Out From Under The Rug

The Jerusalem Post - February 10, 1995

Rehearsals for Moti Lerner's Pollard - the Patriots were shrouded in more secrecy than the papers the play's hero filched from his US Navy employers and passed to Israel.

Rumors about Heavy Pressure From Above titillated. There were delicious expectations that last Saturday's opening at the Cameri would release a ravenous political tiger.

It didn't and probably will not. Beautifully directed by Ilan Ronen, the play isn't a whitewash or a vindication of the Pollards. It doesn't make heroes of them, and it doesn't spare them.

But Pollard makes no bones about where its sympathies lie.

At the height of the thunderous applause following the performance, actor Yossi Graber stepped forward and held up his hand for silence. There was a petition calling for the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard in the lobby, he told the audience, and they were invited to sign it. The cast, management and Cameri employees had already signed.

Some 95% of the audience cooperated, including State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, said Cameri general manager Noam Semel. The play's aim, he added, is "very much to arouse public consciousness".

Lerner lets fly at the government, questioning what he sees as Israeli obsequiousness to US demands; but mostly he examines the complex relationship between Israeli and American Jews.

In 1993, the playwright combined a US tour of his play Else with lectures on Israeli theater to Jewish youth groups and the heads of Jewish organizations in Detroit, New York and Chicago. "In conversations with these people it became clear to me that for them the Pollard Affair was far more traumatic than for us," he recalls.

Later Lerner discovered that "here [in Israel] only Davar and The Jerusalem Post really gave the story the exposure it should have had. I didn't pay it too much attention then as I read neither of those papers, but that experience [in 1993] of trauma led me to a new understanding of our relationship with US Jews. "As a Jew I define my identity in terms of the community I live in. And for a Jew today, the two main options are Israel or the US, so I have to ask myself what it means to be either one. Pollard is the perfect key to this quest". He confirms that pressure was brought to bear on the Cameri by those individuals and bodies which the play names. These included Pollard's handler, Air Force colonel Aviem Sela (whose name was dropped from the final script), and the Public Committee for Jonathan Pollard, headed by Amnon Dror, who was concerned lest the play prejudice Pollard's chances when he comes before a parole board in November.

Dror established the committee soon after Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985 and has visited Pollard six times since. Three of those visits were during the years that Pollard was kept in solitary confinement in maximum-security prisons. Last Saturday night, Dror was in the audience. He wasn't ecstatic but he praised the sensitivity with which Pollard's creators had handled the issue.

"Let's not talk about pressures," says Semel. "Let's talk about living people, those involved. They wanted to read the script and we wouldn't let them. Why? Because censorship was abolished [in 1986]. We heard everybody out but in the end Lerner and Ilan Ronen made the decisions". What's remarkable is that the Cameri staff has thrown itself behind the production, but only as a collection of individuals, Semel, a qualified attorney, is careful to point out.

"It's our policy to mount Israeli and Jewish plays which deal with Israeli and Jewish identity," he says. "Whether or not the play will have any real effect isn't our business. We want to stimulate public debate. People forget that it's the theater's business to provoke". LERNER'S POLLARD (Shuli Rand) is indiscreet, a painfully and dangerously naive man who deliberately betrays his country's secrets. The play does not mitigate the gravity of the offense but makes it clear that Pollard put himself and his career on the line for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. He thought Israel would protect him, but instead, the play indicates, Israel helped string him up - and it's left him dangling in the wind ever since.

Anne Pollard (Orna Katz) doesn't come off much better. She's portrayed as a woman who loves and is loyal to her man, but also as a neurotic and eventually self-serving person.

"It's very, very strange to play a living person, and at the beginning I was fearful," says Katz. "I didn't know what it would do to me, how far I had to be faithful to the real person or what my obligation was to her". Katz didn't meet with Anne Pollard, but she read exhaustively and looked "at all the videos that the Israel Broadcasting Authority has, and I felt that was enough on which to build a character. I think that the whole business of spying fascinated her, not least because of the partnership it created between herself and Jay.

"The play is an attempt to see the affair as a story that happens between two people," she continues. "It's about patriotism and love and it asks: What is patriotism and love? The play is a fiction, but it's based on the truth; but what's truth? Everybody in the play sees the Pollard affair from his own point of view".

Yossi Graber plays the rich Sam Greenstein, a composite American Jew who is Lerner's invention. Greenstein is a heavy donor who says he "walks proudly if one of ours wins the Nobel Prize, but if one of ours does something wrong then we each crawl off to hide under our individual rocks". His character expresses the conflicts that American Jews face and that Pollard contended with.

The play "is an important event because everybody's forgotten about Pollard," Graber says. "I pushed him away too, even though I was ashamed at the time that we did nothing for him. When I improvise [just after the intermission] and talk in the same breath about more sugar in my coffee and isn't it terrible about poor Pollard, that comes from my gut and I think I'm criticizing myself [as well as the audience]". Is it ethical to make theatrical capital from the ongoing anguish of those involved, even though Pollard knows about the play?

Docudramas have set a precedent, Semel contends, adding that once the affair became public the Pollards weren't private individuals anymore. They became symbols for the questions Pollard raises, including those regarding the US-Israel relationship.

For Graber the end definitely justifies the means. "We're using the tools we have in order to do some necessary soul- searching," he says. "We've shoved this under the rug for too long".