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Make Pollard finish his sentence

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In his book “The Joys of Yiddish,” Leo Rosten, struggling to define the concept of “chutzpah” to Americans, toyed with a bunch of English expressions: “gall, brazen nerve, presumption plus arrogance.” In the end, he concluded no single word sufficed. Chutzpah, he wrote, was “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

If Rosten were around today, he might offer another definition: a country that sends a spy to steal millions of pages of national-security secrets from its best friend in the world and then demands his release as a sign of friendship. That's exactly what happened recently when President Obama visited Israel, only to be berated over the imprisonment of Tel Aviv's self-described “master spy,” Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard has been in jail since 1985, when he was arrested for using his job as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy to plunder classified documents, which he sold to Israel for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sentenced to life in prison, he's scheduled for parole in November 2015.

Both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are believed to have demanded Pollard's release in private meetings with Obama. Members of the Knesset were so open about their intentions to rough up Obama on the subject of Pollard that the president declined an offer to speak there.

Deprived of a chance to shout at Obama face to face, Knesset member Danny Danon instead took to the pages of USA Today, where his op-ed piece called Pollard's jailing “an (sic) historic wrong.”

Putting aside the fact that a lot of Americans might reasonably expect they've already earned some trust by giving Israel $3 billion a year (nearly half the U.S. budget for foreign military aid), the clamor for Pollard's release begs the question: Why are the Israelis insisting that the future of relations with the United States rests on the immediate release of a convicted spy who is just 19 months from possible parole?

The answer is that Israeli officials don't want Pollard released because he's served his time. They want him released because they think he didn't do anything wrong and they want Washington to publicly admit it.

But releasing Pollard would be a giant mistake. Pollard is neither a naive kid who blundered into trouble for unthinkingly passing a harmless secret or two to an ally, nor an innocent Jewish victim persecuted by an insidious network of anti-Semites within the U.S. government.

He is, rather, a mercenary who looted U.S. national security for personal gain.

It cost millions, perhaps billions, of dollars to replace the intelligence systems that Pollard compromised, including a blueprint for U.S. electronic interceptions around the world. And much of the material Pollard stole (including information on how the United States tracked Soviet submarines) wound up in Moscow — perhaps because the KGB pilfered it from Israel, perhaps because the Israelis swapped it for Jewish emigrants from Russia.

If it's OK for Pollard to dump documents to Israel, why isn't it OK for Bradley Manning to do the same to WikiLeaks?

Glenn Garvin is a columnist for The Miami Herald.

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