Excerpt from "Does The U.S. Have A Plan?"

March 13, 1998 - James D. Besser - The NY Jewish Week

New Pollard Push On Hill

The effort to spring convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard from the federal prison in Butner, N.C., seems to be gaining momentum, although there's no indication yet of how the movement is playing where it really counts at the White House.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh, designated by the government to deal with the sticky issue, announced plans to visit Pollard in the next few weeks, the latest in a series of Israeli officials who have made the trek.

This week there were reports in the Israeli press that the government is prepared to recognize Pollard as an agent, something he has sought for years. But top government officials denied that any promises were made, although there is a clear sense in Israel that policy on Pollard is shifting.

Pollard also received visits recently from Yitzchak Oren, an official at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and Tommy Baer, president of B'nai B'rith, who said that if Pollard weren't released soon, "it has the potential to become the closest thing to an American Dreyfus case," although he added that such direct comparisons are inaccurate because Pollard was guilty and Dreyfus was not.

Baer said that Jewish groups, including his own, will be more involved in the effort to win Pollard's release, and that both Jewish groups and Israeli officials are starting to lobby Congress to build pressure for commutation.

"We made it clear that B'nai B'rith doesn't condone or countenance his actions," Baer said. "We recognize that what he did was a serious crime. But the issue is whether he's paid his debt to society, and we believe he has."

Pollard, he said, expressed "clear remorse. He said that the act he undertook was because he could not understand why the United States was withholding information vital to the security needs of Israel, a strategic ally. It didn't make sense to him, so he shared certain information but withheld other information."

But Pollard, who has been imprisoned since his arrest in 1986 on espionage charges, told him that he was not seeking exoneration or trying to justify his actions, Baer said.

Congressional sources say it's unlikely there will be any public groundswell of support for Pollard's release on Capitol Hill.

Instead, supporters of commutation hope that quiet lobbying may reduce the administration's fears of political repercussions if they release Pollard despite vehement opposition from the defense and intelligence communities.

Administration insiders say that commutation still depends on two factors: whether or not Pollard is seen as clearly and unequivocally repentant, without any attempt to justify his spying - and whether Jewish support for commutation reaches a political critical mass.

"So far, the president and his advisers haven't been convinced that Pollard's release is actively supported by their primary Jewish constituency," said an official with a major Jewish group here. "The more Jewish groups that weigh in, the closer we get to that point."