Jonathan Pollard: The Persian Rug The US Wants To Sell Israel...Again
Susan L. Rosenbluth, Editor - The Jewish Voice and Opinion - June 1999 Edition
The election of Ehud Barak as Israel's Prime Minister has once
again raised the question of whether or not President Bill Clinton will
find a way to release Jonathan Pollard, the Naval intelligence officer
who was sentenced to life in prison for spying for Israel. There is
reason to believe the President might "give" Mr. Pollard to Mr. Barak as
a present for having beaten Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Ha'aretz, journalist Akiva Eldar noted that, a few weeks
before his assassination, Yitzhak Rabin told a group of close associates
that, at his last meeting with Mr. Clinton in Washington, the President
promised that when negotiations on the final status agreement with the
Palestinians began and talks with the Syrians were renewed, he would
grant Jonathan Pollard a pardon. Mr. Rabin himself was considering
granting a general amnesty in honor of Israel's 50th anniversary.
Mr. Eldar reported that one of the people closest to Mr. Rabin at
the time says that Mr. Clinton promised he would do everything he could
to give Mr. Pollard "as a present" to Mr. Rabin.
Equating Barak with Rabin
During the 1999 election campaign, diplomatic sources were
reporting that the Clinton administration was already drafting plans to
begin multi-track peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians
and Israel and Syria. The US goal is to have peace agreements signed
before Mr. Clinton leaves office in January 2001.
"The expectations from Barak are similar to those the US had of
Rabin when he was elected in 1992. At least in the initial stage, there
will be a big push to move things forward," a diplomatic source told
Steve Rodan of the Middle East Newsline.
The source told Mr. Rodan that the Clinton administration is
prepared to demonstrate generosity to Barak. "They said this could
include a decision to allow a Congressional effort to move the US Embassy
from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, $1.2 billion in additional defense funds in
connection with the Wye River accords, and the release of Mr. Pollard,"
said Mr. Rodan.
The news did not overwhelm Mr. Pollard's wife, Esther. "Over the
years, Washington has routinely sold the same Persian carpet-Pollard-over
and over again to Jerusalem for increasingly higher prices, but never
delivers," she said.
Window of Opportunity
In Israel, Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of the Independent Media
Review & Analysis new agency, suggested that the few weeks before Mr.
Barak takes office would be the best time to seek Mr. Pollard's release.
Dr. Lerner pointed out that gaining Mr. Pollard's freedom is one
of the few issues that enjoys "wall-to-wall support, from Meretz to
Moledet." The problem, he pointed out, is that the issue is also one of
the few that divides Israel from some the state's best friends in the US.
He recalled that some of Mr. Netanyahu's best friends in Congress were
furious with him when he pressed for Mr. Clinton to honor his promise to
release Mr. Pollard at the Wye conference.
"As long as Pollard remains in prison, he will remain a sore
point in US-Israel relations," said Dr. Lerner.
The dilemma is that while securing Mr. Pollard's release would
ultimately help US-Israel relations, the prime minister involved in
making the deal will definitely lose points with some key American
legislators and security officials.
Therefore, said Dr. Lerner, managing to secure Mr. Pollard's
release during the current "care-taker government" period would be a
"win-win" situation. "Pollard would be free, but the newly elected Barak
would not have to bear any backlash for the move," said Dr. Lerner.
The move, however, depends on the American-Jewish community that
supports the Oslo Process as envisioned by Mr. Clinton. "This group is
not just close to the Clinton Administration; it is at the very center of
the Clinton Administration," said Dr. Lerner. "Hopefully, this group will
see fit to present Barak-and the people of Israel-with the best possible
pre-inaugural gift: the release of Pollard."
Worrying about Vanunu
But last month, Mr. Clinton took a step that seemed almost
certain to infuriate Mr. Pollard's supporters in the US and Israel. In a
letter to 35 Congressmen, dated April 22, Mr. Clinton expressed concern
about the plight of Mordechai Vanunu, a former employee of an Israeli
nuclear facility who was convicted in 1986 of espionage and treason for
telling The Times of London about Israel's nuclear secrets.
Mr. Clinton's letter was addressed to Rep. Lynn Rivers,
(D-Mich.), who had written to the White House expressing her concern for
Mr. Vanunu. Ms. Rivers asked the President to intercede on behalf of Mr.
Vanunu whom she called "a man who lingers in prison simply for his belief
in global peace." She maintained he told his story to The Times "as an
act of conscience...not for personal gain."
Her words must have touched Mr. Clinton, who wrote to her: "We
have followed the matter of Mr. Vanunu's imprisonment closely. In
particular, we are concerned about reports pertaining to the conditions
under which he is held. I...share your concerns about the Israeli nuclear
program. We have repeatedly urged Israel and other non-parties to the
Non-Proliferation Treaty to adhere to the treaty and accept comprehensive
International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards."
The letter's tone and content represent a divergence from the
traditional American approach toward Israel, which has never officially
acknowledged the existence of its nuclear weapons program. The Jewish
state has always insisted it would not be the initiator of nuclear
warfare in the region.
Some observers noted that the letter came just as the White House
was downplaying reports that the Clinton administration refrained from
action while China illegally obtained America's nuclear technology.
"I can't believe the President would send such a letter. These
are very sensitive issues. It is so judgmental. He comes to conclusions
about his imprisonment and the nuclear proliferation. I can't believe
these are his words," Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, told
Malcolm Hoenlein, vice president of the Conference of Presidents
of Major American Jewish Organizations, called the President's reference
to Israel's nuclear program "surprising and disturbing."
"As far as we know, it's unprecedented," Mr. Hoenlein told the
Forward. "When we see Iran's nuclear program and the development of
weapons of mass destruction in Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, Israel's
ability to defend itself becomes ever more important."
The executive director of the Jewish Institute for National
Security Affairs, Tom Neumann, suggested to the Forward that the letter
might be a new way for America to force concessions in Arab-Israeli
negotiations. "It's very disturbing to me. It indicates a full-court
press to get Israel from different angles," Mr. Neumann said.
The national president of the Zionist Organization of America,
Mort Klein, raised questions about the timing of Mr. Clinton's letter,
which gained notoriety just days before the Israeli elections.
"One must question the motive of President Clinton's responding
on this issue now when we are in the midst of an Israeli election
campaign," he said.
Not surprisingly, the coordinator of the US Campaign to Free
Mordechai Vanunu, Samuel Day, Jr., welcomed the President's letter. Mr.
Day's campaign has involved the adoption of Mr. Vanunu by an American
couple in order to obtain for him American citizenship.
"I thought [the President's letter] was a good response," Mr. Day
told the Forward. "He expressed concern for the well-being of Vanunu and
concern about non-signing of the proliferation treaty. I hope he will
also persuade Israel to acknowledge it has an extensive nuclear-weapons
program and sign the treaty and get rid of its nuclear weapons."
In a prepared statement, the Justice for Jonathan Pollard
committee blasted the President's "unmitigated gall." The committee noted
that Mr. Vanunu had "betrayed Israel by selling her nuclear secrets to
the highest bidder."
"In raising Vanunu to the level of prisoner of conscience, the
President demonstrates the same cavalier attitude towards Israeli
national security that he has recently demonstrated towards American
national security in the Chinese spy scandal-an attitude fueled by a
private, unspoken economic agenda," said the release. "In this instance
as well, the President's 'concern' for Vanunu and concurrently Israel's
nuclear capacity, is driven by an unspoken agenda-one that is designed to
deprive Israel of any independent nuclear deterrent capability so as to
render her more pliant, more readily controllable."
The committee called Mr. Clinton's concern for Mr. Vanunu "gross
hypocrisy." The committee pointed out that Mr. Vanunu, who has shown no
remorse for his activity, was sentenced to 18 years, which the Pollard
committee called " a relatively light term" compared to Mr. Pollard's
Still Trying To Spy
During his incarceration, Mr. Vanunu has repeatedly attempted to
divulge sensitive information concerning Israel's nuclear deterrence
force from his prison cell. Many observers say that, by his activities,
Mr. Vanunu vindicated the efforts of hostile Arab and Muslim states, such
as Iran, to initiate their own weapons-of-mass-destruction programs.
The Pollard committee pointed out that Mr. Vanunu's behavior
stands in marked contrast to Mr. Pollard's. Mr. Pollard was not indicted
for treason and has repeatedly shown remorse.
"Jonathan Pollard did not act for financial gain, but, rather, as
a bona fide Israeli agent who then received a grossly disproportionate
life sentence with no parole," said Pollard supporter Robert Rogoff of
Passaic. "His greatest 'crime' was embarrassing Washington by exposing a
covert pro-Iraq tilt in US policy. He regrettably broke the law to warn
Israel of Saddam Hussein's plan to scorch the Jewish state."
Mr. Rogoff coordinates a charity fund to help pay for Mr.
Pollard's expenses in prison, where kosher food, available only at the
vending machines, costs $30 per day. To contribute, send a check
earmarked for Jonathan Pollard to: National Council of Young
Israel-Jonathan Pollard Account, POB 5042, Passaic Park, NJ 07055-5042.
Mr. Rogoff can be contacted at (973) 472-3771.
The director of the National Council of Young Israel, Rabbi
Pesach Lerner, another ardent supporter of Mr. Pollard, found irony in
Mr. Clinton's concern for Mr. Vanunu. "The letter can be turned around,"
said Rabbi Lerner, explaining that Mr. Pollard has also been very ill
lately. "It's interesting that no one is concerned about Jonathan's
health or the conditions under which he is being held. He cannot even get
the appropriate medical treatment which he desperately needs."
Also weighing in against the President's letter was Richard
Perle, a former assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration
and now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Arguing
that Israel must be able to take care of its own security needs, he
called the President's letter "silly in every respect."
"Is Bill Clinton going to protect the Israelis the way he
protected the Kosovars or the way he protected the Bosnians?" he said.
Mr. Perle, who is reportedly one of Texas Governor and Republican
Presidential candidate George Bush's most important advisors, said Mr.
Clinton was treating Israel unfairly, especially when compared to other
countries with nuclear programs.
"It's a ridiculous double standard. China's just taken a huge
leap forward, and they're complaining about this guy, Vanunu, who's in
jail for a crime he's properly been found guilty of," said Mr. Perle.
In Israel, Dr. Lerner said the very people he thought could
effect Mr. Pollard's release-the American-Jewish left-was probably more
concerned with efforts to free Mr. Vanunu.
"Most of the Israeli left sees Israel's nuclear ability as a
replacement for secure borders, so they don't share the American left's
enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament," said Dr. Lerner.