The Right Thing

January 7, 1994 - Elyakim Rubinstein - The Jerusalem Post

In "Spies and sensitivities" (The Jerusalem Post, January 4), Shlomo Gazit comes out against direct intervention by the Israeli government to hasten the release of Jonathan Pollard.

Such intervention, he argues, would reinforce suspicions that the government was behind the activation of Pollard as a spy.

As one who has spent years dealing with the Pollard affair on behalf of the government, I would like to explain why Gazit is mistaken.

Let me state unequivocally that the many efforts made by the government to get Pollard released in no way imply approval of the very serious blunders Pollard and his Israeli handlers committed.

The whole affair was a very serious mistake, something that should never have happened, regardless of the motives.

I was deputy chief of mission in Washington when Pollard was arrested near the embassy. I heard about it only later; when I realized what was going on, I felt tremendous shock. And greater shocks were in store.

The government immediately expressed regret over the matter, declaring that spying in the US wasn't Israeli policy and assuring the US that all necessary organizational steps would be taken to ensure such incidents were not repeated.

It is to be regretted that some loose ends remain in connection with the Israelis involved in the affair. I still hope that some of these will eventually be tied up.

Pollard and his former wife have paid

a very heavy price

for his mistakes and the mistakes of his handlers. These people were employed by the government of Israel, and presented themselves to Pollard as such. This being the case,

it is the government's moral duty, if not its formal obligation, to help bring about Pollard's release


I've never met Pollard. Before the whole thing blew up, I didn't even know of his existence.

But one thing I knew at once: that it was only appropriate that the government should do its best for Pollard, as it did for his wife.

And it should act not through an independent public committee, but directly.

It is true that Israel has no formal judicial standing in the matter vis-à-vis the US government. But just as the US has turned to us not infrequently on humanitarian issues, so do we now turn to them. Our US colleagues understand this.

We have talked to them about Pollard's long incarceration,

most of it solitary confinement

, and about the suffering the family has undergone. We have also emphasized developments in the world and in our region - the end of the Cold War, the peace process in our region, the release of spies, including by Israel, and so on.

Over the years, former president Chaim Herzog and prime ministers Shamir and Rabin have addressed presidents Bush and Clinton on the issue of Pollard. The government - with broad Knesset and public support - has sought to approach the issue in a balanced, decent fashion.

It is to be hoped that these efforts bear fruit.

The writer is the cabinet secretary.