Israel Greets Report on U.S. Spying with Pollard Comparisons

Reactions to a report that the FBI bugged the Israeli Embassy in Washington

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A New York Times report today on the case of former FBI translator Shamai Leibowitz, who was sentenced to 20 months in prison last year for sharing classified documents with a blogger, includes two revelations: the identity of the blogger (Richard Silverstein) and the nature of the leak (transcripts of conversations caught on FBI wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy in Washington). While the U.S. has been spying on Israel ever since its founding and Israel, in turn, has extensive intelligence operations in the U.S., The Times explains, gathering intelligence against close allies is always "politically delicate."

For something so delicate, however, the response to The Times article in the Israeli press has been notably subdued. Most major papers, at least as of this writing, are dryly summarizing the report that the U.S. spied on Israel rather than issuing commentary or expressing surprise at the espionage. The news portal Walla! reports that Israeli officials aren't fazed by the news and are not planning on confronting the U.S. over the revelations.

Still, one undercurrent of opinion has surfaced: indignation that the U.S. can eavesdrop on Israel and sentence Leibowitz to 20 months in prison while meting out a more severe punishment to Jonathan Pollard, the former Navy intelligence analyst who was convicted in 1985 of spying for Israel and is now serving a life term in a North Carolina prison. "While the U.S. routinely spies on its ally Israel, it is also extraordinarily harsh in its treatment of Jonathan Pollard," the settler news site Arutz Sheva writes. The Jerusalem-based blog Israel Matzav urges Israel to "point out to the Obama administration that while Leibowitz is going free in a few months ... Jonathan Pollard continues to languish in an American jail with a life sentence. The injustice screams to Heaven." The Israeli embassy in Washington has yet to comment on the Times report.

Commenters at Israeli news sites are also joining the debate. "We always innately knew that America did this, spy on Israel and other allies, but now that it's out in the open how does America justify continuing to hold Pollard in Jail?" asked one person at Haaretz. "Pollard is an American citizen who betrayed his country," another retorted. And the discussion is extending beyond Israel. "Should revelation of U.S. spying on Israel impact U.S. refusal to grant leniency to Pollard?" asks David Shtulman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor on Twitter. So far, there's no indication that it will.

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