By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — When President Obama lands here on Wednesday, he may encounter some Israelis staging a hunger strike in support of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American serving a life term in a North Carolina prison for spying for Israel.
But the call for Mr. Pollard’s release will not be restricted to the strident, right-wing protests that have previously greeted American officials.
Instead, it will come from Israel’s dovish president, Shimon Peres, and some of the country’s most respected public figures: Nobel Prize-winning scientists, retired generals, celebrated authors and intellectuals who have signed, along with more than 175,000 other citizens, an online petition appealing for clemency for Mr. Pollard.
After years of being viewed as a somewhat marginal and divisive issue here, the campaign to free Mr. Pollard has become a mainstream crusade. Prominent Israelis are shedding the shame long felt over the affair, one of the most damaging, painful episodes in the annals of the American-Israeli relationship, and recasting it as a humanitarian issue ready to be resolved.
The effort has gathered momentum, and many Israelis consider Mr. Obama’s visit to be the perfect opportunity for a gesture of good will.
The full details of the crime committed by Pollard and Israeli intelligence against the U.S. remain secret, but it appears likely that Pollard gave American secrets on the ultimate line of defense in case of nuclear apocalypse, boomers -- ICBM submarines -- to the Israelis, who traded them to the Soviets. That's really, really bad.
I suppose you could argue: "Well, World War III never got around to happening, so ... no harm, no foul!" But that's not a sound argument.
But, that's naive. The best defense, it turns out, is a good offense. Stay offensive and take offense. Intimidate skeptics with your sheer brass.
P.S., So far, Obama has shown some backbone in not pardoning Pollard:
In an interview shown Thursday on Israel’s Channel 2, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Pollard had “committed a very serious crime” and was “serving his time.” He said he was sympathetic to Israelis’ emotions and would ensure that the usual rules of review were applied in his case.
But he added, “I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately.”
Keep it up, Mr. President.
P.P.S. Pollard, by the way, is not a selfless martyr to any higher cause. He wanted money for drugs and jewelry. He's a horrible person. The Wikipedia article on him has a good depiction of his character, such as attempting to sell U.S. secrets to Pakistan on multiple occasions. Here's my favorite bit of Pollardania, on Pollard as an adolescent:
Pollard made his first trip to Israel in 1970, as part of a science program visiting the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. While there, he was hospitalized after a fight with another student. One Weizmann scientist remembered Pollard as leaving behind "a reputation of being an unstable troublemaker, the worst case of this kind in the history of the summer camp".
P.P.P.S. Anyway, the point is not Pollard, it's how widespread shameless Pollardmania has become in Israel that a member of the Nobel-certified Global Great and Good like Shimon Peres has come down with it. The usual explanation for this kind of seemingly knuckleheaded obnoxiousness is that "Israelis are their own worst enemies."
And yet, Israel, which has plenty of real enemies, seems to be doing quite well. So, maybe Israelis aren't their own worst enemies. Maybe this tendency to demand gestures of good will from the victims of your bad will serves useful purposes? Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Israel's success?