Spy Pollard a 'Star' of Israeli Stage

Jay Bushinsky - Chicago Sun Times - March 8, 1995


- Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American naval intelligence aide who spied for Israel, is applauded every time his namesake appears on the stage of Tel Aviv's Cameri Theatre.

Many Israelis consider Pollard a hero, a man who foresaw the threat to their personal and national security posed by Iraq. He was sentenced nevertheless to life in prison for stealing secret documents he deemed vital to the Jewish state's survival.

Some believe he and his ex-wife Anne, were the nave victims of cynical, ill-informed officials who took advantage of their zeal to offer data that the Pentagon, CIA and State Department refused to share.

Playwright Motti Lener, who specializes in modern historical docudrama, has succeeded in projecting the hypocrisy, arrogance and callousness that led to Pollard's downfall and scarred U.S. Israeli relations.

His text does not pull any punches. Assuming that Israeli audiences remember the governmental cast of characters, some on and some off stage - Shimon Peres, who served as prime minister at the time, is played by Yossi Yadin, one of Israel's greatest living actors - Lerner has one of Pollard's handlers assure him that "the prime minister appreciates your contribution very much."

On stage, Rafi Eitan, the counter-intelligence wizard who justifies Pollard's betrayal of his top security clearance in the interest of a purportedly greater value - Jewish commitment to Israel and the supreme need to assure its national security - is portrayed as an amoral bureaucrat bereft of human decency. Perhaps that is why several of the luminaries of Israel's mass media establishment shrugged off the play's devastating critiques of how the Pollards were used, corrupted and ultimately abandoned to their fate.

The dramaturgical technique employed by Lerner is very effective. He moves forward and backward in the course of the exciting plot, from the top secret computer facilities in which Pollard worked to his prison cell to the posh hotel room where he and his wife enjoyed the pecuniary side of their escapade.

Bearing in mind that the audience consists mainly of Israeli citizens, Lerner contends that the local taxpayers' money was lavished on the Pollards at Eitan's insistence. The unspoken implication was that this allocation had to be approved at the highest governmental level.

There is an undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek humor throughout, thanks to a sometimes on-and sometimes off-stage character who comes on as one of Pollard's older confidants and who goes on to voice some witty comments about the American Jewish community. Alluding to its cultural assimilation, he quips, "the only person in America who insists on keeping a Jewish name is Whoopi Goldberg." In a serious vein, he also questions the wisdom of fulfilling the Zionist dream of resettling the entire Jewish people in Israel, asking if that might not put 10 million Jews in mortal danger.

But the most powerful scene is when Jonathan and Anne, fleeing arrest, are thrown out of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., to be picked up by the FBI. To drive his point home, Lerner has a narrator announce that this shoddy episode is totally faithful to the facts. In the end, the narrator asks the audience to sign a petition to President Clinton calling for Pollard to be pardoned and released.

Considering that the data he stole related to a state that went on to launch it Scud missiles against Israel - and that Pollard did not spy for any enemy power - the appeal makes sense.

Jay Bushinsky writes on the Middle East.