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
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
But will lawmakers be swayed by something more than a cursory
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
sentence, or that the government acted in bad faith in the plea
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.