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 a bad argument.
Therefore, you might think that the Israeli attitude toward the Pollard Affair would be: "We shall never speak of this again." In terms of the manners and morals that your mother taught you, what Israeli society is doing in rubbing America's nose in their crime against America sounds like lunacy.
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. Keep it up, Mr. President.