Israel's Abandonment of Jonathan Pollard

Avraham Weiss - The Jewish Western Bulletin (Vancouver B.C.) - October 8, 1992


- What could be worse than solitary confinement? Solitary confinement as inflicted on Jonathan Pollard.

A few weeks ago, one of Jonathan's guards threw his kippah to the floor, spread him against the wall and squeezed his testicles. Another tore his teffilin to shreds. His kosher food is regularly served to him rotten and inedible. Solitary confinement for Jonathan Pollard is a hellish world of fear and terror.

What could be worse than solitary confinement as inflicted on Jonathan Pollard? The pain of having been abandoned by the very nation he had assisted. It is one thing to be thrown into solitude by one's captors, it is quite another to have it done by one's friends.

When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was last in the U.S., I asked him about Jonathan's situation as he addressed a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. His reply reminded me of the answer Israeli officials gave Soviet Jewry activists during the struggle to free Natan Sharansky. "The less said about it the better."

We now know that for many years the Israelis did little to get Sharansky out of the gulag. They are obviously doing the same little to secure Jonathan's release from prison.

In hours of meetings with President George Bush at his Kennebunkport residence, Rabin failed to mention Jonathan's case. The message of that failure was clear. Israel is not seriously interested in securing Jonathan Pollard's freedom. The fact that lower government officials discussed the case is of little significance or relevance.

Sharansky was freed when President Ronald Reagan made a direct appeal to Gorbachev. From Reagan's mouth to Gorbachev's ears. If Rabin really wanted Pollard out, he would have directly enlisted the assistance of the President of the United States. His failure to do that was not an oversight.

Rabin's inaction is not exactly surprising to me. I had a preview of it two years ago. During the Gulf War, I buttonholed Rabin in the Knesset and introduced myself as Pollard's rabbi. Rabin brusquely turned away, so unpleasant was it to him to hear Jonathan's name. When I pushed into his hands an article I had written for the Jerusalem Post about Jonathan, Rabin took it but angrily walked on, not saying a word.

Things weren't much better when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister. After the Aushwitz convent protest of July 1989, I met with Shamir. His agenda was the convent, mine was Jonathan Pollard. I spoke for 15 minutes as Shamir sat silently, impervious to my pleas. Finally, in exasperation, I asked if I could wish Jonathan a Shana Tova, a good year, from the prime minister. "No," he said. His response was quick, harsh, final.

The letter which Shamir sent to Bush about Pollard just before he left office was too little too late. Heads of state who are lame ducks wield little influence.

There is little difference between the Shamir and Rabin governments as far as Pollard is concerned -both care little about him. It was certainly no comfort to Jonathan to hear that his fate is now entrusted to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Peres was the man who, as prime minister in l986, supplied the U.S. with the rope to hang Pollard and the man who had ordered that documents implicating Pollard be handed over to the U.S.

Israeli governments, regardless of their dominant party, appear to have a difficult time acting as advocates for Zionist prisoners, whether in Russia, the U.S. or even in Israel.

The Israeli government's policy of distancing itself from Jonathan Pollard is consistent with its attitude toward Ron Arad, and other Israeli MIAs -Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz.

An Israeli government sincerely concerned with resolving the MIA issue should have made it a centerpiece of peace negotiations with Syria. It hasn't.

During his recent U.S. visit, Rabin allowed Ron Arad's wife, Tami to twist in the wind. He took her to a meaningless meeting with U.N. Secretary general Bhoutros Ghali, but acquiesced to Bush's insistence that she not be brought to Kennebunkport, that she not be given the opportunity to plead for help from the man who could most help her.

Rabin is in a unique position to help secure the release of the Israeli hostages. Israel's unilateral release of Palestinian terrorist facilitated the freeing of American hostages in Lebanon.

Washington owes Israel a debt of gratitude and should be ready to mount a major effort to pressure Damascus into telling the terrorists to release the Israelis. But Rabin is choosing not to call in his chips to relieve the suffering of Israeli prisoners and hostage families.

All this sends a terrible message. There is a perception that the government cares little about the suffering of those men who risk everything for the security of Israel. How can soldiers go to battle, how can agents undertake missions knowing that when push comes to shove, if it is politically expedient, the government will forget them?

Whatever happened to Israel's cherished motto "We will not leave soldiers in the field?"

Rabbi Avi Weiss is the senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, in Riverdale NY, and the director of AMCHA - The Coalition for Jewish Concerns.