Pollard Decision Shocks Supporters

His fiancée Elaine Zeitz vows to keep up fight.

Ron Csillag - Canadian Jewish News (Front Page) - March 31, 1994


- The voice of the normally steely Elaine (Esther) Zeitz trembles as she chokes back tears.

Despite the haze of raw emotion in which she finds herself, Zeitz is clear in her belief that last week's refusal by U.S. President Bill Clinton to grant clemency to her fiancé, imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard, has "obvious" parallels, to Passover -a "pharaoh" who won't relent, despite years of pressure from the Jewish people.

The biblical Pharaoh was eventually brought to his knees by the wrath of G-d; so too is Zeitz convinced that one day, justice will be done for Pollard, her betrothed for the past three years.

The Toronto-based Zeitz, who is also Canadian spokesperson for Citizens for Justice for Jonathan Pollard was naturally shocked at Clinton's decision to deny Pollard commutation of his life sentence. But beyond that, the sudden White House announcement left her angry and bewildered.

For one thing, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Clinton's decision came less than four hours after White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers said the Justice Department's recommendation in the Pollard case had not yet been reviewed by the president.

Clinton explained his decision in a statement issued late last Wednesday afternoon. He noted that the former Navy analyst who spied for Israel had committed "one of the most serious crimes against our country - placing national security secrets of the United States in the hands of another country."

Clinton said his judgment reflected the recommendation of U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and "the unanimous views of the law enforcement and national security agencies."

He said he based his decision "upon the grave nature" of Pollard's offence and "the considerable damage that his actions caused our nation."

For years, Jewish groups in the United States and Canada and around the world have pressed three successive U.S. administrations to review Pollard's life term, which they see as overly harsh.

Their argument has centered around the government's alleged reneging on a promise of leniency in return for a guilty plea, and the fact Pollard spied for an ally and was never charged with treason. Charges of dual loyalty came into play, as Pollard, a Jew, was said to be motivated by his concern for Israel. Anti-Semitism was always viewed as a factor.

In December, the White House sent up a trial balloon. Rumors were rampant that Clinton was considering a Christmas time pardon.

In his statement, the president said he had considered the argument that Pollard deserved a shorter prison sentence because he spied for a friendly nation.

"I nevertheless believe that the enormity of Mr. Pollard's crime, the harm his actions caused to our country and the need to deter every person who might even consider such actions, warrant his continued incarceration," the president said.

As far as Zeitz is concerned, Clinton's action was "a slap in the face' to the Jewish community, given that the president received 88 per cent of the Jewish vote; and to Israel, inasmuch as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin personally asked Clinton to grant clemency. "Rabin was set up," she stated.

The president acted in a "high-handed, arrogant, short-sighted, totally shocking" manner, she charged. "He's very good at lighting Chanukah candles, but when it comes to justice

"His administration has been notorious for ignoring Jewish concerns. And now this totally undermines Israel. What kind of hope is thee for the United States to be an honest broker in the Middle East? It has damaged he peace process."

In denying clemency, Clinton has also "ignored" please for leniency for Pollard from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), several Christian groups, law professors, virtually every rabbi in North America and members of Congress from both parties, Zeitz notes.

Zeitz finds it odd that Clinton reached a decision only hours after his aide announced he had not yet read the Attorney General's report on Pollard.

As for Pollard, he was "extremely disappointedvery, very shocked" at Clinton's decision, said Zeitz, who speaks to her fiancé every day and was scheduled to spend the last two days of Passover with him.

The White House announcement came in the wake of the arrest of Aldrich Ames, a former CIA employee charged with spying for the Soviet Union and later, Russia. Speculation that the administration was disinclined to show any leniency to a convicted spy at this time is a "smokescreen," Zeitz said, adding she feels, as do others, that some of the allegations against Pollard can be traced to Ames's activities.

Clinton's decision was "a punch in the stomach," remarked Helen Smolack, president of the Toronto Zionist Council, one of the leading pro-Pollard groups in Canada.

Jews everywhere, "shouldn't acquiesce" to Clinton's decision, but keep up protests and press the president to reconsider, she added.

Pollard was arrested while trying to seek refuge in Washington's Israeli Embassy in November 1985. He was indicted by a grand jury on one count of passing secrets to an ally. He then agreed to a plea bargain; in return for leniency for himself and his then-wife and co-accused, Anne, he would forgo a public trial in favor of an in camera hearing.

In 1987, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and has spent his years in some of the toughest jails in the United States, mostly in solitary confinement.

Zeitz believes Pollard's chances for parole are "moot," since in Pollard's file is an influential letter from former U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, recommending against parole.

According to one published report, Pollard will be eligible for parole in November 1995. However, under Justice Department guidelines, his release is unlikely until the year 2015.

All of Pollard's legal avenues have been exhausted.

His supporters in the United States say their new goal is to ensure that Pollard is released in November of next year.

"We're going to continue this campaign, "Pollard's father, Morris Pollard, told JTA.

A request for parole, based mainly on the argument that Pollard has served enough time, may win wider support, according to some leaders in the United States.

In the meantime, some Pollard supporters, who believed they might have had one last chance to make their case to the White House, were percolating with anger last week.

"We had been assured that the president's decision would be considered carefully following the Justice Department's recommendation and that we would be permitted to meet directly with White House officials to discuss the matter," said Ted Boutros, one of Pollard's lawyers.

"We were denied that opportunity," he said.

While Clinton's decision caps months of waiting, for Zeitz it has served only to intensify the campaign for Pollard.

"It has made me angrier and has given us a political edge. We'll have to work that much harder, be more active, more vocal. We'll pull out all the stops.

"Jonathan and I both believe Hashem is involved. In my heart, I believe justice will be done."

With files from JTA.