Pollard's Wife Chides U.S., Israel - New York Jewish Week

March 28, 1996 - Eric J. Greenberg

Her comments come after White House nixes idea of commutation for spy as he meets with Israeli official.

While an Israeli government official was meeting with Jonathan Pollard for the first time since Israel granted citizenship to the convicted spy last November, a spokesman for President Bill Clinton declared that the White House has no intention of commuting Pollard's sentence, despite Israeli repeated requests.

"Our position on Pollard has not changed," said White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, in Washington, D.C.

"This is someone who was caught spying against the United States. In terms of law and order in this country, it's not easy to simply back away from that and say that someone ought to be released or pardoned when that kind of offense is committed," Panetta said when asked by a reporter for CNN last Sunday if the meeting with an Israeli official signaled a change in the White House's policy toward Pollard.

In response, Pollard's wife Esther ripped the White House for unfair treatment and said Panetta's statements raise serious questions about the true nature of the USA-Israel friendship, since both the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and current Prime Minister Shimon Peres have both asked Clinton to commute Pollard's sentence to time served.

"To get such a negative response indicates one of two things: either that Peres' request was not taken seriously, in which case we're in a lot of trouble; or the other possibility, that Peres did not state his case unequivocally," Esther Pollard told The Jewish Week Monday.

Her comments came a day after she and Pollard met for the first time with an official Israeli government representative - the deputy consul of Israel's office in Atlanta.

Esther Pollard has also criticized the Israeli government for failing to send its top representative, Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich, to meet with her husband, as she said they promised.

"The fault lies with the government for doing a bait-and-switch routine," she said.

"That was extremely discouraging. Jonathan was promised through top levels a face-to-face visit from Rabinovich. In his place, the consul from Atlanta was sent. That's a heck of a change."

The meeting last Sunday - occurring at about the same time Panetta was on television dashing Pollard's hopes for a presidential Passover gift of freedom - took place in Butner, N.C., federal prison, where the 41-year-old Pollard has started his 11th year of a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israeli while he was an American Naval Intelligence Officer.

With a Pentagon official monitoring the situation, the Pollard couple met with Eitan Surkis-Almog, the deputy counsel in Israel's government office in Atlanta.

Surkis-Almog said he met with the Pollards for about 50 minutes and the meeting was "positive and substantial."

But he declined to discuss the substance of the conversation.

So did Gadi Baltiansky, the spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

"I will not get into the discussion itself," he said. "It was a discussion between two people and not a public event."

But Esther Pollard said that after finding out that Rabinovich was not coming, Pollard cut the meeting short, to only about 15 to 20 minutes. She said her husband asked three request of Surkis-Almog.

"He restated a request to meet with Rabinovich.

He expected the ambassador to bring him a full briefing of Israel's effort to date to release Pollard.

"And since Passover is approaching, Jonathan called upon the government of Israel to ensure he is brought home to spend next Passover with his family and the people of Israel."

Esther Pollard, a Canadian, said Panetta's strong statements against Pollard are inconsistent with the American government's position on Michael Schwartz, am American military man who was indicted for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia, but was granted a discharge and no prison term.

She said if Israel does not treat this issue seriously, as evidence by its sending of a lower-level official, then the U.S. government won't either.

However, Baltiansky said the visit by Surkis-Almog is historic and symbolic of Israel's concern.

He said Surkis-Almog was sent because the Atlanta office is closer to the North Carolina prison.

"What the government does in this matter is much more than a visit," he said, defending Israel's actions. "Prime Minister Peres raised the issue with Clinton and that's the highest thing he can do. Other than that, the embassy and the ambassador are personally dealing with this issue in an intensive way. I think it speaks for itself. Our position is clear that we seek to ease the punishment.

"It's up to the American president, but we will not drop the issue from the agenda."