Kol Yisrael Radio interviewed MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp, formerly known as the Labor Party) as the news unfolded last week that Jonathan Pollard would be released from prison by November. The choice of interviewee appeared to be apt: Shai heads the Knesset Lobby for the Release of Jonathan Pollard. From the moment he opened his mouth, however, he gave cause to wonder whether he favored, or opposed, the efforts to secure Pollard's release.
Radio anchorman Aryeh Golan began by asking: "Why do you think the Americans are so unwilling to release Pollard?" – to which Shai promptly replied, "For the same reason we [Israel] are so unwilling to release Mordechai Vanunu."
Vanunu revealed details of Israel's alleged nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986, was sentenced to prison, and – because he violated the terms of his parole agreement by granting interviews to foreign journalists and the like – is still not permitted to leave Israel.
Any comparison between Pollard and Vanunu is totally unacceptable, says famous Israeli attorney Yoram Sheftel. "Pollard gave Israel information that the United States itself was obligated to give Israel," Sheftel told Arutz Sheva. "Today, that information has no intelligence value. It is outrageous that a Knesset Member who heads the lobby for Pollard gives justification for the decision by the White House and the Parole Commission [not to release Pollard early and to prevent him from leaving the country until the year 2020]."
To put it simply, Vanunu was convicted of treason, while Pollard was not even charged with such a crime.
In another radio interview, Shai was clearly critical of the man for whose release he is ostensibly working. "It's clear that we don't know the whole story," he told Radio Kol BaRamah, "and it's clear that we don't know the nature of the security materials that [Pollard] stole and gave us. And in general, it's hard for us to grasp how a man could betray his homeland… He tried to sell materials to other countries, not just Israel…"
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, a former member of the Pollard Knesset Lobby, called on Shai to apologize: "I categorically reject what Nachman Shai said, and even more so speaking in his capacity as head of the Pollard Lobby… Pollard is a Jewish Israeli citizen who acted on behalf of Israel's security more than many others, and his contribution to Israeli security is great… Any attempt to malign him is simply incorrect, and I expect MK Shai to retract his words – and if not, why does he need the job [of heading the lobby]? Let him give it to one of many others who want it."
In fact, contrary to popular misinformation, Jonathan Pollard was accused not of treason, nor of passing secret information to foreign countries other than Israel. He was indicted on one count only: passing classified information to an ally – Israel – without intent to harm the United States.
When he resigned in 1994, former NSA Director Bobby Ray Inman publicly admitted that critical information that Pollard had given to Israel on the warfare capabilities of its Arab neighbors had been deliberately and illegally withheld from Israel. The reason: retaliation for Israel's 1981 strike on Iraq's nuclear reactor.
Even the late U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whose secret memo to the sentencing judge got Pollard his life sentence (in violation of the plea agreement to which the prosecution had agreed) later in life admitted that the Pollard affair was actually a "minor matter" – as opposed to a high-level espionage scandal with cataclysmic damage.