At this year’s White House menorah lighting, President Obama announced the release of Alan Gross from a Cuban prison, but he remains silent on Jonathan Pollard.

This year, U.S. President Barack Obama celebrated Chanukah at the White House on the second night of the holiday by pushing his political agenda, namely, the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S.

More troubling than the conflating of a religious holiday with politics, however, is what these politics seem to reveal regarding the president’s priorities.

Perpetrating a Double Standard

Obama began his Chanukah speech by announcing that on that same day, December 17, the Americans had negotiated the release of Alan Gross, an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), from Cuban prison. After serving five years there for attempting to provide Cubans, and Cuban Jews, with improved internet access, Gross was let free as part of an overhaul in U.S.-Cuban political relations.

Though the Jewish community is relieved by Gross’ release, it cannot be overlooked that he was imprisoned in Cuba for exactly one-fifth of the amount of time that Jonathan Pollard has spent in mostly maximum-security confinement in the U.S.

Pollard has been in prison for more than 29 years and is the only person to ever serve a life sentence for passing U.S. intelligence to one of its own allies, Israel. He was hospitalized earlier this month, and his health continues to deteriorate. More than 40 senators and congressmen have urged Obama to grant Pollard clemency, and there have been ongoing petitions to release him for over a decade. Yet the president remains silent on this issue. Many people, senators and congressmen included, have called Pollard’s punishment cruel and unusual – even anti-Semitic, according to some, including former CIA head James Woolsey. Pollard was prohibited from attending his father’s funeral in 2011.

Obama Values Diplomacy with Cuba over Israel

Obama’s actions seem to reveal that he would sooner bow to the prospect of renewing relations with Cuba, an enemy of the U.S., than to strengthening ties with Israel, a strong ally. In recent months, Obama also released five Taliban leaders, three Cuban prisoners indicted for murder and two criminals from Oregon.

Demonstrators hold signs of Jonathan Pollard as they attend a protest calling for his release. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Demonstrators hold signs of Jonathan Pollard as they attend a protest calling for his release. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Given that the campaign for Pollard’s release has been an international effort over two decades in the making, one organization working on his behalf is hoping to test the president’s seeming double standard this holiday season. On December 19, was launched, along with a formal petition asking Obama to release Pollard during the traditional days of pardon, the intervening days between Christmas and January 1. This time last year, Israel approached Obama with a petition signed by 106 out of 120 members of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) asking for Pollard’s release, including Arab-Israeli members, but to no avail. Eight former leading US security officials and statesmen with firsthand knowledge of Pollard’s case also asked for his parole last month but were denied.

Compiled by United with Israel Staff

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