Bibi Nixes Joint Plea Plan for Pollard

February 18, 1997 - David Twersky, Editor-in-Chief - Metro West Jewish News

WASHINGTON - Benjamin Netanyahu came and went, and Jonathan Pollard's unrest was replaced with discontent.

Speaking from his prison cell in North Carolina in statements relayed through his wife, Pollard was bitter and disappointed that his fate did not feature prominently on the agenda of Netanyahu's brief visit to Washington last week.

More important, the convicted spy, now in his 12th year in prison, had pinned much of his hopes on a plan to have three American Jewish leaders close to the president -- Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel; Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the immediate past president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; and Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress -- present their appeal with Netanyahu present. This marked a strategic shift by Pollard away from his early advocates, most of whom appeared to be on the pro-Israel right.

"I don't want to be hostage to anyone else's agenda," Pollard said. Pollard, however, now says

Netanyahu nixed the plan


Pollard's ties to the three are relatively recent. Last fall, Wiesel wrote a column in the weekly newspaper The Jewish Week, New York, endorsing Pollard's release on humanitarian grounds. Schindler took the same position following his recent visit to Pollard's prison cell, accompanied by the WJC's Israel Singer. Singer told the Jewish News that in his last meeting with Clinton, Bronfman "asked the president for Pollard. The president said he'd consider it. Edgar hasn't seen the president since."

Days before Netanyahu's visit, Schindler told the Jewish News , "If a delegation approaches the president, I will be there."

The plan was first brought to David Bar-Illan, a Netanyahu aide, and to Singer. Among those urging Netanyahu to agree was a former Sephardi chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu, who Esther Zeitz Pollard says is her husband's "rabbi."

In a series of letters, Pollard's lawyer, Larry Dubb, argued that the time was right for such a move because of the improved climate in United States-Israel relations.

In preparation for the meeting, Singer was helping to coordinate letters from Jewish women's groups and religious organizations asking for commutation of Pollard's sentence, according to Dubb.

Singer would not confirm this version of his role, but he said he hoped the Jewish community and the Israeli government would be able to mesh their efforts to have Pollard's sentence commuted.

By Feb. 9, however, Dubb was writing that

Netanyahu had changed his mind

. In a letter to the WJC's Singer, he said that, "because of scheduling difficulties, [Netanyahu] would rather see this group speak to the president themselves at a different time."

That news triggered an angry letter to Netanyahu from Zeitz Pollard, who wrote:

"We are dismayed that you have elected to


the help of American Jewish leaders who offered to accompany you to the White House to support your initiative with President Clinton to secure Jonathan's release."

According to Zeitz Pollard, Singer told her that Clinton would not receive the delegation to talk about Pollard -- unless he changes his mind about letting Pollard go free. "Bibi knows darn well they can't get in to see him without him," she said.

Netanyahu's staff told Dubb he would discuss Pollard's fate with Clinton, but Zeitz Pollard doubts that happened. Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Eliyahu Ben Elissar,

refused to say whether Netanyahu did in fact ask Clinton to commute Pollard's sentence


Pollard was also dismayed by a news report that an "interministerial committee" handling the Pollard affair, about which he said he knows nothing,

had turned down a request

from Ben Elissar to appoint an embassy official as the contact man with Pollard. In a letter to the ambassador, Pollard asked for information on the panel and its reasons for turning down Ben Elissar's request.

The ambassador said "not to believe everything in the press about interministerial committees."