Saner Than Most People - An OpEd

August 23, 1996 - Charles Levine - The Jewish Press

A few weeks ago, the mayor of one of the major cities in Israel was speaking at a public event. Esther Pollard, Jonathan's wife, rose to ask a question about the failure of Israel to win her husband's release.

Her passion commanded the audience's attention, but as she spoke, the mayor turned to me in my panelist's seat next to him and lividly muttered, "Who gave her the floor - I hear she's

nuts

." He of course proceeded to proffer a perfunctorily glib reply, devoid of genuine feeling for the issue of empathy for the man in prison over 10 years.

More recently, in the midst of Esther Pollard's 19-day hunger strike which attracted an outpouring of grass roots support and made headlines around the world, an internationally known U.S. attorney and law professor appointed himself as liaison between Esther and the top echelons of the Israeli government.

I overheard one phone conversation in which Esther, en passant said, "When Jews were held in Entebbe, Israel's government knew what it had to do. It acted. Jonathan is like a soldier left on the battlefield, and it is Israel's deepest moral obligation to free him." Fair enough.

Many days passed, and the Prime Minister declined to meet Jonathan's wife. That meeting (in fact two of them) would take place only later on with the intervention of Minister Limor Livnat and MK Hanan Porat. Prodding a friend in the Prime Minister's office, I heard, "But she's CRAZY. Do you know she told so-and-so (the self-serving legal eagle) that Israel should send IDF commandos to break Jonathan out of prison like we did at Entebbe?"

Which brings us to the point. What can you say about a man in prison whose pleas annoy you? Whose resolutely determined wife, a single-minded crusader who acts more than she smiles, makes some people "uncomfortable"? How do you feel if you are a leader, Diaspora Jewish or Israeli who is just a little to busy to spend your time rattling the prison bars in Jonathan's behalf?

You don't want to criticize Pollard or defend the obscenity of his continuing incarceration. How then to explain your inaction?

Tragically, you might join the chorus of those who speculate that perhaps "Jonathan lacks control of the situation," or "has sadly lost touch with reality," or simply write the whole matter off with a classic, "That Esther Pollard is nuts, isn't she?" It has happened and continues to happen. And the more people that hear it, the more who repeat it.

Let's set the record straight. I have corresponded with Jonathan Pollard for over a decade. My wife and I met with him for several hours as recently as this past April in Federal Prison in Butner, North Carolina. Undoubtedly, he is one of the sanest people I have ever met. He is also suffering through a life sentence which means he has some time on his hands. With the exception of Esther, he spends more time addressing his plight than anyone else in the world. Jonathan Pollard, the man who analyzed top secret data for the U.S. government, today concentrates his formidable skills in analyzing his own release campaign. He is an expert on the subject and deserves to be listened to, not dismissed.

Despite some setbacks, including President Clinton's unconscionable rejection commutation, the Pollard initiative is moving ahead more effectively than at any time in the past 11 years. Today he is an Israeli citizen. His wife's hunger strike and other measures continue to ask the world that very bothersome question: "Why is Jonathan Pollard serving more time in prison than any other U.S. citizen ever charged with the same offense?"

Columnists are starting to ask the President, "Why are you insulting your most loyal of electoral constituencies, the American Jews, by denying their painless request of freeing Pollard?" And respected academics are beginning to call a spade a spade, writing articles about the "A" word...anti-Semitism and the Pollard affair.

Unlike most lobbying efforts, the Pollards and their supporters have no axes to grind or scores to settle. No funds to raise or budgets to meet. We are not a mass movement in quest of members and have no need to be... although mass public outrage is certainly called for.

In fact we believe we need just one more member to join up. His name is Binjamin Netanyahu. Esther Pollard met with the Prime Minister twice. He broke new ground in their closed door discussions and gave certain commitments that were witnessed by former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Jonathan's chosen rabbi. Those promises were sufficient to convince the lady of steel to conclude her hunger strike, and that has meant new hope for Jonathan.

Now it's the Prime Minister's opportunity to perform the first heroic act of his tenure. The moment he takes up the case in earnest, we will be ready to draft our final recruit. Bill Clinton.

When that day comes - hopefully, very, very, soon - Jonathan Pollard will at last come home to Israel. Then we will all have a chance to see just how sane Jonathan and Esther Pollard really are.


Charles Levine is the president of "C.L.C.", Israel's foremost public relations firm. Partners Charles Levine and Susan Gopstein have actively lent the support of their firm to Jonathan and Esther Pollard.