Gore Pressed On Pollard As He Sets out for Israel

Sharansky Beseeches the Vice President After Call On 'Humanitarian Grounds'
Could Spy Be Given a Lift on Air Force Two?

April 17, 1998 - Seth Gittel - The Forward


- Israel is pressing America to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in conjunction with Vice President Al Gore's visit later this month marking the country's 50th anniversary.

There has been a flurry of activity on Pollard's behalf in recent weeks both in Israel and in America. In Israel earlier this month the cabinet of Prime Minister Netanyahu drafted a letter to President Clinton calling upon the President to free Pollard on "humanitarian grounds". In March, Israel's minister of industry and trade, Natan Sharansky, beseeched Mr.Gore to lend his support to the effort to release Pollard from prison. Some in Israel are even suggesting that Mr.Gore even give Pollard a seat on Air Force Two. Just last week, representatives of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox religious movements in America sent a letter to Mr. Clinton asking for the commutation of Pollard's sentence.

The question of Pollard's role as an American spying for Israel is a thorny one for American Jews. The current widespread support Pollard is getting is in marked contrast to the years immediately following his 1985 arrest, when both Israeli and American Jews were cool to the issue. Even so, Pollard is insisting that Israel, which has until now formally disavowed him, recognize that he worked for the country as an official agent.

"Things are happening, and I hope things won't take too long," said Israel's minister of immigration, Yuli Edelstein. "I would say enough is enough. I won't claim that Pollard is in prison for nothing, but it is high time for the administration to rethink what its position on Pollard should be."

Mr. Edelstein, who himself spent 3 years in a Soviet Gulag, sparked the current wave of interest in Pollard when he visited him in a North Carolina prison in November. Since that time Israel's finance minister Yaacov Ne'eman, and communications minister, Limor Livnat have also visited Pollard. (Note: Minster of Labor and Welfare, Eli Yishai has also visited Pollard - Justice for J.P.) Israel's former chief Sephardic rabbi (and spiritual leader of the SHAS Party) Ovadia Yosef sent a letter of support to Pollard and one to Mr. Clinton asking for his release.

Mr. Edelstein, who like Mr. Sharansky, is a leader of Yisrael b'Aliyah, Israel's Russian Immigrant party, is suggesting that Pollard's release come in conjunction with Israel's 50th birthday. Mr. Edelstein said that both Messrs. Netanyahu and Sharansky had raised the issue of Pollard at meetings with Mr. Gore this year.

"With this kind of (consensus) in Israel, with Gore, if he wants to make a big gesture with the 50th anniversary, this is one of the best possibilities," Mr. Edelstein told the Forward, suggesting that Gore bring Pollard with him to Israel.

A New York-based spokeswoman for Mr. Sharansky, Zeesy Schnur, declined to confirm whether Mr. Sharansky raised the subject of Pollard with Mr. Gore. "He did meet with the Vice President. He said that it was a good meeting and that he is looking forward to seeing Gore at the end of April at the (Israel Independence Day) celebration."

A spokesman for Mr.Gore, Jonathan Spalter, said, "We do not comment on the substance of private conversations the Vice President has at private meetings with other governments." He added, "The Vice President looks forward with pride to representing the United States at this historic celebration."

The White House meanwhile is planning its own celebration of Israel's 50th, hosting a reception for some 500 American Jewish leaders and Israelis that is scheduled for April 27.

A spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, David Brazilian, said the government had formed a special committee to handle the Pollard issue, headed by the cabinet secretary, Danny Navaho.

The president of Bnai Brith, Tommy Bear, visited Pollard last month and is spearheading the American Jewish effort for Pollard's release. He said Pollard wants the Israelis to acknowledge him publicly. "He wants an absolute admission that he was working for the Israeli government in a method that was sanctioned," Mr. Baer said.

Both Mr. Edelstein and a spokesman for Israel's minister of infrastructure Ariel Sharon, Ranan Gissin, said that the time for such an acknowledgment had come. "It's high time to do so," Edelstein said.

One reason Jews of all ideological and religious bents are coalescing around Pollard may be the degree of fighting that has taken place among Jews on other issues in recent years over the Arab-Israeli negotiations and over religious differences. "We've bashed each other for so long and on so many things, it's almost a relief to unite on something that is widely agreed to," said the executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch.

Rabbi Hirsch and the director of the American Jewish Congress, Phil Baum, said they thought Pollard's release would be linked to a broader political settlement relating to the peace process. "The way for the administration to handle this is to do this as part of a larger arrangement," Mr. Baum said.

Mr. Edelstein, however, rejected the notion of linking Pollard to peace. "It will damage both issues if we try to connect them," he said.

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said his group objected to lionizing Pollard at Israel's 50th anniversary. "To fly him with the Vice President would be an insult to the US-Israel relationship. The arrest resulted with the activities that were contrary to the relationship. We have revisited it and revisited. Our leadership have said this is not an issue of anti-Semitism."

While Mr. Edelstein would not compare Pollard with the heroes of the anti-Communist Jewish Prisoners of Zion in the Soviet Union, he said he could relate to the imprisoned man. He said, "On the personal level, I know the feeling of being in prison. I can imagine how one feels after spending 12 years in prison. It was part of my motivation to get actively involved."

See Also:
  • Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Unite in Appeal to Clinton