Pollard Turned Into A Campaign Issue
Middle East Newsline - January 18, 1999
JERUSALEM [MENL] -- Jonathan Pollard turned into an Israeli campaign
issue on Monday when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his
challenger argued over the best way to win the release of
sentenced to life for passing U.S. secrets to Israel.
Netanyahu has called on Barak to sign a joint letter to President Bill
Clinton that would appeal for Pollard's release. Barak has refused,
saying such a gesture would only hurt Pollard's chances for freedom.
"I call on Ehud Barak to lift his refusal and sign the letter,"
Netanyahu said before meeting Pollard's attorney Larry Dub. "This is not a political matter. Everybody who was sent by Israel has to be brought
back home. We don't leave injured in the field. We don't abandon our
people in the field. So, we must bring him back home."
Netanyahu's appeal to Barak was the second in the last 24 hours. During
the Cabinet meeting on Sunday, the prime minister said he was
disappointed with Barak's refusal to sign a joint appeal for Pollard's
Netanyahu appealed to Barak to reconsider. "I was very disappointed
that Knesset member Barak refused to sign the appeal of Minister
Edelstein to the U.S. president," he said. "We are no longer in a period
where we are concealing that Pollard was an Israeli agent. He worked for
Israel. Israel, all of it, must bring him back home. [Barak] must sign
this letter as President Clinton is considering pardoning Jonathan
On Sunday, Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein, who initiated the
letter, attacked Barak during the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. "I
wish to express my disgust over Barak's refusal to join the prime
minister's entreaty to President Clinton for the release of Jonathan
Pollard," a Cabinet communique quoted Edelstein as saying.
Edelstein said he had intended to send the letter to Clinton during his
review of the Pollard case. A reported recommendation to reduce
Pollard's sentence to 25 years -- which would make him eligible for
release in 2002 -- has been opposed by many senior administration
For his part, Barak accused Netanyahu of turning Pollard into a
campaign issue. The Labor Party chairman said he discussed Pollard with
Clinton during a recent visit to the White House.
"I think of Pollard all the time and act all the time quietly for his
release," Barak told Israel Radio. "Netanyahu unfortunately is only
thinking of elections. He is hurting more than helping him. If he is
released it won't be because of his activities but despite his
activities. I sat with U.S. president, just him and me, and discussed
this with him. I can say that the public activities of the government
buried Pollard. This is a government of television."
Labor Party Knesset members rushed to Barak's defense. One of them,
Ofer Pines said he would suspend his activities in the parliamentary
lobby for Pollard and would consider ending his activities entirely.
Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Alexander Schindler said he was "bitterly
disappointed" over Barak's refusal to sign the letter to Clinton. He
said that in the United States Reform and Orthodox
synagogue movements have joined in the effort to win Pollard's release.
"Are there no issues of national interest which transcend Israel's
stormy partisan politics?" Schindler asked in a statement. Should
Pollard be allowed to languish in jail even a day longer for fear that a
political opponent might gain an edge?"
Schindler said Barak's failure to join Netanyahu in calling for
Pollard's release "does scant honor to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin, who
never hesitated to assert that Pollard's continued imprisonment has long
since crossed the line where justice ends and vindictiveness begins."