Questions Still Asked: Why Did Bob Torricelli Cancel Visit to Jonathan Pollard?

Susan L. Rosenbluth, Editor - The Jewish Voice and Opinion
August 1998 Issue

Expressing disappointment at NJ Democratic Senator Robert Torricell's cancellation of a planned meeting on May 18 with him in prison in Butner, NC, Jonathan Pollard confessed he did not know whether the problems he was experiencing were with the senator or with a member of his staff whom Mr. Pollard described as "rude, arrogant, and less than honest in his dealings with us."

After a report about the canceled visit appeared in The Jewish Voice, Mr. Pollard was contacted by Elie Wiesel, asking how he could help. Later in the month, NYC Councilman Noach Dear, currently a candidate in the Democratic primary for Rep. Charles Schumers seat in Congress, commented on the affair at a parlor meeting in Passaic. According to several participants at the meeting with Mr. Dear, the candidate, who has been endorsed by Mr. Torricelli, said the senator was dead wrong for refusing to go to Butner and that he would tell him so. Mr. Torricelli stood by Mr. Dear's side when the latter announced his candidacy earlier this year. Both men are reportedly close to President Bill Clinton, who has refused to pardon Mr. Pollard.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Dear, a observant Jew, denied that he had said Mr. Torricelli was wrong. "I discussed how, as an elected official, I could be helpful. I said that, if elected, I would reach out to everyone, including Sen. Torricelli, to work for Mr. Pollards release," said Mr. Dear, adding that, as a Congressman, he would not hesitate to go against Mr. Clinton if he thought it appropriate. "No President would tell me what to do when it comes to helping my people," he said.

Two Reporters

Mr. Torricelli apparently canceled the visit to Butner when he was asked by Mr. Pollard not to bring with him two reporters, Tim Wiener of the New York Times and Peter Perl of the Washington Post, who have been hostile to Mr. Pollard in the past.

As if proving the Pollards correct in their assessment, in early July, Mr. Perl wrote a lengthy, devastatingly critical article on Mr. Pollard.

Mr. Torricelli's office would not explain why the senator had insisted on bringing those two reporters and would not consider any others.

Serious Intentions?

In a personal note dictated from prison by Mr. Pollard, he said he and his wife had approached Mr. Torricelli many times about the proposed visit.

"If the senator were serious about his commitment to righting this wrong, he would have first asked me if I had any objections to his bringing press, or to specific reporters. Or he would simply have come down and discussed with me what options are available for him to pursue. Instead, a gun was put to my head: This way or no way, he said."

The Pollards had suggested that Mr. Torricelli bring other journalists and then issue a press release, opening the floor for questions, but, said Mr. Pollard, he refused.

"Bottom line is that I would be deeply honored by Sen. Torricelli's assistance, but, to date, I haven't seen any serious evidence of his commitment to pursuing this matter. If there has been a breakdown in communication, the senator's aide has committed a grave disservice to both the senator and to the Jewish community," he said.

Plea to Straighten Things

News of Mr. Torricelli's cancellation brought a flurry of comments from people concerned about Mr. Pollard's case. Almost immediately, Mr. Pollard received a fax from Mr. Wiesel.

In his reply, Mr. Pollard noted that he was "as stunned as you were to learn, at the last moment, that the visit from Mr. Torricelli had been canceled. Elie, if anyone can straighten this out, you can," implored Mr. Pollard.

In his letter, Mr. Pollard implied that this was not the first time Mr. Torricelli had scheduled and then canceled a visit to the prison. "The repeated cancellations by the senator's office have resulted in some tensions here, to put it mildly. A great deal of work goes into planning the elaborate security measures and other procedures that need to be implemented in order for such a visit to occur. After each cancellation, there was a fall-out. It does not require a great deal of imagination to guess who is the recipient of the fall-out each time this has happened," he wrote.

Four Days Notice

In his letter, Mr. Pollard explained that he had been assured several times by Mr. Torricelli's office, right up to the Wednesday before the scheduled visit on Monday, that everything was proceeding smoothly. Suddenly, on Thursday, the Pollards contact at the Israeli Embassy in Washington was summarily informed that the meeting had been canceled.

The next day, Friday, the Embassy contact accompanied Dani Naveh to Butner to visit Mr. Pollard. At that time, both he and a prison administrator separately advised Mr. Pollard that the visit from Mr. Torricelli had been canceled.

"No reason had been given to [our contact] or to the prison for the cancellation," wrote Mr. Pollard, who asked the contact, upon his return to Washington, to visit the senator's office.

"There he was informed that the senator had canceled the visit because I had requested that he not include two journalists whose animus and ill-intent towards my case is well known to me," wrote Mr. Pollard, claiming "the senator's explanation stunned us all because it essentially turned history on its head."

Alternatives Suggested

According to Mr. Pollard, he had implored Mr. Torricelli through several messengers and through the Embassy contact to choose any journalists, other than these two, from a list of alternative writers. In addition, the Embassy contact had personally explained to the senator's aide "that while the government of Israel favored the visit, officials were concerned regarding the inclusion of two hostile journalists."

A very extensive list of suggested alternatives was relayed to the senator, wrote Mr. Pollard, adding that Mr. Torricelli's aide assured him this was acceptable.

In fact, wrote Mr. Pollard, several days before the scheduled visit, Mr. Torricelli's office confirmed to the Pollards that the senator had decided to be accompanied by only David Twersky, editor of the Whippany-based New Jersey Jewish News.

"You can therefore imagine how shocked we were when two days later the visit was summarily canceled and the reason that was eventually given was that I had asked the senator not to bring these two journalists,"wrote Mr. Pollard.

He told Mr. Wiesel, both he and his supporters tried repeatedly to reach Mr. Torricelli to clear up what they assumed had to be a misunderstanding. "But it appears I am being stonewalled by his office," wrote Mr. Pollard.

He concluded his letter with a plea for Mr. Wiesel's help in clearing up the matter.

Needing Kosher Food

In Passaic, one of Mr. Pollard's most ardent supporters, Robert Rogoff, noted that he is often asked what people can do for Mr. Pollard. Through his synagogue's Tzedaka Fund, Mr. Rogoff is attempting to help Mr. Pollard secure kosher food, which is available in the prison snack machines, and to pay for phone calls and photo-copy machines to stay in touch with the outside world.

In prison, everything costs money, said Mr. Rogoff. . Rogoff's effort is an attempt to alleviate the Pollards' crushing financial burden. (The only source of financial support that Pollard has is his wife.) To contribute, make out a check to the Cong. Ahavas Israel Tzedaka Fund, earmarked for Mr. Pollard, and send it to the synagogue at 181 Van Houten Ave., Passaic, NJ 07055. The envelope should be marked: Attention Robert Rogoff.

Mr. Rogoff can be reached at (973) 472-3771.


Mr. Rogoff is asking those who want to do more to take the time to write to Mr. Pollard. Letters should be address to: Jonathan Pollard 09185-016, FCI Butner POB 1000, Butner, North Carolina 27509-1000.

To reach Mrs. Esther Pollard, contact Justice for Jonathan Pollard.

Equally important, said Mr. Rogoff, is demanding that all candidates for public office commit themselves to commutation of Mr. Pollards sentence.

"Cease all contributions to any candidate who refuses to support commutation, and publicize these requests in every Jewish publication and in every synagogue" he said.