerns the Jewish world in recent years.
With America's national elections coming up next year, the White House is revving up its re-election machine.
It is only recently, as the Arab Spring explodes its bonds and creates new political realities, has the Obama White House appeared to realize that Israel may be the only stable friend it has in the Middle East.
Biden, whose warm contacts in the Jewish community are legendary, has been recruited to reactivate relations that have chilled with questions over Obama's term-long ties to the Arab world, and his nearly continuous snubs of Israel's prime minister. Nevertheless, it would appear that on the issue of Jonathan Pollard may remain a sticking point, despite the Israeli agent's failing health, and more than 26 years served in prison for a crime that generally is punished by a two to four-year jail sentence.
Pollard was convicted in 1986 on a single charge of passing classified information to an ally, Israel. The case never went to trial. Instead, he agreed to a plea bargain that was later abrogated by the federal government minutes before sentencing. Instead, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole, justified by the judge with a last-minute memorandum in which Pollard was suddenly charged with treason – a charge which positioned America's ally as an enemy state.