An Interview with Esther Pollard
Netty C. Gross - The Jerusalem Post - December 15, 1993
Jonathan Pollard's biggest problem at the maximum-security federal
penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, was the ticking of the clock.
"Jonathan used to tell me that his problem in Marion was that his concept of
time was going down a gaping hole," says Elaine (Esther) Zeitz, his
39-year-old Canadian fiancee of three years.
Until July, Pollard, serving a life sentence for a 1985 conviction on a charge
of passing classified documents to Israel, spent 23-hour days in solitary
confinement at the prison.
His concrete cell in the notorious K unit (later condemned as inhumane by
Amnesty International) was located three floors below ground.
"The heat in the summer was oppressive. He never saw a blade of grass. Every
autumn, rats infested the cells. All his human and civil rights were and
continue to be abused. He has suffered and continues to suffer physical and
mental abuse. I stress continue."
Pollard was moved five months ago to the medium-security federal penitentiary
in Butner, North Carolina.
Zeitz will not discuss her relationship with Pollard prior to 1990, but says
they "reconnected" after she responded to an appeal in a newspaper asking
readers to send him some words of comfort. Pollard sent her a packet of
information about the case.
"I would like to debunk the myth that Jonathan's incarceration is easier [in
Butner]. It isn't. Nor can he hang on much longer," Zeitz says. She
maintains that Pollard is currently wakened at 4:30 a.m. and works between
eight and 12 hours cutting fabric. He shares a dormitory room with 49 other
She says Pollard, who became religious in Marion, is denied the use of ritual
objects and kosher food.
"He arrived from eight and a half years of total isolation to a hostile
antisemitic atmosphere in Butner ... Today Jonathan is hanging onto the cliff
while they are dancing on his fingernails. In terms of his well-being, it's
the 11th hour. A minute before midnight, actually."
Zeitz arrived here last Thursday "at the request of Jonathan, whom I speak to
on a daily basis and with whom I consult on every single matter pertaining to
him." She came at the invitation of the New Channel 2 talk-show host Rafi
She says she decided to go public after her romance with Pollard was disclosed
by Amnon Dror, who heads the Israel Committee for the Release of Pollard. He
says it was an inadvertent slip of the tongue to a reporter.
A comely, soft-spoken educator, Zeitz runs a bilingual (English and French)
center in Toronto for children with learning disabilities.
She keeps a photograph of Pollard in her leather billfold along with a
laminated note from former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, who visited
Pollard in Marion on October 15, 1991. Eliahu gave him a prayer book, which
Zeitz says was confiscated by authorities to harass him.
Zeitz's decision to talk publicly about her engagement to Pollard came after a
recent flurry of articles in the American press predicting that the US Justice
Department would recommend that President Bill Clinton deny Pollard clemency.
An account in the November 8 New York Times said that Clinton was considering
turning down Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin's request last month to release
A story in Time magazine said Pollard had done irreparable damage to American
interests by supplying a compendium of secret codes which Time's story said
was later sold to the Soviet Union.
The Justice Department's pardon attorney, Margaret C. Love, has not yet made
any recommendations public, although observers believe a public statement is
Clinton, sources say, may issue his opinion on the case before Christmas. He
has not acted on a campaign promise to review the Pollard file.
"We believe the Justice Department is leaking these trial balloons to test
Israel. The allegations are outrageous. Why weren't they in the original
indictment? Don't forget, Jonathan was convicted on one count of passing
information to an allied country. Don't forget that Jonathan was induced to
enter a plea bargain and instead got the book thrown at him. After all, who
plea-bargains for a life sentence?" Zeitz asks.
She brought a chart which lists federal sentencing guidelines, and says the
maximum sentence for Pollard's crime was subsequently lowered to 10 years.
Zeitz told Reshef she considers Pollard to be an Israeli soldier abandoned
behind enemy lines.
"If the Americans can use the rumor that they have created - [that] Israel
doesn't care - to turn down Rabin's request for Pollard, won't Israel's
enemies then be able to avail themselves of the same lie as they try to secure
our other soldiers [Israel's missing soldiers]?
"That Jonathan's was a rogue operation is a moot point. The Israelis know
these stories are lies, so why don't they respond? Rabin has our unqualified
thanks for taking the initiative, but I am also extending my plea to him:
Finish the job. Bring Jonathan home. Don't let the Americans weasel out of
this with innuendo that tarnishes Israel as well."
According to Zeitz, who heads Canadian Citizens for Justice, a pro-Pollard
lobby, American Jewish public support for the commutation of Pollard's
sentence is "as overwhelming in its scope as it was during the days of the
movement to free Soviet Jews. There are no opposing groups. From heads of
ultra-Orthodox yeshivot to leaders of the Reform movement, at this point
everyone wants Jonathan out of jail."
Zeitz will not discuss her relationship with Pollard's parents nor with his
sister Carol, who also tangled with Pollard's first wife, Anne. Pollard
family members have claimed not to know who Zeitz is, or said that her views
on how to handle Jonathan's case are harmful to the cause.
Though Dror says he has never met or spoken to Zeitz ("she came to all of this
late in the game"), he confirms that Pollard identified her as the woman he
intends to marry one day.
"The connection between Jonathan and myself is intact," Zeitz says.
"We have managed to achieve as a couple - under the worst of all possible
circumstances - something so rare that we understand it is difficult for most
people to comprehend."