“All we ask is that you feel Jewish, because then you will do what one Jew does when another Jew is in trouble. You will help.” -- Moshe Dayan

Twenty-three years in federal prison for passing intelligence documents to a friendly ally is, by any objective measure, excessive for anyone convicted of such an offense. Yet, Jonathan Pollard is now entering his third

This president could actually surprise us.

decade of a life sentence for handing classified information to Israel. The Naval Intelligence analyst-turned-spy-for-Israel has been pleading his case for clemency since about the time George W. Bush’s father was in the White House, but to no avail.

Now that GW is poised to leave office, the movement has begun anew to implore the president to release Pollard via the traditional year-end presidential pardon. Since departing presidents are apt to grant more frequent (and more controversial) pardons on their way out of office, the consensus opinion among Pollard’s numerous advocates is that this is his best chance in years. It will be a tough sell to GW, who has granted comparatively few presidential pardons, but it’s worth a try.

Yet, this president could actually surprise us at the last minute and let Pollard go.

Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York has formally asked the president to grant Pollard clemency. After delving into the oft-repeated premise that Pollard’s legal counsel was inept, the Congressman put forth a very simple and obvious reason for releasing Pollard - he’s been in prison a lot longer than anyone else in recent history charged with a similar offense.

From Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner wrote GW an impassioned plea for Pollard, imploring the president to show “mercy and forgiveness” towards him. Given the president’s own deeply held religious convictions, and his reverence for conservative clergy invoking the Almighty, the “mercy and forgiveness” angle might just work.

Regardless, Jonathan Pollard should have been released years ago. The usual sentence for passing intelligence on to an ally, especially a friendly one, is at most ten years, with the typical time served between two and four years. Robert Kim, who worked in Naval Intelligence a decade later, also passed classified documents to South Korea, another friendly ally. He received a nine-year sentence. Yet Pollard was slapped with a life sentence, the first seven years of which were spent in solitary confinement.

As a Naval Intelligence analyst with high security clearance, Pollard had access to classified intelligence dealing specifically with Arab and Islamic nations, and their proxies such as the PLO. He gave his Israeli handlers classified information on the military capabilities of every country from Morocco to Pakistan, including Syrian and Iraqi nuclear and biological research, Libyan air defense systems, and Iranian radar stations.

Much of this information should have been shared with Israel anyway under the 1983 Memorandum of Understanding, initiated by President Ronald Reagan. For reasons that are still considered classified, the government withheld such intelligence from Israel, leaving vital gaps in Israeli intelligence that Pollard was partially able to fill. The most crucial intelligence that Pollard passed to Israel were satellite reconnaissance photos of PLO headquarters in Tunisia, which the Israeli Air Force bombed shortly afterwards.

Israel utilized whatever relevant information it got from Pollard for its own military defenses. None of this information was transferred to another country. None of America’s enemies at the time ever acquired it, either indirectly or clandestinely, from Israel. No American agent, soldier, official or civilian was killed or compromised as a result of Pollard’s actions. Nor was Pollard ever charged with the capital offense of treason. He was only indicted on one charge of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.

Pollard received the same sentence as Aldrich Ames.

Yet, Jonathan Pollard received the same sentence as Aldrich Ames, the high-ranking CIA officer who gave the Soviet Union information on eleven American spies in that country, whom the Soviets subsequently executed. Or John Walker, the Naval Warrant Officer who sold classified information to the Soviets during the Vietnam War, which resulted in an upsurge of US bombers shot down and prompted the seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1968. Or Albert Sombolay, an American soldier who spied for Iraq during the Gulf War - an act of high treason - but was only sentenced to nineteen years.

However draconian Pollard’s sentence may be, at this point his fate rests in the hands of no one else but George W. Bush. It will take some convincing. Who in the Jewish world has the best chance to convince the president to release Jonathan Pollard? The one he admires most.

Former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky.