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
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
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
"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
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."