WABC Special - Interview With Dr. Aaron Lerner
Justice4JP Release - August 13, 2001
Originally aired on WABC Radio 77 NYC - June 23, 2001
The John Batchelor and Paul Alexander Show
(John and Paul conclude their late night interview with Congressman Ackerman and move on to call Dr. Aaron Lerner in Israel. It is shortly after midnight in the US where the program is airing and just after 7:00 am in Israel.)
John: This is John and Paul and Rabbi Potasnik and we have Esther Pollard with us in Canada and we're joined now by Aaron Lerner in Israel. Good morning Dr. Lerner, Aaron!
Dr. Lerner: Good morning!
John: We had Congressman Gary Ackerman with us, so we held over a little bit. You are the CEO of the IMRA News Service, Independent Media Review and Analysis.
Dr. Lerner: That's right.
Paul: You're speaking to us from where in Israel right now?
Dr. Lerner: I am in Raanana, Israel.
John: We would like you to help us look at the Jonathan Pollard case from Israel's point of view.
Dr. Lerner: How does Israel see this case? The whole Pollard affair reflects a very serious problem with both the American security establishment and the American political echelon. This is cause for concern for Israel on many different levels. It indicates that there is a serious problem with the US - Israel "special relationship". It raises serious questions in terms of the confidence we can put into relying on American participation in our affairs and American cooperation on security matters.
Paul: You mean that the "special relationship" between the two countries might not be so special after all ?
Dr. Lerner: That is indeed a problem. Both perceived and real. Of course the "special relationship" between the United States and Israel is a fundamental element in our own defense against our Arab neighbors. Lack of cooperation on the part of the Americans, their questionable credibility, is something that our Arab neighbors see and interpret as a weakness on our part. This is one of the many different reasons why this case is very important to us here.
John: What's the status of the Pollard case in Israel today and sort of the consciousness of the Israelis?
Dr. Lerner: Well, I'll put it this way; The Pollard issue is a "Mom's apple pie" issue in Israel. If you go to a public opinion poll asking people whether Israel should do this that or the other in order to try to get Pollard out, you'll get 80-90% of the people saying yes, pretty much regardless of what you ask in the poll.
The release of Pollard is unique in that it is a matter of national consensus that cuts across all party lines and all religious lines. Israelis in general feel that Pollard got a raw deal, that he was shafted by the US and abandoned by Israel. Across the board Israelis want to see the issue resolved. They want Pollard released and sent home to Israel.
John: Tell us more about the polls.
Dr. Lerner: IMRA has done a number of Gallop polls. They ask various questions, and the vast majority of Israelis always indicate support for Pollard's release.
Paul: There is something that doesn't make sense. If that's the case, why haven't Prime Ministers made this a priority in their meetings with the President?
Dr. Lerner: I'll put it to you on two levels. One is, that their failure to do so, unfortunately, speaks volumes about the caliber of Prime Ministers that we have. Two is Israel's abject fear of defending its own interests when there is a perceived conflict with the interests of the United States. It pains me to say so... it really does. This is nothing new. This subservient posture is typical not only of Israel's failure to secure the release of Pollard but also of Israel's failure to respond effectively to the terrorist war currently being waged and that is now spiraling out of control.
John: What about Wye?
Dr. Lerner: The only Prime Minister in recent years, who has actually done anything on this matter, who has approached the issue with a measure of credibility is Mr. Netanyahu. He made some moves both prior to and at Wye. He did believe that he was going to get Pollard out, and...
Paul: That's the Wye River Plantation Accord.
Dr. Lerner: Right. Pollard's release was promised to Netanyahu as a condition of his coming to the Wye Summit, and again at Wye it was negotiated as an integral part of the Wye Accords. There was an agreement and there was an understanding. There is no question about it. The former Cabinet Secretary, Dani Naveh, (currently Minister without Portfolio) has written and spoken about this, stating on the Knesset Record (February 28, 2001) and in the newspapers: "I was witness to President Clinton's commitment to former Prime Minister Netanyahu to free Pollard at Wye. This was a commitment between two nations, not between two specific leaders. " I've also spoken with a number of high-ranking government officials who have told me, that yes, Pollard's release was absolutely 100% promised at Wye. The US has yet to deliver.
Paul: Well, then, Aaron, what happened? What's the understanding out there?
Dr. Lerner: Clinton reneged at the last moment. And Israel - in a typical subservient posture - has never demanded that the US live up to its end of the deal.
John: What made Netanyahu fight so publicly for Pollard?
Dr. Lerner: You have to remember that at that time, Mr. Netanyahu was going to agree to a number of painful Israeli concessions including land redeployments and the release of numerous dangerous terrorists. He desperately needed to return to Israel with some "prize" as a sweetener for the Israeli people to swallow the bitter pill. So one of the ways o make it a little bit easier for him to pull it off, was that he was supposed to come back with Jonathan Pollard on his plane. Or at very least with a document in hand specifying that Pollard would be released one week after the House elections in the US.
John: Was that the agreement?
Dr. Lerner: Yes.
Paul: So what happened? Why was Jonathan Pollard not on the plane? What happened to the document?
Dr. Lerner: Among other reasons why Jonathan Pollard wasn't on the plane was George Tenet, who is still...
Paul: Director of the CIA.
Dr. Lerner: Tenet started kicking and screaming and generating negative publicity around the world. Now, granted, Tenet did the same thing with regard to the FALN (Puerto Rican) terrorists that Clinton freed, but Clinton didn't listen. Clinton opted not to listen to him in that case.
John: So, what you're saying is: Clinton the ultimate reason that Pollard didn't go back to Israel?
Dr. Lerner: Yes. Clinton could have turned his back on Tenet in this case, just as he turned his back on Tenet with the FALN. In essence Tenet was the excuse, not the reason. .
Rabbi Potasnik: But I think it's more than just Clinton reneging. After all, Clinton had no incentive not to. Aaron, if the American Jewish leadership, or the Israeli and the American Jewish leadership had been strongly supportive of Pollard's release, I think it would've put the President position where he would've had difficulty reneging, and he would have had to go through with a release that was promised so many times....
Dr. Lerner: I will even take it a step farther. Look, the truth is, that at that moment at Wye, I believe that if Mr. Netanyahu had said; "Excuse me, we have an agreement. If you do not keep your end of it, we're not going forward. You are not going to have your photo opportunity." You have to remember the background. When did Wye occur?
John: It was impeachment. It was October 1998. Clinton was looking for cover.
Dr. Lerner: It was not just the impeachment, we also had the House elections coming up.
Paul: Well, we always have elections... But that was that particular Fall in which we had...
Dr. Lerner: Clinton really wanted, really needed a foreign affairs victory. And the Republican community was furious. In Israel everyone was furious with Netanyahu for going to Wye at that time, for giving Clinton this wonderful photo-op.
John: So let's be a little suspicious then, right? Because Netanyahu was targeted by the Clinton forces for destruction soon thereafter Wye. And Netanyahu was no friend of Bill Clinton's. Netanyahu was bringing Pollard home for his own reasons. And Carville was sent to Israel to destroy Netanyahu.
It is now three years later. Let's move the story a little bit forward. You're familiar with Prime Minister Sharon. Sharon was in Washington in the spring time. Gary Ackerman our Congressman who was previously on with us met with him. Where is Sharon on Pollard? He certainly, certainly has him on his desk?
Dr. Lerner: Sharon. (pauses...sighs.) If you say that the Pollard issue is on Sharon's desk, I'd say it's in a drawer some place. It's really not an issue for Sharon...
Paul: All right, what about Sharansky then?
Dr. Lerner: Sharansky has mentioned it. Not long after Wye he gave interviews to the New York Jewish Week and others confirming that the release of Jonathan Pollard was an integral part of the Wye accords. He has said precious little since then, and according to the Pollards, done even less. He could be a great help in this case but clearly has chosen not to invest any of his political capital in Pollard. It is tragic. We don't have any key politician who is willing to make the Pollard issue a make-or-break. And if the politicians did, Pollard would be in Israel.
Rabbi Potasnik: You know, Gary Ackerman said before; we scream for Haitian refugees, we scream for the Kurds we scream for civil rights of so many others. It comes to Jonathan Pollard - all of a sudden, all the screamers become silent. I don't understand this.
Dr. Lerner: There is a mentality of fear that any mention of the Pollard case summons up.
Rabbi Potasnik: It's a Jewish insecurity - I think.. Afraid to call a spade a spade. Every one is afraid to use the "A" word.
Dr. Lerner: Anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Potasnik: There's an insecurity. I speak as a Jew, as a Rabbi. I think that the insecurity we have, we want to show that we are fully loyal, 100% loyal. We don't want to be accused of dual loyalty, of false loyalty, and therefore we go on our way, not to promote the Pollard issue, to show how loyal we are to America.
Dr. Lerner: You're talking about American Jews?
Rabbi Potasnik: Yes. Mostly American Jews. But that goes for Israel as well. Israel recognizes that American Jews aren't pushing it, and so they don't push it either.
Dr. Lerner: I don't think that the tail is wagging the dog. The reason that the Government of Israel isn't pursuing this, is as much an issue of a lack of morality on their part as anything else. They would have the backing of the public if they moved on it.
John: Aaron, before you go, if there is one politician you want us to talk to about this, because we want to do a follow-up show in Israel, who would you want us to talk to? Pick one for us.
Dr. Lerner: I would go for Prime Minister Sharon himself. The number #1 person has to explain himself. He owes it to the nation. Pollard is not some charity case or some humane project for the Government of Israel. He is a bona fide Israeli agent who deserves the same intense level of activity to secure his release as any other Israel agent. That has not happened. That is not happening. The Prime Minister must account for his failure to act. So that is who I would speak to. Also, speak to (Foreign Minister) Shimon Peres.
Paul: All right. Why?
Dr. Lerner: Why does Shimon Peres play a key role? I have written about this previously: because -according to the Eban Commission Report- Peres secured a commitment from the United States, that if Israel returned the documents it got from Pollard, those documents would not be used to prosecute him. Israel never bothered to tell Pollard this so that he could defend himself, and no sooner than the ink was dry the Americans broke their word and used the evidence that Israel had provided then to throw the book at Pollard. Israel - Peres - never protested.
In short, Israel handed over the documents that still had Pollard's fingerprints on them - because of those documents Pollard pleaded guilty and was railroaded into a life sentence. Without the evidence Israel provided to the US - the first time in history that a country has provided evidence to prosecute its own agent - the whole case wouldn't have happened.
John: All right, we're going to go to a commercial break. Aaron, you're very kind to get up early in the morning to speak with us. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Lerner: Thank you.