February 28, 1998 - Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA
IMRA: You are back in Israel for the court case. When is the hearing?
Pollard: Monday, March 2nd.
IMRA: And in this court case you are asking the Israeli Government to -
Pollard: You will laugh, but we are asking the Israeli Government to recognize Jonathan as an agent. That is a key to freeing him.
IMRA: Why is that a key to freeing him?
Pollard: Israel has never officially accepted responsibility for Jonathan or for the operation he was involved in. Thirteen years later, Israel's continued denial of responsibility still angers the Americans. They have no interest in freeing Jonathan as long as Israel refuses to accept full responsibility. Let me give it to you in the simplest possible analogy: You steal the cookies from the cookie jar. You come back and not only do you not admit to stealing the cookies, but you have the chutzpah to ask for the cookie jar as well.
IMRA: What is the formal position of Israel on this matter? They have ministers visiting him.
Pollard: Again, Israel officially denies that he was an Israeli agent. The contradictions between Israel's official position and its actions has reached such ludicrous proportions that at this point Israel is in a bind.
Legally Israel cannot deny that he was an agent. Not just because of the ministerial visits, and his Israeli citizenship, but there are so many indications that he was, in fact, an agent.
Even just the ongoing involvement of Israel for the last 13 years in his situation. There are many ways that Israel has committed itself and has shown that it is intimately involved in this and can't be separated out. But, nevertheless, Israel has formally denied official responsibility for 13 years - which doesn't fool anyone.
IMRA: Has anyone ever taken you aside and said 'look, there's a national security consideration.' Some kind of logic to what they are doing. Has somebody ever tried to explain the logic as to why they won't admit to it?
Pollard: No. No one has even attempted to rationalize or explain the grossly incompetent approach that has been taken by Israel. There is no logic to it. It is stupid. It is totally stupid.
IMRA: These are grown adults. You would think that they would be able to say something. That the reason they can't do it is because of "x".
Pollard: When we applied for citizenship, I was told by government ministers at the time that 'we can't give him citizenship because that would be tantamount to admitting that we sent him.' Because that was the basis on which he had the right to demand citizenship. In the end we had to go to court to fight for it and Israel couldn't deny it to him.
On what basis did Israel give Jonathan citizenship? On the basis of the fact that anyone who serves the security interests of the state has an automatic right to citizenship when the operation ends. The fact that Jonathan had already been given an official Israeli passport in the name of Danny Cohen during his operation, established beyond any doubt his bona fides.
So Israel could not refuse the request and the Supreme Court ordered them to show cause. They were given thirty days and they couldn't show cause. So instead Israel did a quick about-face and gave Jonathan the citizenship.
Unfortunately, they granted the citizenship with an attitutde that said 'OK, fine, we are giving him citizenship but this doesn't mean anything. We admit to nothing.'
In other words, rather than using the citizenship at that point as their tool for saying 'OK he is one of ours, now we take responsibility, send him home.' they said 'here is your citizenship. Aren't we nice? Good-bye.'
IMRA: If I recall correctly, the government asked for a delay in the current case.
Pollard: Yes. They asked for a 6 month delay. They were granted a 60 day delay to resolve the case out of court.
Pollard: The delay was used only as a stalling tactic. In the entire 60 day period we saw no sign of serious intent or honest initiative.
If day 59 had come and it was clear that everything was in progress and proceeding, then we would have no interest to go back into court on day 60. We got to day 60 where they had literally avoided any meaningful action on the case. Avoided undertaking the most minimal of initiatives. The whole thing was an exercise in evasion.
IMRA: What kind of initiative would be an easy one?
Pollard: An easy one? The State of Israel, in accomplishing any important initiative in the United States, first engages AIPAC. With the support of AIPAC Israel then gets the necessary meetings on Capitol Hill and the proper exposure. AIPAC also helps Israel to engage the American Jewish leadership.
It doesn't matter if we are talking about advancing the peace process or selling any Israeli idea. This is standard practice. In 13 years AIPAC has never been engaged by the Israeli Government on the Pollard case. in 13 years, the American Jewish leadership have never once heard from the Israeli Government 'this is a national priority, we'd like your support on this.'
Another example of an easy initiative: Israel simply had to go to the money people in the Jewish community who fund the Clinton Government. All that Israel had to do was to say to them 'we could use your support on this. You don't even have to threaten not to sign the checks. Just remind the President that releasing Pollard is a priority of the Government of Israel that you support.'
Now how hard are those things?
IMRA: Has there been any progress since the October 29th Supreme Court Hearing?
Pollard: No. Not at all.
I would like to point out that the news reports are out that the Mossad agent in Switzerland is going to be released in a matter of a few weeks.
Now, on the one hand you have an agent in Switzerland whose release is arranged in days. You also have the Mashaal affair agents who's release was arranged within a few days and they were home in a week and a half.
On the other hand, you have another Israeli agent, Jonathan Pollard, who has been sitting in an American prison for thirteen years with absolutely no end in sight. No efforts are being made to secure his release.
IMRA: What about the new ministerial committee that has just been appointed?
Pollard: The new committee? All it is is theater. Window dressing.
Our experience with having new committees - and there have been three of them so far - is that every committee until now has been a smoke screen. And when the smoke clears, Jonathan is still in prison.
What the government has shown us in the past few weeks, both in the Masha'al affair and now in Switzerland, is that when they take responsibility and they do what they have to do they are able to bring an agent home almost immediately. It doesn't take thirteen years and a dozen failed committees.
IMRA: Why should Jonathan's release be a national priority?
Pollard: The point that people are forgetting is why Jonathan is sitting in prison in the first place.
America blindsided Israel thirteen years ago by withholding vital security information that was owed to Israel according to the terms of a 1983 security agreement between the two countries.
Bottom line: Jonathan Pollard is the man who warned Israel about the poison gas and nuclear threat from Iraq. Just a short while ago, everyone in Israel was in the streets standing in line and waiting to get gas masks. And they were buying up kilometers of plastic sheeting to make sealed rooms.
Where did we get this notion of sealed rooms from anyway? When did we switch over from thinking about bomb shelters to thinking about sealed rooms? Do you know when exactly? It actually started five years before the Gulf War when Jonathan handed over the information to Israel about what Iraq was preparing.
This was specifically Jonathan's contribution to Israel: getting Israel ready with sealed rooms. And here we were again, standing in the streets again seven years later doing the same thing. And the man who warned Israel about the poison gas threat and the rocket threat to Israel is rotting in an American prison. What exactly is going on here?
IMRA: I understood that when Minister Yuli Edelstein visited he left Jonathan with the impression that wheels were turning. That something was happening. That there would be a payoff to quiet activity.
Pollard: Edelstein understood that there had been a massive injustice. He met Jonathan. He expected a wild crazy man who would be angry and bitter and attack him and instead he met this very intelligent, very pure soul, a very reasoned, very calm, very up-to-date person who was very knowledgeable about Israel. And he was overwhelmed.
Edelstein is an honest man. He could not understand why Jonathan would even be sitting there. I think that he believed that he would go back to Israel and call the right people and they could all get together and get this thing done.
From what I understand, Minister Edelstein did make those phone calls when he got back to Israel. He was both shocked and deeply distressed, we are told, that he received such deeply apathetic indifferent or downright hostile responses from many of the people in power that he contacted.
If anything, Edelstein is now running into the same garbage we have been fighting for the past thirteen years. People saying publicly that they are concerned about Jonathan yet behind the scenes sabotaging us.
IMRA: Do you have any theory why this is happening?
Pollard: There aren't any nefarious deep dark reasons. Jonathan is not a threat to anyone.
Let me put it to you this way: If you could pick up Jonathan by the scruff of the neck and drop him into Bibi's office today, Bibi would look up and say 'Hi, welcome.' I have no doubt about that. What I do see is that neither he nor the government is willing to invest any political capital whatsoever in freeing Jonathan.
The Mossad is anything but a help. The fact that Jonathan's operation was necessary was a great embarrassment to the Mossad, because they were supposed to have very close contacts with the Americans and very good relations. The information that Jonathan provided showed that that simply wasn't the case. And it was a great embarrassment to the Mossad. Therefore, they were not and are not prepared to make any effort to secure his release.
As far as the political echelon is concerned, those people with direct involvement in the affair, right up to the Prime Minster's Office, felt it would be more comfortable for them to just remove themselves and become invisible. There was this whole 'quiet diplomacy' movement for many many years whose whole effort was dedicated to shutting Jonathan down and keeping the whole thing quiet and not making waves. I think that they simply hoped that eventually the whole thing would die down a bit and the Americans would one day quietly return him.
But Jonathan is far too useful to the Americans to simply give him up. And they are not going to give him up unless there is a very clear demand and unless a price is paid.
As Larry [Dub the attorney] likes to say, the first installment is the truth - 'he is ours. Give him back.'
IMRA: Is it critical that Israel admit this?
Pollard: Think of how twisted it is. They are saying 'give him back. Not because he is ours, and not because we admit to anything. But give him back.'
Well how serious are you about getting him if you aren't even willing to admit that he was yours?
There is a real legal problem here also. And the problem belongs entirely to Mr. Netanyahu and his government. And the problem is: either Jonathan was an Israeli agent and if he was, they have a legal liability to him and they must bring him home at once. Or, he was innocent of the charges and he wasn't Israel's spy, and so not only has he been falsely accused - so has Israel. In that case it is up to Israel to clear his name, and Israel's at the same time.
But Israel cannot keep denying responsibility while at the same time sending ministers to visit Jonathan and in the same breath insisting that Jonathan doesn't belong to them. It doesn't make any sense.
IMRA: Is this up to the Prime Minister's Office?
Pollard: All the Prime Minister has to do is state it in a letter to Bill Clinton: 'He is ours, give him to us. We accept full responsibility.'
In the same way, could they get this agent out of Switzerland if they denied responsibility for the operation?
IMRA: Is this like the Swiss case?
Pollard: No. The other thing that you have to remember about Jonathan's case is not only did Israel throw him out of the embassy, not only did Israel abandon him, Israel also betrayed him. Israel handed over to the Americans all of the documents with Jonathan's fingerprints on them in order to incriminate him. In the history of espionage no other nation has done that.
Now it's thirteen years later and it's public knowledge that this was done. When is somebody going to take responsibility? When is the Prime Minister is doing to take responsibility and say: 'Enough. This thing has gone on too long. It needs to be resolved.'?
IMRA: Does this have to be a public declaration?
Pollard: No. It can be done without great fanfare. If there were a modicum of seriousness in the Prime Minister's Office all he has to do is sit down with the President of the United States and say: 'This is it. The Pollard issue can't go on anymore.' And begin to negotiate. Everything in Washington has a price.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has the authority and the U.S. contacts, as well as access to the finest team of Israeli advisors in our intelligence and defense departments. He has the ability to personally shortcut through the whole process and to secure Jonathan's immediate release virtually overnight.
IMRA: How do you know that the Prime Minister can effect Jonathan's release so quickly?
Pollard: The Prime Minister has recently demonstrated in both the Masha'al Affair and the Swiss affair that when the Government of Israel is determined to return an agent home, he takes immediate and decisive steps to secure the objective and the release of the Israeli agent swiftly follows with minimal delay. For him to do anything less than that in Jonathan's case can only indicate a lack of honest intent on the part of the government.
IMRA: Has Israel tried to negotiate for Jonathan's release?
Pollard: There has been no negotiations over Jonathan. America wants to hold him because he is useful. And Israel doesn't particularly want him. So its a very neat thing.
Israel's only problem is trying to silence the loud voices calling in Israel and America for Jonathan's release.
IMRA: Has the Israeli Government tried to silence you?
Pollard: We have been through massive propaganda campaigns trying to either destroy my credibility and/or Jonathan's credibility or sanity. But these campaigns just don't work.
When you meet Jonathan, and thank God more people are meeting him, or when you even hear him, he is so clear and he is so absolutely pure and brilliant. He is so full of a love for the land and the people of Israel that you have to be overwhelmed by him. There is no bitterness. It is the most amazing thing. Here is somebody who should be full of hatred and instead his beloved land and people are everything to him.
Just before I returned to Israel this time he told me to remember that he didn't do this for any political establishment or organization. This was for the people of Israel. His people.
IMRA: Have you heard any supportive statements from Israeli government officials?
Pollard: The interesting thing is that I have been told over and over again by various ministers in different governments that 'you have my support not because I am a nice guy but rather you have my support because of what Jonathan did for us. He did very much for us.'
I remember one Justice Minster who said to me 'I have the clearances and I have seen the documents that Jonathan shared with us and we owe him for years to come.' So on the one hand they can say that and the very same minister said that 'we could never acknowledge that we sent him.'
The trouble is that the game is wearing thin.
IMRA: If the 60 day delay elapsed on December 29th, why are you only returning to court on March 2nd?
Pollard: Why? Because after 60 days you have to file again for a hearing and until they gave us a new hearing date, four months had passed.
IMRA: So in effect the government had a 120 day delay?
Pollard: Yes, they have had 120 days. And my understanding is that they want a further delay. Our attorney was recently asked by the government's attorney to drop the case. 'Why would we want to drop the case?' Dub asked. He was told 'because there is a new committee.'
That is ludicrous!
IMRA: Once this hearing is held, is this something that moves quickly?
Pollard: It really depends on how the court rules. They could order the government to show cause for not admitting he is an agent. They issued a show cause order in the previous case.
If Israel admits that Jonathan is an Israeli agent the liability issue is clear. Legally Israel must then assume full responsibility for securing Jonathan's immediate release - and I do mean immediate.
IMRA: Why is there such a strong grass roots feeling for Jonathan Pollard in Israel?
Pollard: Wherever I go in Israel I meet people who come up to me and tell me 'tell Jonathan we are with him and we are crossing our fingers for you - its a terrible thing what the government has done to him, the government has to do something, etc.'
Why do the people relate so strongly to Jonathan? Because here every man is a soldier and knows very well that he could easily be in Jonathan's position. This case is simply too important in its implications to the average citizen. A social contract exists between the government and its citizens and when the government fails to honor this social contract it puts every Israeli soldier in jeopardy.
IMRA: Hasn't the Israeli Government honored this social contact in rescuing Israeli agents in recent cases?
Pollard: No. These were Mossad agents. Most soldiers don't belong to the Mossad. The Mossad will pull out their own, with full government support. That is what we saw In the Masha'al Affair and more recently in the Swiss affair.
The average soldier has to rely on the government to come to his rescue, just the way that Jonathan Pollard did. That is why it is critical that the government's behavior in the Pollard case be rectified. The average soldier and the average citizen needs to be reassured that we are not all expendable - that the government will honor its social contract with us. Securing Jonathan Pollard's release is essential to that reassurance.
IMRA: What do you expect from the Supreme Court?
Pollard: What will the Supreme Court do? It would be a tragedy for them to play another delay game. If thirteen years hasn't been enough time for the Government of Israel to relate to this case with the necessary degree of seriousness, then asking for another delay another two months which will turn into another four months - would be a tragedy.