The Failure to Free Pollard

November 23, 1995 - David Turner


On November 22 the Government of Israel took the long overdue step of granting Jonathan Pollard citizenship. The hesitant manner in which this decision was made, the reactions of Jonathan and his sister, serve to illustrate why, after ten years incarceration, Jonathan faces yet another decade in prison. Esther, Jay's wife, described her husband as "delighted" by the decision. Yet at the same time that Jonathan was celebrating one of the rare victories of his long ordeal, his sister described Israel's action as a "Band-Aid... a dead end issue." Israel, she believes, cannot help; only the US Parole Board can. And, in her view, Israeli citizenship hurts his chances there.

At the time Pollard was sentenced, and in the years immediately following, American Jews at all levels of communal leadership publicly and privately expressed the belief that the Administration's tough stance towards Pollard was merely public posturing in the Year of the Spies. Since America and Israel are close allies, they reasoned, when things settled down Pollard would be quietly released and sent to Israel. In other words, Jewish silence was in Jonathan's best interest.

Family rightly rejected silence and used every opportunity to keep the imprisoned couple in the public eye. Unfortunately, the thrust of their response to unfolding events was misdirected, and inadequate. This was partly the result of a deep suspicion of Israel's commitment towards Pollard. After all, the Israel Embassy in Washington evicted the couple into the waiting arms of the FBI. And afterwards, Israel "cooperated fully" with the US in the investigation which was to become the basis for Jonathan's conviction. As a result, family underestimated or dismissed the willingness and importance of Israel to help Jonathan. Without Israel, family could see but one route available to them, the courts.

In the earliest days of Jay's ordeal Leon Charney, the prominent New York lawyer, volunteered pro bono to help Pollard. Charney, who had served as advisor to President Carter during the Camp David peace talks, and whose legal practice included many of Israel's most influential politicians, was interested in exploring a government-to-government agreement between the US and Israel to free Pollard. He was not interested in getting involved in the court battle. Yet when Pollard's paid Washington lawyers, the Hibey's, learned of Charney's interest they insisted his father choose between them. Morris chose the Hibeys.

During our written correspondence in 1987, Jonathan and I were in complete agreement as to the steps necessary to achieve his freedom. They included the obvious need to defend himself in court. But Jonathan also recognized that the court battle was unlikely to succeed. So a second, and parallel, Israel track was needed. Pollard understood that Israel's political leadership would be unable and unwilling, in the immediate wake of the Pollard Affair, to publicly support him. Justice for the Pollards aimed at building support for the Pollards in the Knesset which, we felt, would eventually be needed to encourage a cautious Israel Government to act on his behalf. We decided to launch Justice for the Pollards with a high profile visit by Pollard's parents to Israel. But illness made a trip by Molly and Morris difficult at the time, so we settled on Carol.

The success of the visit, in the first days of what was to become known as the Intifada, was immediate and concrete. Following several newspaper interviews and a highly successful television appearance, Carol and I were invited to the Knesset. At a meeting attended by 30 MK's, it was decided to draft a Knesset petition supporting the Pollards. By the time the petition was handed to President Reagan two months later, more than 70 Members of Knesset had signed the document. In addition to the Knesset meeting, Carol and I were also invited to meet with the Minister's of Justice, and Education, and with the Chief Rabbis.

Throughout our stay Israeli public opinion was overwhelmingly sympathetic and supportive towards Jay. And Knesset opinion clearly reflected the public. In only ten days Justice for the Pollards had laid a firm foundation of public and political support in Israel.


The failure to free Pollard cannot be blamed on any one party. The United States Government reneged on its promise of leniency under the notorious "plea agreement." But the United States is technically within the letter of the law in not releasing Pollard from prison.

Family should long ago have realized that they were squandering their limited financial and emotional resources in an obviously futile and endless legal battle. Not that they should have abandoned this effort. But Justice for the Pollards, the grassroots political effort, deserved equal interest. Despite early and well-founded concerns regarding Israel's leaders, in the face of the obvious successes in Israel by our trip, family should have put aside their feelings of betrayal. There was always overwhelming public and political support for Pollard in Israel. But nobody was committed to oversee its development. Family failed to appreciate what Jonathan had known all along, that the path to his freedom passes through Jerusalem. Carol's recent comments regarding her brother's Israeli citizenship and his upcoming parole hearings clearly indicates that the lessons of the past are yet to be learned.

American Jewish communal leadership was obligated to do more for Pollard. European Jewry paid severely for their temerity in the 1940's. And Pollard is suffering from their silence 50 years later. A clear and unambiguous American Jewish protest may not directly set Pollard free. But it would certainly send a message to Washington and Jerusalem, and encourage both capitals to speed up the process of his release.

The Israel Government deserves much blame for Pollard's continuing ordeal. Jonathan served Israel well and faithfully. One knowledgeable Israeli described him as the most important spy ever to serve the Jewish state. During our visit, a child in Beersheva was interviewed on television. Asked who Ben Gurion was, he was at a loss. Asked who Pollard was he exclaimed, "Pollard saved Israel!"

For Israel's leaders to have left Jonathan Pollard to his fate for so many years is morally inexcusable and an act of political cowardice. Israel is a country, and has at its disposal many diplomatic possibilities. On the flight to Israel with Carol the EL AL pilot took me aside to ask if newspaper stories about an imminent trade involving Pollard, an Eastern European agent, and an African were true? I confessed to being ignorant of such a trade. But the rumor points to at least one diplomatic avenue not pursued. An Israeli journalist described Pollard as a wounded and abandoned soldier. Israel, he said, does not leave her wounded behind.

Israel's leaders have recently taken a more public interest in Pollard. I was told that Yitzhak Shamir, as his last official act as Prime Minister, contacted the President on behalf of Pollard. An MK told me some time later that Yitzhak Rabin did the same as one of his first official acts as Shamir's successor. It is reported that, anticipating his upcoming visit to Washington, Rabin had drafted a letter to President Clinton regarding Pollard's release. Had he lived it is likely that he would have made his request in person to the President. Rabin's death was a terrible loss for family and country. And a tragedy also for Pollard.

It is ten years since Jonathan began his life sentence, ten years of dramatic change for Israel. For Pollard those years passed in tedious sameness, a gray loneliness and despair punctuated fleetingly by moments of hope. Israel has in her new Prime Minister a seasoned politician and diplomat. In an era of growing US-Israel codependency brought on by a fast changing Middle East, a climate of opportunity exists for Israel to free Pollard. Peres will leave soon for Washington. In the footsteps of his predecessors let him carry the message directly to the President that Pollard's freedom is not only just, but a national priority for the Jewish state. This is the least that Israel owes this man.

Israel is responsible for Jonathan. Israel must set him free.

David Turner was Regional Director for Jewish National Fund in New York City when he began corresponding with Jonathan Pollard in 1987. Asked by Pollard to direct efforts to obtain his release from prison, Turner founded and was first Director of Justice for the Pollards from December, 1988 to May, 1989. Today he is a social worker/private practice psychotherapist working out of Richmond, VA.