The Time For Mercy Has Come
Netanyhau, other senior Israeli officials step up efforts to win release of
convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.
December 19, 1997 - Stewart Ain - The New York Jewish Week
Israeli Communications Minister Limor Livnat used her highly publicized
visit to jailed spy Jonathan Pollard Wednesday to publicize the Israeli
government's support for his release. Pollard used it to unequivocally
reaffirm his remorse and confess that his actions were wrong.
"I am not a hero," Pollard said in a phone interview Tuesday with The
Jewish Week from the federal prison in Butner, N.C. "I profoundly
understand that what I did was wrong."
Livnat carried with her a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu --
his first to Pollard -- in which he expressed the wish that "our continued
efforts on your behalf will bear fruit and that you will be a free man in
the near future."
Netanyahu said recently that he had raised Pollard's case three times in
discussions with President Bill Clinton, who rejected Pollard's plea for
clemency in July 1996. Clinton cited the gravity of the crime, his lack of
remorse and the damage his actions caused to American security.
Pollard, a U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst, was arrested in 1985
and pleaded guilty a year later to stealing American secrets for Israel. He
was sentenced to life in prison.
Netanyahu's diaspora affairs adviser, Bobby Brown, said in a phone
interview from Jerusalem that the prime minister believes strongly that the
"time for mercy has come." He said this belief is increasing among the
Israeli public and the government. Just last week, the Knesset passed a
motion calling for Pollard's release.
"The feeling throughout Israel is that we should do whatever we can to try
to help bring about the American decision to free him," said Brown. "There
is a growing concern for his health and mental well being. He has suffered
greatly since his conviction."
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
expressed a similar opinion -- based on humanitarian grounds -- in a letter
to Clinton last year.
"We have raised the issue in every meeting with administration officials,"
said Malcolm Hoenlein, the group's executive vice chairman.
Livnat, who arrived in the United States Monday for a three-day visit, did
not mention Pollard in her prepared remarks Tuesday to the Conference of
Presidents. But in answer to a question, she said that "although we believe
it was a rogue operation, after 12 years enough is enough. The time is
right to let him free. ..."
"He's an Israeli citizen and he suffers so much in jail. It is my
responsibility to visit him and strengthen him and try to convince America
that the time is right to send him home to Israel."
She did not say how she planned to press the Clinton administration for
Pollard's release and her spokesman said she had no plans to visit or write
to Clinton. But she did bring with her a television crew and photographers.
Livnat also carried with her letters from Finance Minister Yaacov Neeman
and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Eli Yishai.
In his letter, Yishai told Pollard: "You deserve to be pardoned, to immigrate to Israel, the beloved land whose security you worked for with such divine devotion."
Livnat, who was elected to the Knesset in 1992, said she was first visiting
Pollard now because until recently American authorities had not permitted
it. Just a few weeks ago, Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein became the
first Israeli minister to visit Pollard.
Pollard told The Jewish Week that he was not aware of any previous ban on
Israeli ministers visiting him. And he took exception to Livnat's assertion
that he had carried out a "rogue operation," saying there are documents
that prove he was an Israeli agent. In recent weeks, Pollard's lawyers
asked Israel's supreme court to release the documents.
"I thought she was coming here to inform the American Jewish establishment
that the time was now appropriate and necessary for them to stand by Israel
to help facilitate my repatriation," he said. "I thought she was coming
here in recognition of the truth and not in order to obscure it and throw
out old propaganda and excuses concerning my legitimacy as an agent. The
High Court of Justice facilitated my citizenship in November 1996 based
exclusively on the fact that I had been an agent of the state. It was a
legitimate operation, not a rogue one."
Sources in the defense and intelligence communities in Washington have
consistently been opposed to commuting Pollard's sentence because he has
not convincingly said that his actions were inexcusable, wrong and
unjustified. Told of those concerns, Pollard said he was "scared for
Israel's security and I felt I had to do something to defend her. This was
wrong, flat out wrong."
Minutes later, he called back with the following statement:
"I know now that I should have done whatever was necessary to find a legal
way of acting on my concern for Israel's security. I profoundly understand that what I did was absolutely wrong. I have paid a terrible price for that mistake, one that I can only hope others have recognized as well. I am not a hero. I am not someone to be emulated. I'm somebody who made a mistake and am trying desperately now to make sure that no one else follows me."