It is not Benyamin Netanyahu who is trying to score political points over the signing of a letter requesting clemency for Jonathan Pollard, but Ehud Barak, who defends his refusal to sign that letter with excuses like "political profiteering", "quiet diplomacy" and "wrong timing". Barak is mistaken and he is misleading the public.
I have some insider information, and also historical facts about this. Let's start with the claim of "political profiteering": In the early days of September 1987, stories began to be published about the physical and mental abuse that Jonathan Pollard's then-wife, Anne, was enduring in prison. I made telephone contact at that time with our then-Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Benyamin Netanyahyu. After investigating personally and then confirming the facts for me, Mr. Netanyahu was among the first of the Israeli representatives in the world to begin working, indeed in secret, to secure help for her. There was no political advantage for him in this, perhaps just the opposite.
In 1988, when I founded the Knesset Lobby for Pollard, with my parliamentary aid, Yisrael Medad, I turned to Edna Soladar of the Labor Party and enlisted her participation. She enthusiastically agreed and the two of us co-chaired the Lobby. This joint effort was important, I believe, not only because Pollard was arrested under a National Unity Government, but also because it lent moral strength to the Lobby, which counted amongst its members some 80 MKs from Left and Right.
No one in the Likud Party, which I was a member of at the time, ever protested that I was sharing the political profit with the Left by co-chairing with Laborite, Edna Soladar, just as no one today from the Likud ever objects that the current head of the Knesset Lobby for Pollard, Ofir Pines, is a Leftist. Yet, this same Pines today, uses his role as head of the Knesset Lobby for political gain. He protests the Prime Minister's policies on Pollard by sharply announcing to the press that he is resigning as head of the Pollard Knesset Lobby. In doing so, Pines allows himself to score political points off of Pollard - and to hell with the Knesset Lobby for Pollard.
As for the excuse "quiet diplomacy", it is both cynical and false. It is cynical indeed - even if we ignore the fact that in similar circumstances "quiet diplomacy" has never worked - in the Pollard case, "quiet diplomacy" has never occurred. Just the opposite. What has characterized the Israeli Governments' handling of the Pollard case throughout the years - Left and Right - has been abandonment and indifference, starting from the slamming of the Washington Embassy gates right in Pollard's face as he sought refuge there from his pursuers.
How confused we were, Edna and I, when we met with American Senators in 1989, and they told us that up to that moment not a single Israeli official had ever contacted them about Pollard.
Moreover the excuse "quiet diplomacy" is also false today because in recent years it has been not only Likud officials, but also Members of Knesset from all parties, Right and Left -with Ofir Pines leading them - who have worked openly and publicly and sometimes even noisily on behalf of Pollard - making speeches, demonstrating in the streets, sending petitions to Washington, and making prison visits to Pollard. So how come all of a sudden Barak and Beilin and their friends suddenly remember "quiet diplomacy" only when they are asked by Netanyahu to sign a joint letter to Clinton asking for clemency for Jonathan Pollard?
And that brings me right to the point. "Why now?" Barak demands of Netanyahu, as he hints at the upcoming Israeli elections and implies a Netanyahu scheme to "sell Pollard" for personal political gain.
No, my friend Ehud Barak, on y soit qui mal y pense, (evil to him who thinks evil). You make this charge against Netanyahu with your own hands not clean. First of all, you could have - merely by adding your own signature to the letter - neutralized all the exclusive "political profit" that you claimed Netanyahu was trying to gain for himself. Secondly, who knows better than yourself that sending the letter precisely now would help Pollard the most, since now is exactly when President Clinton is deciding whether to grant clemency and release Pollard. Yet you are held hostage by your American advisors who whisper in your ears that Clinton is under pressure not to release Pollard and he would not be happy if you were to make a public appeal to do so. And you Barak, who need and count on Clinton in the upcoming elections, don't dare do anything that might annoy him. So who exactly is it that is concerned with "political profit"?
The only one who has never been concerned at all about personal "political profit" is Jonathan Pollard himself. Everyone knows that Pollard endangered his life and gave up his freedom for the security of Israel. But not everyone knows the story that Edna Soladar and I heard from his own lips when we visited him in prison in 1989 in the United States where he languished for years in solitary confinement.
While Pollard was in isolation, a group of representatives of the Judiciary of the then-Soviet Union toured the prison, accompanied by American dignitaries. When they encountered Pollard in his punishment cell, he had but moments to appeal either to the Americans for himself, or to the Soviets for his people. Without a moment's hesitation he faced the head of the Soviet delegation and without blinking implored " Let my people go! FREE SOVIET JEWRY!".