For love of money, not Israel: Will Obama cave in to Israel’s demands to free spy Jonathan Pollard?

Israeli President Shimon Peres has arrived in Washington, where President Barack Obama will pin the Medal of Freedom on him. But that’s not the only trophy Peres will be seeking from Obama.

Haaretz reports that Peres will arrive “equipped with a signed petition calling for the release of Israeli convicted spy Jonathan Pollard,” and that “Peres said the matter will be discussed with Obama in private.”

It was 27 years ago, when Peres was prime minister of Israel and Obama was a community organizer in Chicago, that Pollard, a US Naval intelligence officer was caught spying on the United States for Israel.

“It was the worst case that I have ever seen out of all the spy cases and the reason it was, and the reason it was so devastating is that this man is the only man I know who committed espionage who could have been stopped from the very beginning,” said Ron Olive, the Navy counterintelligence officer who cracked the case, speaking on the BBC World Service’s program Witness on 7 June.

Jonathan Pollard stole so many documents, so highly classified, more so than any other spy in the history of this country in such a short time,” Olive said.

Over 18 months, Pollard spirited highly classified US government documents to an apartment, where a secretary from the Israeli embassy would copy them before Pollard checked them back in.

Pollard was formally arrested in November 1985, after he and his wife unsuccessfully tried to gain asylum at the Israeli embassy. He pleaded guilty to spying for Israel and was sentenced to life in prison in March 1987. Pollard’s wife Ann served three years in prison as an accomplice.

Zionist hero

The Israeli government and Zionist groups have campaigned for Pollard’s release, marketing him as a man who did what he did out of concern for Israel and putting pressure on Obama and his predecessors to free him.

Olive doesn’t buy that: “Pollard is an extremely intelligent person. He was the type of guy who could talk your shirt off your back and make you believe anything he said.

An example of that, is that even after US government investigators found piles of secret documents hidden around Pollard’s apartment, FBI agents at first bought his story that he had brought the documents home to work on them and absent-mindedly forgotten about them.

For love of money, not Israel

What motivated Pollard who received tens of thousands of dollars from Israel? In Olive’s mind the answer is clear: “What was motivating Jonathan Pollard was the number one thing that has motivated people to turn traitors and betray their country for decades and centuries: greed, money. And now though, now he pretends that it was for the love of Israel only, and now he has tens of thousands of supporters trying to get him out of jail.

One of those supporters will be at the White House receiving the highest civilian honor from the US president. The question is whether Obama – who is desperate to ingratiate himself with Israel and its US chorus – will become one too.

Writing at Antiwar, Grant Smith thinks Obama will cave, and do so even though all the evidence is that despite the embarrassment of Pollard, Israel continues to spy on the United States, and get away with it.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.