It's an interesting and complex question, which may not, yet, have an answer.
Ask some Israelis, and they’ll tell you he is. He knew that the interests of Israel were being damaged because his bosses were withholding secret information from Israel…information they were required to share with their ally according to signed agreements between the countries.
Ask many Americans, to my great sorrow, even Jewish ones, and they will spout forth misinformation about Pollard. “He committed treason and should rot in hell,” I’ve be told many times. Well, you’re wrong. He wasn’t convicted of treason.
He wasn’t even indicted on treason charges.
By contrast, Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino (Tokyo Rose) WAS convicted of treason and granted a presidential pardon after about 28 years (two years less than Pollard has already served for a crime that carries a standard 2-4 year sentence).
Mildred Gillars actively worked for the Germans during World War II. She was indicted for treason…8 counts of them and convicted on one, and sentenced to 10-30 years. She served 12 and then immediately got parole.
My opinion? Heroes are people who do the amazing under unbelievable conditions. I have a few heroes, maybe even too many to mention. So here’s a quick look at two.
In 1973, when Avigdor Kahalani disobeyed orders to pull back his few remaining tanks rather than be overwhelmed by the oncoming Syrian army, he refused…no, not just refused…he suddenly couldn’t hear the command. He knew that he was the last line of defense, far above tens of thousands of Israelis in the Galilee. As the radio crackled, Kahalani ordered his meager remaining tanks to spread out, and the battle was underway.
Confused by the sudden attack, the Syrian army stopped. They thought they’d marched straight into a huge battalion of Israeli tanks just over the next ridge. All the way from left to right …look how far across they were firing from — just imagine how many Israeli tanks there must have been. In reality, there were fewer than a dozen. Hero, he’ll always be in my eyes, despite anything he did or did not do later in life.
Natan Sharansky — forever and ever my hero. From the minute he forced a KGB agent to jump on and off trains just for the heck of it as they tried to follow him, to the moment he was told by a Soviet guard that he would be free and all he had to do was walk straight across the nearly frozen bridge in front of him. On the other side was Avital and beyond was Israel and still, Natan refused to be under Soviet command. He walked…but not straight. He zigzagged his way across that bridge; always my hero.
Pollard? Not so much, honestly. I want him home in Israel but he had options and he made bad choices. What he should have done long ago, instead of passing that information to Israel illegally, was fly to Israel and say the Americans are being dishonest. I’ve seen the reports they are withholding from you.
He chose a path, a dishonest one. He became a spy. The cause was right; the method wrong. But he paid for his crime — above and beyond anything that was humanly just. America got caught cheating on an ally…they should have had the decency to uphold the plea bargain agreement they accepted and Pollard should have been freed, stripped of his American citizenship, and dumped over the Canadian or Mexican border 25 years ago. He would have been nothing.
Instead, America made him something. What they wanted him to be was a warning to American Jews — God help you if you dare to spy on America. They made him an embarrassment to American Jews, forcing them to declare again and again their allegiance to the goldena medina. Where by rights they should not have to choose, America forces this on them every time Pollard is mentioned in the news.
“You have to stop writing about him. You are embarrassing American Jews,” one person wrote to me. I won’t bother quoting my response.
So no, at this moment, Jonathan Pollard is not a hero, but an abused captive of a dishonest and dishonorable government. On November 20, 2015, he will be released on parole. Not because the Obama government is attempting to appease Israel on Iran — the date was decided 30 years ago. Check the prison records. We all knew about this date long, long ago — long before Iran, long before Obama.
On November 22, if Pollard lands in Israel, yes, we will celebrate, and then we will turn back to our lives; grateful to have him home and grateful to have this tragic and painful episode over.
On November 22 and in the days that follow, the United States will have a choice. Release Pollard fully — not just from prison but from a law that says a parolee may not leave the country for five years after the parole date…let him come home to Israel. Strip him of his citizenship and let him board an El Al plane…or turn him into a hero.
If Israel can stomach dozens of massive demonstrations to celebrate the return of the child-killer Samir Kuntar and other terrorists and murderers, I think Obama can handle a few hours of Israelis singing and cheering. By contrast, we won’t fire into the air to celebrate Pollard’s return; we won’t burn American flags and scream Death to America. We’ll just cry some happy tears, sing a few songs, and go back to work the next day so so happy to be done. If Pollard is allowed to leave.
If Pollard is not allowed to leave, his story will be spread, lifted, published and more. He will be a Prisoner of Zion — as Sharansky was, and many others. He will be the brave one left behind, as Kahalani was.
Is Jonathan Pollard a hero? Well, in the end, the decision rests with the United States.
By the end of November, he’ll be living in Israel, or he will indeed be our hero. If he’s forced to remain in the US, Israeli officials will make visits to him regularly, each to be reported in the news here and abroad. Israelis will continue to demand his release — more than ever now that we’ll have access to him directly. His quotes, his pleas to come home — all will be echoed around the world.
What has been cruel for the last 25 years will become inhumane. Others accused of far more serious crimes were allowed to leave the country well before the five year period ended. Now is the time for Obama to be smart and think with his head, not his hatred.
Americans don’t want Pollard; Pollard doesn’t want America. Take his citizenship and refuse him any rights to reenter — that is enough. Before November 20, I recommend the US government consider carefully what will happen on November 22.
Don’t compound so many past mistakes by turning Jonathan Pollard into the very hero you fear he will be.
Update: A short time ago, it was announced that one of the "victims" of an airstrike today was Samir Kuntar, who quickly returned to terror after being released early from an Israeli prison...this pain too, the US will never have to imagine, never experience.