The Spy Who Won Over the Right?

Matthew Gutman - Jerusalem Post - May 19, 2005

Shaul Halfon's "Pollard Mobile," basically a collage of Jonathan Pollard pictures on wheels, is a fixture of any right-wing rally. So are the headshots of the bearded and skullcapped American spy for Israel, which youth, mostly yeshiva students, pump in the air as they twirl themselves into a frenzy. Attached to their wrists you may find a "free Pollard," rubber bracelet.

And last week during Independence Day festivities in the settlement of Kiryat Arba-Hebron, the Olympus of right-wing activism in Israel, the settlement's leaders presented Pollard with honorary citizenship.

On the Right, there are many who assert that Pollard, now into his 21st year in a maximum-security prison for handing Israel classified intelligence, has become their cause celebre, while being forgotten by the Left. This, charges Halfon, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Nofim, is because the Right "still teaches its youth to love Israel, and the secular Left teaches only nihilism; nothing is important to them."

Labor's Interior Minister Ophir Paz-Pines, a strong supporter of Pollard, disputes that. "At the end of the day," he says, "it is important to note that it was Haim Ramon who gave him real Israeli citizenship. We fight for him as hard as anyone."

Halfon says he fought for the return of all of Israel's MIAs and spies abroad. After all, he says, that's what he was taught as a young soldier in Unit 101, the celebrated (and reviled) unit led by then major Ariel Sharon in the 1950s, which led to the creation of the Paratroops Battalion 890.

A bear of a man despite his 71 years, who reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the paratroops, Halfon says that if he learned a single thing in 20 years in the army it is that "you never, never, leave an injured man in the field. We did a terrible thing with Jonathan by leaving him in the field of battle. And it was worse because of egos and politics."

Halfon can't forget. Hitched to his trailer is a chest-high billboard in English and Hebrew reading: "Today is 7118 days that Jonathan is in prison." Another of the more acid signs riveted onto the van reads: "Arik Sharon the merciful, where is our brother Yonatan?"

Yonatan (Pollard) is doing life without parole at the Federal Correctional Facility in Butner, North Carolina, and he is fuming. In a meeting Wednesday with Ambassador Danny Ayalon, Pollard publicly voiced his disdain of the Israeli government, partly for linking his release to Prime Minister Sharon's plan to evacuate settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank this summer. Pollard also made no effort to hide where his heart lies, reportedly warning the ambassador that he would not tolerate any more "tricks," against him.

He and his wife, Esther, have rejected attempts at a deal linking his release to the implementation of the disengagement plan. Both are vehemently opposed to disengagement, and Esther, a frequent visitor to Israel, has pinned an orange Gush Katif flag up in her motel room in Butner, according to Israel Radio. Gush Katif made Pollard an honorary resident three years ago.

As Pollard's lawyer Larry Dub notes, "Pollard is affiliated with people who supported him and believed in him." And over the years, those people overwhelmingly tended to lean rightwards. Pollard has become increasingly linked with former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, who, according to Hebron spokesman David Wilder, makes a stop at the Butner facility on each of his trips to the US. Eliahu stirred a brouhaha by urging IDF soldiers to refuse orders if asked to participate in the disengagement this summer. But at the same time Eliahu reiterates the importance in Judaism of the commandment to "redeem the captured."

Labor MK Orit Noked, head of the Knesset's Pollard Lobby, joined the campaign "for humanitarian reasons, I simply think his punishment was terrible and that the state could have done more for him." Noked, who represents the leftist Kibbutz Movement in the Knesset, does not believe that the Right's embrace of Pollard has harmed his chances of release. But nevertheless, she would like to see members of the Labor youth movements show more support for Pollard. "In my heart of hearts," she notes conspiratorially, "I am with the settlers, they are doing the real Zionist activism that the kibbutzim used to do [in their support for Pollard]."

Like Pollard, the proponents of the Greater Israel Movement say they feel increasingly abandoned, left to the wiles of a man they have branded a turn-coat: Sharon. "We don't feel like second-class Jews, but eighth-class Jews. There is an identification [with Pollard] because we are all being left out in the field," says Halfon.

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