Jonathan Pollard - Still The Man In The Iron Mask
Richard Z. Chesnoff - The New York Daily News Op-Ed page, January 2, 1998
Folks concerned with justice for Jonathan Pollard had a
measure of glad tidings this holiday season: the Israeli
government finally decided to move the Pollard issue to a
political front burner.
The former American naval intelligence aide who spied for
Israel has languished in prison for more than 12 years. But now
Deputy Defense Minister Silvan Shalom says the Netanyahu
government would actively seek clemency for him from the U.S.
Over the past few weeks, no less than two members of the
Israeli cabinet have made "official" visits to Pollard (now an
Israeli citizen), at the North Carolina federal pentitentury
where he's serving a life sentence. The Navy even allowed two
Israeli journalists to accompany one of the ministers and,
believe it or not, to interview Pollard - something authorities
steadfastly refused over the past decade.
I'm pleased that Pollard finally was able to speak his mind.
But I am flabbergasted that the US grants foreign newsmen
unfettered access when they deny it to American journalists.
My request to interview Pollard, for example, was filed more
than a year ago. Navy officials conditioned it on my agreeing to
surrender notebooks and tapes if Pollard said something that
"might be a security risk" -- in other words anything they didn't
like. That's a form of censorship they know no serious journalist
will agree to. The Daily News's legal wizard, Eve Burton, has
just reminded the Navy that's there's a thing called the
Constitution as part of our continuing pursuit of the interview..
Federal authorities have been trying to keep Pollard in an
iron mask ever since he was caught passing classified information
to the Israelis in 1985. The data dealt with Arab threats to
Israel's existance -- including details of Syrian poison gas
production and America's arming of Iraq.
Whether Pollard's motives were good or not, he broke American
law and he clearly deserved to pay for the offense. Problem is he
was overcharged -- or rather, oversentenced: life with scant
chance for parole.
The Israelis, embarassed by their botched caper, quickly
disavowed any official responsibility for Pollard. When he sought
asylum in their Washington embassy, they turned him away. And
after his capture, they tried spinning the affair away by
claiming it was a "rogue operation". To this day, the Israeli
government refuses to officially acknowledge Pollard as their
spy. That's so infuriated him that he recently sued the Israeli
demanding they finally fess up. As for trying to get
him released, successive Israeli prime ministers have made only
feeble pleas for clemency during their visits to the White House.
The Israelis aren't the only ones who let Pollard down. Most of
the American Jewish leadership has stuck its collective head in
the sand, fearful that any overt action to help Pollard would tar
them and the community with charges of "dual loyalism". As a
result, there has neer been a national campaign to say "Yes, this
man did wrong. But he has served more than 12 years in tough
prison conditions. Let him go already and let him leave for
Israel where he wants to make his life."
That freedom may now be closer than ever. I hear that Pollard's
fate has already come up in talks with Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright who's currently seeking major diplomatic
concessions from the Israelis. A quid pro quo? If so, it's an
Meanwhile, Americans as well as Israeli journalists should be
allowed to interview Pollard without mindless restrictions.
Authorities should stop compounding one injustice with another.
See other articles by Richard Chesnoff:
Let This Spy Come In Out of the Cold
I Spy A Clear Double Standard
Why Is the Navy Stonewalling on Pollard?
Seeing Pollard: Navy Is Being Double-Faced