It's Israel's latest farce - 'When Shalit met Pollard'

By Nathan Jeffay, November 17, 2011
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A month ago today, Gilad Shalit walked free, and it has not taken long for his tragic story to become thoroughly exploited. Advocates for Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in America for spying for Israel, are jumping on the Shalit bandwagon.

Pollard's wife Esther has long eyed the Shalit campaign with bitter envy, and now wants to swoop in and make her husband the new Shalit. "If the public is capable of ignoring Pollard… but devoted heart and soul to returning Shalit home, its concern for Shalit is as corrupt as its lack of concern for Pollard," she wrote last year.

Esther Pollard now demands that the Israeli public and government employ the "same determination, effort, infrastructure and focus" to free her husband as it did for Shalit.

The argument is everywhere. Former congressman Matt Salmon wrote in the Jerusalem Post: "Now that the campaign for Gilad Shalit is over, Israelis and friends of Israel should redirect that focus to winning the release of Jonathan Pollard."

Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin even claims that Israelis have already adopted this way of thinking. "After the Shalit deal, the people of Israel expect Pollard to return to his home," he said after a meeting with the US ambassador to Israel. The Pollard lobby on Facebook wants users who had Shalit as their profile picture, as a gesture of solidarity to change the image to Pollard.

It is like comparing famine to a croissant shortage

The seeds for this strange pantomime starring Shalit and Pollard were sown over recent months. In the most staggering example, tens of thousands of students in religious schools memorised verses from the Bible dedicating the spiritual reward to "Shalit and Pollard." They approached their task very earnestly. "I'm sure our learning will help bring Jonathan Pollard and Gilad Shalit home. They have been in prison too long," one young participant, Yehuda Ohayon, told a journalist at the project's concluding party.

Now, even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unable to resist making the Shalit-Pollard connection. Talking in the Knesset about moving forward from the Shalit deal he said: "I want to tell you and the entire people of Israel, I never, not for a moment, forget Jonathan Pollard, who has been in jail in the United States for 26 years. We will continue to do everything we can to bring him to Israel - and we will not cease to try to obtain information about the fate of our missing soldiers."

All of this is somewhat like comparing famine in Africa to a croissant shortage in Hampstead.

Pollard was an American intelligence analyst who stole reams of classified documents and passed information to Israel. He was given a life sentence by a transparent justice system in a free country. Everybody knows where he is held; he gets all the medical attention he needs, receives visitors and has contact with the outside world - and is scheduled for release four years on Monday.

Shalit, by contrast, was snatched by a militant organisation which has a track record of murdering Israelis and which runs Gaza as a terror state. No sentence was handed down, nobody knew where he was held, and the Red Cross was refused visits.

There was never a release date and the intimation was that, if Israel did not do what Hamas wanted, he would return in a coffin. And let us not forget, until we actually saw him walk a month ago, nobody could really be sure he was still alive.

There are many people in Israel and around the Jewish world who want Pollard freed, and they are entitled to argue their point. But by piggybacking the Shalit case they make a mockery of the genuine panic for Shalit's well-being that Israelis and diaspora Jews felt and expressed.

They caricature the raw emotion that caused people to take to the streets and insist that the soldier came home - anything to avoid the tragic fate of Ron Arad, the air force officer missing since 1988.

In short, they reduce the seriousness of the hell to which Hamas subjected the Shalits and Israel as a whole.

How can we, as Jews, speak in the same language about Hamas's inhumane tactic of abducting Shalit and the situation of a man imprisoned by due process in the country that is the leader of the free world?

It is ironic that the Shalit-Pollard parallel is most popular on the Israeli settler-right, which is always keenest to emphasise the brutality of Hamas and argue it must not be legitimised with any form of negotiation or contact.

When one draws parallels between Shalit's captivity and Pollard's imprisonment it puts Hamas on the same page as the United States. It is not only disingenuous, in ignoring the massive differences between the two men's cases, but supremely irresponsible in its false equivalence.

Last updated: 11:23am, November 17 2011