Pollard - An Overview of Recent Events (through March 1998)

Susan L. Rosenbluth, Editor, The Jewish Voice and Opinion - April 1998 Edition

Feeling Betrayed And Abandoned By Israel, Pollard Criticizes American-Jewish Groups For Letting Clinton Insult Them

It was another month of disappointment and hope for Jonathan Pollard, the former Naval intelligence officer now in his 13th year of a life sentence in prison for having spied for Israel.

On March 2, Mr. Pollard's wife, Esther, was back in Israel for a Supreme Court hearing on her husband's request to be recognized as an Israeli agent. The Pollards believe Israel's admission that Mr. Pollard was an official spy is the key to obtaining his freedom.

"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," Mrs. Pollard told Aaron Lerner of the IMRA news agency.

In fact, Israel still officially maintains Mr. Pollard was part of a rogue operation rather than an operation controlled by the state.

Still Denying

Meeting with Mr. Lerner a few days before her court date, she noted that even as an increasing number of Israeli government ministers stream to his cell in Butner, North Carolina, to visit Mr. Pollard, the official Israeli position is still to deny that he was an Israeli agent.

"The contradictions between Israel's official position and its actions have reached such ludicrous proportions that, at this point, Israel is in a bind," said Mrs. Pollard. "Legally, Israel cannot deny 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."

She maintained that throughout the 13 years, no Israeli official ever tried to rationalize or explain the logic as to why the country would not admit his position.

"There is no logic to it. It is totally stupid," she said.

Unleashing AIPAC

If Israel were truly interested in freeing her husband, she said, the government would begin by engaging the Israeli lobbying group, AIPAC, to arrange the necessary meetings on Capitol Hill and the proper exposure. AIPAC, she said, would also 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 has never once heard from the Israeli government: This is a national priority. We'd like your support," she said.

She gave another example of what she called an easy initiative, but it is not one that would probably be embraced by the community. She suggested Israel approach money people in the Jewish community who fund the Clinton government.

"All Israel had to do was 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,'" she said.

Political Capital

She said she had no doubt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would welcome her husband to Israel, but she complained that neither he nor the government was willing to invest any political capital whatsoever in freeing Jonathan.

She expressed frustration over the fact that Israel was ready to move mountains to retrieve its agents from Jordan and Switzerland, but has done nothing for Mr. Pollard. And she dismissed the importance of the new ministerial committee that has just been appointed at the Knesset to work on obtaining her husband's release. She called the new committee theater and window dressing.

"Our experience with new committees, and there have been three of them so far, is that every committee has just been a smoke screen. And when the smoke clears, Jonathan is still in prison. What the government has shown us, both in the Mashaal affair and in Switzerland, is that when they take responsibility and do what they have to do, they are able to bring an agent home almost immediately. It doesn't take 13 years and a dozen failed committees," she said.

National Priority

She insisted her husband should be an Israeli national priority because he circumvented America's attempt to blindside the Jewish state.

"The US," she said, "was 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 is the man who warned Israel about the poison gas and nuclear threat from Iraq," she said, adding that his specific contribution to Israel was advising the Jewish state to get ready with sealed rooms.

Another Delay

When Mrs. Pollard finally received her day in court, it was another disappointment. The court maintained that, in light of the importance of the matter and the many government offices involved, an interministerial committee should be appointed headed by a senior government official. In fact, Mr. Netanyahu had just recently appointed Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh to head the committee.

The court concluded that the case should be postponed another 60 days to enable the team that was appointed, along with others in the government, to complete studying all the matters relating to Pollard. The court ruled that at the end of the 60 days, the government will be required to report in writing on the steps taken by the new committee. Mrs. Pollard called it an empty gesture, another stalling tactic.

Abandoned and Betrayed

She had bitter words for Israeli Attorney General Eliyakim Rubenstein who, the court noted, had discussed the Pollard case when he met with American Attorney General Janet Reno. Mrs. Pollard called the Rubenstein visit a self-serving sham.

"Rubenstein used Jonathan"s name as a sweetener in the Israeli press when he met with Reno about Sam Sheinbein [an 18-year-old Maryland resident who has been accused of murder]n, not about Pollard. This hurt Jonathan rather than helped him," she said.

From his cell, Mr. Pollard reacted to the Supreme Court's decision, saying he felt abandoned and betrayed."I don't have the words to express just how desperately I want to be free to come home for the Jubilee year of the State of Israel, to give honor to our nation," he told his wife by telephone, adding that he had the dubious honor of being the first agent in the world to be incriminated by the country he served. "I am also the only agent that ever had to sue his own government for recognition as an agent," he said.

He Was an Agent

One day after the court released its findings, Minister of Communications Limor Livnat said in the Knesset that Mr. Pollard was acting as an Israeli agent, and this is a fact.

"We all know the realities at hand, and it is time the government of Israel officially admits to it and takes responsibility for Pollard's release," she said.

Moledet MK Rechavam Zeevi said that in Israel's efforts to obtain the release of the Mossad agents apprehended in September in Jordan, Israel even agreed to release Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Achmed Yassin.

"If we can release a despicable person such as Yassin to obtain the release of our own agents, we must do more on behalf of Pollard," he said.

A Gallup Poll commissioned by IMRA on March 3 found that close to 74 percent of adult Israeli Jews believe the government of Israel should publicly take responsibility for Mr. Pollard's spying activities on Israel's behalf. The survey found that support for a public declaration was higher among women (77 percent) than men (71 percent).

"I find it paradoxical that a person who was clearly an Israeli agent, was nabbed at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and yet the government of Israel will not acknowledge he was a spy," said IMRA co-director Joseph Lerner.

B'nai Brith Visit

Three days after the court gave its decision, Mr. Pollard was visited for an hour and a half in Butner by B'nai Brith's international president, Tommy Baer. After the visit, Mr. Baer said the failure of the US to release Mr. Pollard to Israel would turn his case into another Dreyfus case.

Mr. Baer said that while B'nai Brith absolutely does not condone what Mr. Pollard did, he has served longer than any individual convicted of the same crime.

"He has paid his debt to society," said Mr. Baer. "Its time for the organized Jewish community in the US to speak out on the basis of humanitarian concern and compassion for Mr. Pollard."

Mr. Baer said he thought Mr. Pollard's mental state was good, but he recognized that he does suffer from several health problems.

No Hero or Martyr

Mr. Pollard reportedly told Mr. Baer he did not consider himself a hero or a martyr. "I object to any such characterization," said Mr. Pollard. "I am not seeking exoneration and I do not claim my acts to have been justified."

B'nai Brith has several times repeated its call for Mr. Pollard's sentence to be commuted to time served. At the organization's biennial convention in 1996, B'nai Brith delegates voted to call on Mr. Clinton to commute the sentence on humanitarian grounds.

Mr. Pollard has said that his prison conditions are deteriorating daily. "My life hangs by a thread," he told his wife. "They continue to bring an endless number of hard-core criminals and cold-blooded murderers into the prison, and prison officials are unresponsive to security concerns. They laugh at me and say, Go complain to the Mossad. These prisoners have weapons. There is a danger to life and limb every single day in this place."

Prompting Action

The court case in Israel seemed to act as an signal to the government that it was time to take the Pollard case more seriously. On March 8, Ministers Yuli Edelstein and Ms. Livnat, as well as Mr. Naveh, met with Mrs. Pollard. The next day, Mr. Naveh announced he would shortly visit Mr. Pollard in Butner. Both Ms. Livnat and Mr. Edelstein have already done so.

Labor MK Ophir Pines, who heads the Knesset lobby for Mr. Pollard, has been distributing letters to MKs, calling on them to visit Mr. Pollard in prison.

Mrs. Pollard said Mr. Naveh told her during the meeting that the Prime Minister had ordered the Pollard case to be handled as the government would treat any case involving a government agent, without any exception.

Mr. Edelstein, Israel's Absorption Minister, said he hoped the government would declare Mr. Pollard an agent who acted on behalf of the state of Israel.

"We have to recognize him as our official agent. Limor Livnat agrees with this. I cant promise this will be the official decision of the committee, but I think we will do everything possible so that, in the near future, the committee headed by Danny Naveh will recognize Jonathan Pollard as an Israeli agent," said Mr. Edelstein.

Plea to America

On March 16, at a meeting of some 500 Hadassah members at the Jerusalem Theater, Ms. Livnat called on US Ambassador Edward Walker to allow Mr. Pollard to come home to Israel.

In an impassioned plea at the end of her scheduled address, Ms. Livnat said, "I must make a point of mentioning the plight of one Jew, Jonathan

Pollard, especially in the presence of the US ambassador. Jonathan has said that what he did was wrong," she continued. "He has expressed deep remorse, but the fact of the matter is that, after 12 years in prison, he has been punished more than any other person in American history for his crime. It is time to let him out. A presidential pardon now would not be seen as a compromise. It would serve the cause of justice. It would be a humanitarian gesture. Most of all, Mr. Walker, I urge you to convey this to the White House that enabling Jonathan Pollard to come to live in Israel with his wife is the right thing to do."

During her regularly scheduled remarks, Ms. Livnat said she could imagine no finer gift to Israel for its 50th anniversary than relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Ms. Livnat's words received a warm ovation from the Hadassah members, and Hadassah president Marlene Post expressed administration for her leadership. But Mr. Walker did not respond to Ms. Livnat's remarks.

Jewish President's Form Letter

At the end of the month, the White House finally responded to a rather lukewarm letter sent, one month later than intended, by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Mr. Pollard's behalf. Using the words of the standard form letter sent to any American who writes urging Mr. Pollards release, Charles Ruff, counsel to the president, wrote that based upon all the information before him, the President decided that the extraordinary remedy of executive clemency should not be used in this case.

Mr. Pollard called on the umbrella group immediately to protest as disrespectful and unacceptable the government's use of a form-letter response.

"However, the casual manner in which the Conference approached the President on my case, regular mail, one month late, obviously signaled the White House as to its low priority. Their response, therefore, was not surprising. But it is deeply distressing that the Conference has swallowed this contemptuous treatment without protest, and has dutifully disseminated to its entire membership this letter from the government of the United States which essentially dismisses the Conference's eloquent appeal for equal justice under the law," he said.

Mr. Pollard asked the key member groups of the Conference, the American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, and the ADL, to take up his cause.

"These groups can no longer be silent," he said. "If the Conference of Presidents is to be taken seriously, these groups must weigh in publicly on this matter at once. If they do not, then they must bear a large measure of responsibility for my continuing ordeal. And that is something which brings honor to neither the Jewish community in general nor to these organizations in particular."

Neeman Meeting

On March 23, Israel's Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman traveled to Butner to meet with Mr. Pollard. During their 40-minute meeting, which was attended also by Mrs. Pollard and journalists from the Jerusalem Post and Israel Radio, Mr. Pollard said he was still extremely disappointed and quite angry about the court's 60-day delay before ruling on whether he is an Israeli agent.

His treatment by Jewish groups is not the result of just their Diaspora fears, he told Mr. Neeman, but also because of the Israeli government's political approach to the case over the past 13 years.

Upon leaving the prison, Mr. Neeman said he was nearly brought to tears by Mr. Pollard. He said that both American and Israeli Jewry had failed to do enough to effect his release.

"It was a difficult day for me because of my emotional meeting with him. To see a person who has been in jail for so long and see how his health is deteriorating. He's paid a heavy price and should be able to go to Israel and start a new life," said Mr. Neeman.

"We should do our utmost to influence Mr. Clinton to have Pollard released," he continued. "This is a humanitarian act and it is within Judaism to be human. We have not done enough for him at this stage. I was almost crying when I saw how he keeps his senses. He is upset at the way he has been treated by the Jews here and in Israel. There must be an end to this grave situation. I'm trying very hard to mitigate the problems involved. One doesn't pursue a person until he dies."

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