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

Ehud Barak

argued over the best way to win the release of Jonathan Pollard, 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 release.

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 Pollard."

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 officials.

*[See media release.]

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."