Israeli Cabinet minister plans to meet with Pollard in prison

November 11, 1997 - Naomi Segal

JERUSALEM, (JTA) -- Israeli Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein intends to visit convicted spy Jonathan Pollard when he visits the United States next week.

If the visit takes place, Edelstein would be the second -- and the highest-ranking Israeli official to meet with the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst during the 12 years he has been imprisoned. Pollard was previously visited by a junior consular official.

Edelstein said this week that he believed it was time to take a public stand regarding Pollard's imprisonment.

"I think my major message is that Pollard hasn't been forgotten," said Edelstein, a member of the Yisrael Ba'Aliyah Party.

"I'm not going to say he hasn't done anything wrong. It was a crime under American law, and I think 12 years [in prison] was enough. It's high time for us to debate the issue publicly," he told Israel Radio.

Edelstein said he had consulted with Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein about visiting Pollard at a federal prison in Butner, N.C.

Edelstein added that he was coordinating the visit with Israel's Foreign Ministry, which is discussing the idea with American officials.

Pollard was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to stealing secrets for the Israeli government and, in 1987, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Edelstein said the Israeli government has not done enough to press for Pollard's release.

He told Israel Radio that during the past 18 months that he served as member of the Cabinet, he had not "seen any efforts" on Pollard's behalf -- "not to mention the previous government, which was not, let's say, sacrificing themselves for this."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied last month that he had abandoned Pollard's cause, adding that he had raised the matter three times in discussions with President Clinton.

Clinton rejected a clemency plea by Pollard in July 1996, citing the gravity of his crime, his lack of remorse and the damage he caused to American security.

Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in 1996, a move he had hoped would bolster his chances for release.

Pollard's wife, Esther, recently petitioned the High Court of Justice to call on the Israeli government to recognize that Pollard was an agent for Israel.

The petition also asked the court to order the government to release classified documents which she said would prove that her husband's activities were overseen by senior Israeli authorities.

The court postponed a decision, ruling last month that the defense establishment should first grant her meetings with security officials.

Israeli officials have maintained that Pollard passed on intelligence documents without official sanction.