Ya'acov Ne'eman: Minister of Finance
- Estie Apelbaum, aide to the minister
- Yitzhak Oren, Israeli Embassy attache
- Eric Johnson, monitor, NSA
The Time: Monday March 23, 1998 10:00 a.m.
The Situation: Pollard is speaking. Ne'eman is listening attentively.
Pollard spoke uninterrupted for nearly 45 minutes. Ne'eman hardly spoke
at all. Ne'eman understood. He understood that this was Pollard's chance
to finally pour out his heart after 12 years in prison. Twelve years of
living with the overwhelming sense that you've been grievously wronged,
not only by the country that put you away for life, but also by the
country you served, can fill twelve hours with heartfelt complaint.
But on that account Pollard was amazing. What he had to say were not the
words of a bitter man. They were the words of a thinking man, aware of
the tiniest nuances. A man of great intellect and thoroughly focused.
Pollard, it became clear, knows exactly how it is possible to free him
and end this nightmare so that he can come home. And even though from
time to time he takes to task individuals who he feels have hurt him the
most, from the former American Secretary of Defense to the American
Jewish organizations - who in his words, won't lift a finger to help him -
he remains thoroughly composed, calm, and even optimistic.
So much so, that he believes that if the Government of Israel will do
the right thing, it can succeed in securing his release in time for the
upcoming Independence Day.
After the meeting was over, Minister Ne'eman did not attempt to hide his
amazement at the intellectual might of the man he'd just met. But more
than anything else, Ne'eman came away with the overwhelming sense that
something must be done for Pollard and quickly. " I was overwhelmed by
the enormous suffering the man endures," he said.
Ne'eman saw to it that Pollard's words were recorded in full by his
aide, Estie Apelbaum. He had a purpose in mind when making the recording
- he promised Pollard he would share a transcript of the recording with
Prime Minister Netanyahu. The recording was also shared with Yediot
Achronot and an abbreviated transcript follows. Because of the quality
of the recording, it is possible that some things were not exactly as
Pollard said them. Some have been greatly abbreviated. Nevertheless the
attempt has been to present the essence of what he said and the spirit
in which it was said.
* * *
Pollard: "When I first heard that a committee had been formed to deal
with my release, and I learned that the committee was headed by Dani
Naveh, I was relieved. Why? Because I know Naveh, and I know his
reputation. He is a straight shooter and a doer. He knows how to get
things done. I'm satisfied with him.
But I am a bit confused to say the least about the rather tardy and
rather unfocused start that the committee has gotten off to.
"The first issue on the agenda (for the committee) has to be the issue
of my status. Who and what am I?
You know as well as I do that if I were just Ploni Almoni, (Mr. Nobody)
you wouldn't be here.
"Everyone knows that I was an Israeli agent. Official recognition of
that fact would simply reflect the truth. Official recognition as an
agent would allow Israel to seek my release in the same intensive way
that it does for all captured agents, and not just on a humanitarian
basis. Therefore it is clear that there are some practical aspects to
"The Americans are still very angry. Not just because my operation was
carried out, but especially because of the way that Israel has
mishandled this case right from the very start. *(Israel refused to
admit that they had run Pollard. Z.Y)
"The Americans - and I am also an American so I understand the mindset
- don't like being played for fools. And Israel's continued denial of my
agent status just makes the Americans angry, especially with a close
ally like Israel.
"The issue of my status is also very important with regard to the
American Jewish community. They will have a hard time ignoring the
distress of an Israeli agent - as opposed to the way that they have
perceived me until now, as a man who has caused them embarrassment and
made them fear that their loyalty to America would be called into
"The issue of my status is also important with regard to my treatment
here in prison. I suffer from a number of health problems, and once my
status is defined, the government of Israel would be in a position to
demand appropriate medial care for me. My new status would in general
influence in a very positive way the way that I am perceived and the way
that I am treated in prison for however long I still have to be here.
"A.I.P.A.C. *(Israel's American lobby. Z.Y.) is an important subject.
Capitol Hill, Congress, and the American Jewish establishment will not
do anything to help me unless they see Israel engage its lobby. Once
that happens, it sends a very clear signal to everyone concerned in this
case that the Israeli government is calling up the heavy artillery. This
is not reconnaissance; it's not surveillance of the border. This is a
"The 3 principal American Jewish organizations, the American Jewish
Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti Defamation League,
have until now, remained on the sidelines. The US administration looked
to them. They said nothing. They did nothing. They have been totally
silent. They have my blood on their hands.
"Their behavior is rooted in fear. But the minute that the official
recognition of my status is proposed as a solution, and A.I.P.A.C. is
engaged, these groups will no longer be able to sit silently on the
"And then there is the issue of betrayal. Why my operation was
implemented to begin with. They accused me of a crime I never committed.
*(Caspar Weinberger, former Secretary of Defense, falsely characterized
Pollard to the court as a traitor. Z.Y.) The question is, if I am
portrayed as a traitor, which is the enemy state that I served? The
portrayal of me as a traitor is in essence a modern day blood libel. In
my case, the Justice system (which convicted Pollard and imposed a life
upon him) has been subverted to serve political ends. What has
occurred is an attempt to discredit the American Jewish community by
calling into question their loyalty as Americans, and to undermine
Israel by calling into question Israel's credibility as a reliable
"There is also the issue of damage. It is reasonable to presume that
after 13 years, if there had been any damage to the US, that damage
would have been known by now. Yet in all these years no one has ever
seen or heard of a single example of any damage that I was supposed to
have done. Not one single example. Nor was I ever indicted for damaging
the US. There isn't a single shred of evidence to support such a
"And then there is the question of reliability. If Israel is going to
continue to take risks in the peace process, and those risks are
predicated on American guarantees, my continued incarceration flies in
the face of America as a credible ally. My continued incarceration
testifies to the fact that those who are responsible for keeping me here
as a useful tool with which to continually damage Israel - those same
individuals are still active behind the scenes in America, and continue
to work against Israel.
"Another example of the double standard in the treatment of Israel as
an ally is the comparison of my case with that of American Lt.Cmdr.
Michael Schwartz, (a non-Jew) who spied for the Saudis. He confessed and
was indicted on the same charge as I was, and yet in deference to the
Saudi ally he was mysteriously freed without ever serving a day in
prison. It is not possible to explain why I am still sitting in prison
when you compare my case with that of Michael Schwartz. We both
committed essentially the same crime for 2 different allies. Israel's
spy gets a life sentence, and Saudi Arabia's spy gets not a single day
"The final point is in order to end my incarceration as quickly as
possible, a target date is critical. My friend (Minister) Yuli Edelstein
has publicly set a target date. He believes that Yom Ha'atzmaoot
(Independence Day) is the right time. No one can guarantee that I will
be released on or before that day. But it is important to have a target
date towards which people can focus their efforts. I have heard that
Vice President Al Gore is expected to come to Israel for Yom
Ha'atzmaoot. It should be made public that that just as Israel looks
forward to welcoming Al Gore for Yom Ha'atzmaoot, Israel looks forward
to welcoming me on that day as well.
Translator's note: this meeting took place a few days before the
headlines appeared in the news announcing that Peter Lee, an American
physicist who had given classified information to the Chinese relating
to nuclear weapons and laser technology, had been sentenced to 1 year
in a halfway house!
Both Pollard and Lee were indicted on
the same charge. Lee's espionage damaged US weapons programs and yet Lee gets only 1 year in a halfway house as opposed to Pollard's draconian life sentence with no parole under harsh conditions! Even those who have spied for
enemies of the US have generally received much lighter sentences than Pollard. See Unequal Justice, as well as the Kim, Schwartz, and Lee pages/
"I believe that other than Minister Sharansky, there is no one with
more influence on the American Jewish Community than yourself, (Minister
. Because of your efforts on the pluralism issue, no one is
better suited than you to address the American Jewish leadership to let
them know what is expected of them and to call upon them to help."
* * *
After Pollard finished speaking, Minister Ne'eman promised Pollard that
he would relay his words to Prime Minister Netanyahu and promised to
advocate for him in the American Jewish Community, whose leadership has
indeed been reticent on the case. Many American Jews feel that they
still bear the stigma from the embarrassment that Pollard's operation
on behalf of Israel caused them, and which they fear raises questions
about their loyalty as American citizens.
Even amongst those American Jews who are supportive of Pollard's
release, are those who are not pleased with the parade of Israeli
government ministers to Pollard in prison. Ne'eman is the 3rd minister
to visit , after Yuli Edelstein and Limor Livnat ; and shortly Minister
of Labor and Social affairs Eli Yishai will also visit Pollard. Some
claim that raising the profile of the case in this manner simply arouses
the antagonism of the American administration and those opposed to
Pollard's release- mainly those in the intelligence community. An
unnamed Jewish leader (too fearful to allow himself to be identified)
supposedly close to the American administration claims, "Every
ministerial visit delays Pollard's release by another 5 years."
But Minister Ne'eman rejected these claims out of hand yesterday, and
stated that the time for quiet diplomacy is over as far as he is
concerned. "For twelve years they tried to free him by going
underground and through quiet channels, and this did nothing to advance
his release. It is now essential that the case be raised as part of the
public agenda. The man broke the law in America, he admitted it and he
has expressed his remorse. He has suffered horrendously. It is time to
end his suffering, and to give him a chance to live out the rest of his
life in Israel."
And what about the ministerial visits?
" I hope that they will result in the a new awareness for the American
Jewish community such that they will finally stand up and speak out for
Addendum to '45 Minutes With Jonathan Pollard'
Yediot Achronot - March 26, 1998
As is usual in Israeli Journalism, Yediot Achronot contacted Abe
Foxman, Director of the ADL to provide him with an opportunity to rebut
Pollard's criticism of the American Jewish Leadership and of the 3
major Jewish organizations, one of which was the ADL.
Foxman's rebuttal is stunning as a self-indictment. Foxman's own words
more than validate Pollard's criticism. What follows is a translation of the rebuttal that followed the article "45 Minutes With
* * *
Abraham Foxman, Director of the ADL (Anti Defamation League), was
asked to respond to Pollard's claims that the American Jewish Leadership
had acted indifferently towards his case. Foxman responded,
"It is sad that the man's pain has led him to rage and to hatred. His
blood is not on our hands, but on his own. He is the one who did the
deed that got him into prison, and then afterward he refused to ask for
forgiveness for years. If he had expressed remorse a long time ago, he
would have been released a long time ago. I don't understand why he is
It was pointed out to Foxman that Pollard had repeatedly expressed
remorse and that that was simply an excuse, that no amount of remorse
was ever enough. Foxman was then asked why, in the light of the on-going
persecution of Jonathan Pollard, he and the ADL were still silent on the
issue. He responded:
"Why are we silent? Because the Government of Israel now speaks for
I don't think that we, the American Jewish community,
hold the key to free him.