Jonathan Pollard and millions of Jews are hoping President Barack Obama will free him from jail when the president awards visiting President Shimon Peres the U.S Presidential Freedom Medal on Wednesday.
In the cold world of politics, the “Jewish vote” may be the only factor that determines the fate of Pollard, who has been languishing in prison for more than 26 years.
With all polls showing that President Obama has 60-64 percent of the Jewish vote, as opposed to 78 percent four years ago, his political calculations of how many votes he can gain for Pollard’s freedom probably will be more influential than humanitarian considerations.
However, the act of working on behalf of a foreign country, even if an ally, claws deeply into the skin of American patriotism, and American Jews are far from united on whether the U.S. president should exercise his authority and pardon Pollard, despite his deteriorating health.
Pollard was sentenced to life for a crime that usually carries a punishment of 2 to 4 years in jail – passing on classified information on behalf of a foreign country.
He was not convicted of spying, but mainstream media continue to call him a “spy for Israel.” The information Pollard handed over while working at the Pentagon is believed to have involved the Iraqi nuclear reactor, which Israel subsequently destroyed in a bombing raid. The information was not damaging to U.S. security, and an increasing number of American officials have said that Pollard did not get a fair trial and was punished unfairly.
The award of the Freedom Medal to President Peres will give him a prime time opportunity to free Pollard. Peres is arriving with a petition from 70,000 Israelis, backed by media support from the entire political spectrum, for freeing Pollard.
"We urge you to use your exceptional diplomatic position to work for the immediate release of Jonathan before you receive your medal, which would otherwise make a mockery of Israel," the petition states. Signatories include notable left-wing authors Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua.
President Peres said he “will do everything possible”, but made no promises.
Rumors, sometimes unreliable and sometimes based on off-the-record official sources, have been flying for months and saying that President Obama will wait for a politically opportune moment to free Pollard.
If he wants to do so, he might prefer to wait until he gets closer to the November elections, but doing that could boomerang because of the obvious Machiavellian political ploy. In this sense, it may be preferable to take advantage of a more logical moment this week and give Pollard his freedom when Peres receives the Freedom Medallion.
One political risk in freeing Obama could be a backlash from “Mom, apple pie and American flag” citizens who consider Pollard a traitor.