Israel Winks; Pollard Languishes

Pollard Update - James D. Besser
New York Jewish Week, October 9, 1998

When an Israeli newspaper ran a story last week saying President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had worked out a deal during their Washington summit to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, political observers here scratched their heads.

A number agree with Pollard's wife that the Netanyahu government, while officially intensifying the effort to win Pollard's release, is doing so with a wink.

The half-hearted Israeli effort, they say, is probably not enough to offset continuing strong pressure form the defense and intelligence communities to keep him in prison, or the self-destructive tendency of some Pollard supporters to portray him as a Jewish hero.

Last week, Israeli officials confirmed that while the issue was raised in the Clinton-Netanyahu meeting, it was not a major part of the agenda.

And the White House quickly shot down the story.

Departing White House spokesman Mike McCurry said that the issue was raised "briefly," but that the president had "indicated that there was no change in our views on the matter and certainly no agreement."

McCurry added that Clinton's denial of the July 1996 application for clemency stands, and that there is "no current pending application before the president... If there were to be one, it would go through the channel that is established at Justice."

Recently the Netanyahu government indicated that it would begin lobbying Capitol Hill for Pollard's release. That was the top item on the agenda of absorption minister Yuli Edelstein during his recent Washington visit.

But will lawmakers be swayed by something more than a cursory lobbying effort?

Congressional sources say maybe - if pro-Pollard activists play their cards right. "Nobody (in Congress) will accept the position that what Pollard did was right, said a Democratic congressional staffer.

"But many may be persuaded that he received a disproportionately harsh sentence, or that the government acted in bad faith in the plea bargain."

A well conceived Capitol hill campaign based strictly on the humanitarian argument that Pollard has already served enough time, this source argued, could have an impact.

"But if some hard-line members of Congress or Pollard's supporters go overboard and try to portray his actions as justified, or if they even hint at that, it will almost certainly backfire," he said.