Pollard Seeks Help From Israeli Envoy

December 26, 1996 - Michael Shapiro - Washington Jewish Week

Jonathan Pollard, now serving his 12th year of a life sentence for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel, has asked the Israeli ambassador to the United States to help reinvigorate efforts to win his freedom.

However, at the same time he is asking for a renewed effort by the Israeli government and the organized Jewish community, his closest supporters have faulted both Israel and American Jewry for not doing all they can to persuade President Clinton to grant Pollard executive clemency. A former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst, Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to spying on the United States.

In two recent letters to Israeli Ambassador Eliahu Ben-Elissar, Pollard has asked the ambassador to instruct the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, "to send a copy of a recent op-ed by Eli Wiesel to each Jewish member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, along with a cover letter asking these individuals to join the Government of Israel in calling for my release."

Pollard, who is incarcerated in a medium-security prison in Butner, N.C., also asked Ben-Elissar to meet with him before Christmas so the ambassador could "convey a personal message of remorse from me directly to President Clinton," wrote Pollard, who was granted Israeli citizenship earlier this year by then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Traditionally presidents extend pardons and clemency around the holiday.

"As a citizen of the State of Israel, and as a bona fide Israeli agent, who has already spent 12 years in an American prison on behalf of Israel, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect that my Ambassador will extend himself immediately to fulfill the above two very modest requests." Pollard wrote in a Dec. 16 letter to Ben-Elissar.

Gadi Baltiansky, spokesman for the Israel Embassy here, acknowledged that the ambassador received Pollard's letters, but would not say what his response was or if Ben-Elissar will grant Pollard's request to visit him in prison.

Asked whether or not the ambassador requested AIPAC to distribute Wiesel's article, which calls on the president to pardon Pollard or reduce his sentence to members of Congress, Baltiansky responded, "We appreciate the excellent work done by AIPAC; however we don't give them instructions on what to do."

After being faxed the Dec. 16 letter by WJW, an AIPAC spokesman said he had no comment on Pollard's request.

Baltiansky did stress that the Israel government "is working on an ongoing basis" to give Pollard help.

Pollard's supporters, however, led by his wife Esther, a Toronto school-teacher, say

the Israeli government and the organized Jewish community have not pressed the Clinton administration hard enough on behalf of Pollard.

Esther Pollard said she does not understand why Israel has released Palestinian terrorists as part of the peace process, but her husband, who aided Israel, is still in prison.

"The entire world has changed," she told WJW from her home in Toronto. "There is a whole new era of peace and understanding, but we can't get them to take their foot off Jonathan's neck."

Pollard's life sentence combined with claims by the government that he has not shown remorse for his crimes and Clinton's two denials of clemency indicate that the government is "thinking about Israel as the enemy," Esther Pollard said. "Jonathan, Israel and the Jewish community are seen as one of the same."

She also criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not doing enough. "

Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly made public and private declarations, but he has not acted

," she said.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, a close Pollard ally and president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns (AMCHA), charged that Pollard's situation should be at the top of the Jewish community's list of priorities. "

It is because of the terrible cowardice of the American Jewish establishment that the Pollard issue has not been on the formal agenda

," Weiss charged.

He was referring to a July incident when Michael McMurray, President Clinton's spokesman, announced that the president had denied Pollard's request for clemency and refused to shorten his sentence,

at the same time

Clinton was meeting with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

The Jewish leaders, who were not informed of the president's decision until after it was publicly announced, did not raise Pollard's case during the formal meeting with the president. When the leaders brought up Pollard after the formal meeting, Clinton ignored their questions.

Jewish leaders, in interviews with WJW, acknowledged that Pollard's situation has not been high on their priority list, especially given the president's decision in July. Aides to several Jewish members of Congress who have been supportive of Pollard's release also said there was little activity on behalf of Pollard at this time.

Clinton's latest denial of clemency "took the starch out of the efforts," said Jess Hordes, the Anti-Defamation League's Washington representative.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said that although Jewish groups have not succeeded in winning Pollard's release, they should not be faulted for not trying. "It's not that people have not done anything," he told WJW.

"No issue remains consistently at the top of the agenda," he added. Now that the presidential election is over," Hoenlein said, "there will be renewed efforts to win his release."

Asked whether the recent series of spy arrests with the American intelligence community will hurt Pollard's chances for release, Hoenlein said they "will not mitigate concern in his favor," but there should be no linkage - It should be seen as a humanitarian issue as the Jewish community sees it."

Esther Pollard, who described her husband as tired but emotionally strong, said they have no intention of filing another request for clemency at this time.