Pollard - An Overview of Recent Events (through January 1998)

Knesset Ministerial Committee Appointed To Work On Pollard's Release, Sharansky Plans A Visit To Butner

Susan L. R. Rosenbluth - The Jewish Voice And Opinion, New Jersey, February 1998

ENGLEWOOD, NEW JERSEY, May 8, 1998, Root & Branch:

For supporters of imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard, the news last month was good and bad. The good news was pressure to gain his release seems to be growing in the US and Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month convened a special ministerial forum to discuss action to gain his release, and Minister of Trade Natan Sharansky signaled his intention to visit Mr. Pollard in prison in Butner, North Carolina, this month. Three other ministers, Finance Minister Yaacov Neeman, Minister of Infrastructure Ariel Sharon, and Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Eli Yishai said they plan to visit Mr. Pollard during their next scheduled visits to the US in a few weeks.

The bad news was that, despite Mr. Netanyahu's interest, the 60-day delay mandated by the High Court of Israel to allow for a resolution of Mr. Pollard's case out of court has elapsed. Through his wife and attorney, Mr. Pollard is suing the State of Israel to force it to admit that he was a bona fide agent and not the product of a rogue operation as the Israel government has long insisted.

No Serious Intent

According to Esther Pollard, the Israeli Minister of Defense demonstrated an absence of serious intent and an unwillingness to initiate any constructive action on the case. "

"The 60-day period has been marked by nothing but empty promises, unfulfilled commitments, and bureaucratic excuses," she said.

Mr. Pollard's Israeli attorney filed a request for an emergency session of the Supreme Court to deal with his case. The Pollards believe that if Israel finally takes formal responsibility for his activities and concedes that he was employed by the state as a spy, his sentence will be commuted. The date for the Supreme Court session will be set by the court.

Who Was Responsible?

The Knesset ministerial committee to handle the Pollard case seems to have been appointed because no one in the cabinet knew who was responsible for dealing with him. At a government session on Mr. Pollard at the end of December, Communications Minister Limor Livnat, who recently visited Mr. Pollard in prison, asked which government agency was responsible for pursuing his release. Mr. Netanyahu pointed to Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, who promptly denied having any role in the matter.

Mr. Pollard's case was not being handled by the Foreign or Defense Ministries at any level either. Therefore, Mr. Netanyahu decided to appoint a new committee composed of representatives of various government agencies. The team members are Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai; the Foreign Minister, which is a position held, at least temporarily, by Mr. Netanyahu himself; Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi; the Attorney General; Ms. Livnat; and Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein, who, like Ms. Livnat, recently visited Mr. Pollard in prison.

During its first meeting, the forum addressed discreet and subtle action that can be taken in the US to bring an end to the affair and secure Mr. Pollard's release.

Attacking the US

For the first time, Mr. Netanyahu attacked the US for treating Mr. Pollard harsher than any other convicted US spy, and called for his release.

Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said that Mr. Pollard had erred, and he has expressed his remorse. "He should be in Israel now, and it is up to us to handle his request."

According to New York Daily News columnist Richard Chesnoff, Mr. Pollard's fate has already come up in talks between Mr. Netanyahu and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is currently seeking major concessions from the Jewish state.

Jewish Solidarity

At the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, on Jan. 11, a resolution urging clemency for Mr. Pollard was proposed by the Zionist Organization of America and adopted by an overwhelming margin. The resolution urged US President Bill Clinton to commute Mr. Pollard's sentence to time served.

"The length of the sentence given to Pollard was extraordinarily unfair, and the passage of this resolution by the World Zionist Congress is an impressive declaration of international Jewish solidarity with Jonathan Pollard, which the Clinton administration should not ignore," said ZOA president Mort Klein.

At its most recent session, ZOA's national executive committee passed a resolution stating: "Whereas Lieut.-Commander Michael Schwartz was arrested for providing classified US intelligence data to Saudi Arabia, indicted by a US Navy Grand Jury on the charge of espionage, and then released with an other than honorable discharge, and whereas Jonathan Pollard is now in his 12th year of incarceration for illegally passing US data to Israel, which no other individual who was convicted of passing such data to other allies of the US has ever served more than five years in prison; therefore be it resolved that the ZOA respectfully calls upon President Clinton to review the Pollard case in light of the handling of the Schwartz case, and grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard."

Conference of Presidents

Little more than a week later, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations announced it will soon begin a concerted effort for Mr. Pollard's release. Conference members decided to write to Mr. Clinton, asking him to commute Mr. Pollards sentence as a humanitarian gesture.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference, said the group's 55 member organizations would ask their members to begin a letter-writing campaign urging Mr. Clinton to release Mr. Pollard.

About the Author

A journalist for many years with various secular Jewish and general publications, Susan L. Rosenbluth began the Jewish Voice and Opinion in 1987 as a vehicle for the Orthodox-Jewish community, primarily in northern NJ and Rockland County and Riverdale, NY. The monthly news-magazine, which now reaches over 15,000 families, speaks out forcefully and unashamedly for the unique concerns of "classical Judaism." The publication's principal focus is the political scene in Israel and the US, and current events which affect the Jewish community.
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