Pollard Upbeat About Future

May 13, 1998 - Stewart Ain - The New York Jewish Week

For perhaps the first time, Jonathan Pollard let himself think aloud this week about his future in Israel -- as a free man developing alternative energy sources in the country for which he has spent 13 years in prison as a convicted spy.

"I am president of Israel Energy Systems Ltd., a company I created several years ago that will produce alternative sources of energy and desalinated water," Pollard said in a phone interview from the federal prison in Butner, N.C. "I want to make Israel energy independent and to provide enough water so that the problem of sharing it with Jordan will become a thing of the past."

Pollard's upbeat talk came on the heels of an acknowledgement by the government of Israel that he had been an Israeli agent when he was caught by the U.S. in November 1985 and tried on charges of passing classified military documents to Israel. Pollard, who was denied sanctuary in the Israeli Embassy in Washington as federal agents closed in on him, had until this week been disowned by the Israeli government.

"Over the course of the past 13 years, there have been numerous high-ranking American officials who have indicated to me and to the government of Israel that there could be no resolution of this affair so long as Israel refused to acknowledge both my actual status as an agent, as well as its own responsibility for my activities," said Pollard. "Now that it has done so, the basis for an equitable resolution to my affair is at hand. This will mark the beginning of a sustained effort on the part of the Israeli government to end this affair." He said he hoped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would raise the subject of his release during future talks with American officials. He said President Bill Clinton had the power to unilaterally commute his life sentence.

The admission by Israel came as Pollard was pressing Israel's High Court of Justice to force the government to release documents pertaining to his activities and as cabinet secretary Danny Naveh prepared to visit Pollard. Asked why it took so long for the admission, Israel's consul general in New York, Shmuel Sisso, said: "The people who activated him were not authorized to do so and therefore it took so long. And it was a delicate matter because of our friendship with the U.S. and the Jewish community here. ... They think in Israel that [this acknowledgement] will have more impact on his chances to be set free."

A former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Seymour Reich, called the Israeli action "a major breakthrough." He noted that until now Israel has insisted that Pollard was part of a "rogue operation." This week's statement "puts the full weight of the Israeli government behind the request for his release," Reich said. "The ball is now in the president's court." Reich added that he understands the "White House still has the perception that this is not a major issue for the American Jewish community and to the extent the Conference of Presidents and other major Jewish organizations speak out, it would be helpful."

The executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, Malcolm Hoenlein, said he hoped the Israeli action "will be one of the ingredients that will lead to his release. Hopefully this will help." The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said he too hopes it will lead to Pollard's release and that he "wished it had been done many years earlier." "It would have put things in perspective and perhaps led to closure. I believe the majority of American Jews would be very pleased to see Jonathan in Israel on its 50th anniversary," Foxman said.

Reflecting on his work as an Israeli agent, Pollard, 43, said he was offered the job after first volunteering to provide Israeli authorities with secret information about the activities of Arab countries he had access to as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst.

"I started off in 1984 as a volunteer who basically wanted to right what I thought was a horrendous wrong being done to Israel," he said. "I worked without pay for over six months and then, during the course of 1985, I was gradually transformed into a full-fledged agent ... for four or five months. I received an Israeli passport and a code name, Danny Cohen, and I began determining what information should be collected and how it should be used and disseminated in Israel.

"I was good at what I did, but the bottom line is I never should have started. I should have made aliyah before I broke the law. And that is the lesson, the whole point of my experience. It's irrelevant that I became an agent or stopped being a volunteer."

Asked why he agreed to become a paid agent, Pollard said: "I was so scared about what was being withheld, and the more I dug, the more horrified I became about the extent of the betrayal." He said the documents he was providing Israel contained material the U.S. had explicitly promised not to withhold from Israel. But Pollard said he now recognizes that it was wrong to have taken it upon himself to provide that material. "I should have gone to somebody, perhaps someone in the House or Senate intelligence committees, to correct the problem. I let my fear get the best of me." Pollard revealed that he had "submitted papers to the Navy indicating my intention to resign at the end" of 1985. He said he then intended to "do something else for Lakam," the Scientific Liaison Bureau for which he worked.