Reporter's Notebook: Neeman, Pollard and Heavy Security

March 25, 1998 - Hillel Kuttler - The Jerusalem Post

Butner, North Carolina - The metal doors of the Federal Correctional Institution slide open and Minister of Finance Yaakov Neeman walks off to see Jonathan Pollard.

Such a visit means another guest, US Navy security officer Eric Johnson - sent from Washington to assure that, 13 years after his incarceration for passing naval intelligence to Israel, Pollard passes no more - also will be present.

The inmate waits outdoors, wearing a light brown jacket in the morning chill.

He has his back to us as we approach, but is immediately identifiable by the kippa perched atop his long brown hair.

The group arranges metal chairs around two small coffee tables in a large room with vending machines lining the walls. Pollard is admitted from the other side and kisses his wife, Esther, who flew in from Toronto. Smiling, he heartily shakes the hands of the visiting Israeli officials and journalists.

He ignores Johnson.

The visit is evidence of the Israeli government's new policy toward Pollard.

For the first time, ministers visiting the US meet with him. The embassy's congressional affairs attache, Yitzhak Oren, is here, too. He recently was designated as the embassy's first-ever liaison to Pollard. Pollard's previous meetings with the Israeli government were held only with Atlanta consular officials, whose jurisdiction covers this part of the South.

Pollard settles into his chair and methodically delivers a 40-minute monologue. He has a lot to say, and says it, but isn't at all rushed. Like a college professor, he ticks off his points, prefacing them by stating, for example, that there are three things to say about this and four about that.

There are no wasteful uhs and uhms to segue from one statement to the next.

No one else speaks except for Neeman, who interjects questions here and there, like asking whether the prison provides him with kosher meals; Pollard answers "No." Throughout, Neeman's spokeswoman and two journalists quietly rise and snap photographs, taking care not to include Johnson, as naval intelligence specified in its two pages of conditions. No Hebrew is allowed to be spoken, and I wince when Neeman or Pollard throw in an occasional expression, thinking that Johnson will assume the worst and end the session then and there.

All the while, Pollard, dressed in a brown short-sleeve khaki shirt, tan slacks and white sneakers, grasps Esther's right hand. His graying beard occasionally approaches the white sticker above his left breast pocket that states Pollard's name and 09185-016, his prisoner number.

Serious as he is, Pollard enjoys a few laughs. He jokes about how something he said shows his "Litvak side." His round face evinces appreciation when Neeman tells him that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sends his regards.

The meeting started almost 30 minutes late because of a mix-up over whether Esther Pollard was cleared to attend. The warden, Harley Lappin, had appeared in the lobby and cleared it up. Then each visitor's papers had to be put in order, several times. Neeman was none too happy about being compelled to sign too, curtly telling the escort that an American cabinet secretary would not be subject to such treatment in Israel. Then the sequence of security checks.

As a result of the delays, it is not a prison official but Neeman who ends the session, saying he has a plane to catch for New York. He presents Pollard with a black, soft-covered prayer book, and shows him its Hebrew inscription, "With the Blessing of the Freeing of Prisoners." He turns to the back and points out Nachmanides' prayer: "Every day that you will read this leaflet, Heaven will answer whatever requirements you have." Pollard puts the book down. It must go through a security check before he can claim it.

There are more photographs - posed shots of Pollard shaking someone's hand.

Jonathan and Esther embrace. He heads out his door, we out ours. The group walks down the corridor. Pollard, with his back to the glass again, puts his coat back on and walks off into the courtyard, not once looking back.

  • Return to Neeman Page