Israeli Play Revisits the Pollard Affair

Uriel Masad - Jewish Telegraphic Agency - March 30, 1995


- The date is Nov. 21, 1985. Jonathan Jay and Anne Pollard enter the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, to seek political asylum.

To the astonishment of the security personnel there, Jonathan Pollard identifies himself by name, says he has been working for the Mossad - Israel's intelligence service - and adds that the FBI is literally on his tail.

The Pollards are invited in and offered something to drink while the security officer in charge makes a phone call.

The officer speaks to Rafi Eitan, head of the Jerusalem-based Science Liaison Bureau, a Mossad branch, who then contacts an unidentified government minister.

The instructions from the top are clear: Kick the Pollards out!

The officer argues that they are Jews and that according to regulations, he must admit them.

Out! Orders Eitan.

The stunned Pollards sit down and invoke the Law of Return, under which Israel must admit any Jew who requests it.

But Eitan does not budge; he instructs the security officer to throw the Pollards out, by force if necessary.

Anne and Jonathan Pollard plead for their lives, but to no avail. They are forced off the embassy grounds into the waiting arms of the FBI.

This is the climactic scene in a new play, Pollard (The Patriots), which has been having a successful run at the Cameri Theater here for more than a month.

Described in the program as "a fictional play inspired by the Pollard affair," the show uses for its plot the events that led to the arrests of Jonathan and Anne Pollard on charges of spying, and their subsequent imprisonment.

The controversial nature of the play was evident in the pressures placed on the play's author, Motti Lerner, and its producers to cancel the show.

The unease of the audience during the final scene is tangible. At the play's end, there is a short public debate with a panel that includes the now-divorced Anne Pollard.

When asked how much of the play is true and how much is fiction, she begins to list the gaps, then stops herself. "One thing you can be sure of, this last scene at the embassy is 100 percent true," she says. "We were there for 20 minutes, by the end of which we were forced to leave and were arrested. This was the last time I saw Jonathan in freedom."

Jonathan Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst and strongly identified Jew, believed that the United States was not passing important intelligence information to Israel, in 1984. He began passing secret information to Israeli officials.

In complete violation of a plea bargain, (which Pollard honored and the Government abrogated) he received a life sentence. In solitary confinement for the past 10 years in a federal penitentiary in Marion, IL., he is up for parole in November.

Anne Pollard was sentenced to five years in prison for her part in the case. She was released early because of illness and has since been divorced and immigrated to Israel.

From the play's inception, those involved with the production were under intense pressure to suppress it. The pressure was unprecedented in Israeli theater history, according to some involved.

At a recent news conference, the Cameri Theater's directors, Noam Semel and Imri Nitzan, along with director Ilan Ronen and playwright Lerner, said the pressure began even before the play saw the light of day.

They spoke of blatant warnings to "watch out," unveiled threats of libel suits from those mentioned in the play - including Anne Pollard - and warnings that funding would be stopped.

They said the pressure went as far as a cash offer of up to $330,000 to shelve the project entirely.

When all this failed, they said, a campaign was launched to postpone the opening, amid claims that it would harm Pollard's parole hearing in November.

According to the Cameri's officials, every effort was made to ensure that Jonathan Pollard's case was not harmed in any way.

Both Anne Pollard and Amnon Dror, who heads the Release Jonathan Pollard Committee in Israel, which receives major funding from the Israeli government, were initially opposed to the play. But now they say they are convinced the production can only help Pollard.

This is partially due to the 10,000 people who have so far signed a petition asking President Bill Clinton to consider Pollard's immediate release.

Lerner, 46, expressed regret over the scandal that has surrounded this play.

"I used Pollard as a fable, as a symbol of Diaspora Jews,' he said in a recent interview at his Tel Aviv studio. He said his goal in writing the play was to examine the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community.

"Unfortunately, this is not perceived as the play's central theme," added Lerner, who said he visited the U.S. and spoke with leaders of major American Jewish Organizations as part of his research for the play.

Lerner said he does not believe that the campaign against the play was orchestrated by the state. Although he did not name names, he said he thinks that the pressure came from a group of individuals - the security agents or officials involved in the operation - who felt the play put them in a bad light.

Despite the hardships that accompanied the mounting of the play, some 15,000 Israelis have seen the show so far. The play has already been translated into English and there have been negotiations for staging the production in the United States.