Israel Betrayed Pollard

Yossi Melman - Ha'aretz - May 22, 2005

Jonathan Pollard, in a 1998 photo, needs action, not words of encouragement. After 20 years in a U.S. prison, the time has come for his release.

The truth should be stated. For 20 years, the governments of Israel have all acted nastily toward Jonathan Pollard. Last week's visit with Pollard by Israel's ambassador in the United States, Danny Ayalon, only underlines this fact. Why until now have prime ministers refrained from instructing the Israeli ambassador to visit Pollard?

The importance of the ambassador's visit was in the very fact that it took place and in the precedent it set. Beyond this, it was an empty gesture. The ambassador brought no real message to the American navy intelligence analyst, sentenced to life in prison for delivering information to his Israeli handlers.

The visit was just another in the list of hundreds of visits to Pollard by government ministers and MKs. They come, talk, try to encourage, are photographed, pass on the photos to the media and nothing happens. The ministers and MKs cleanse their consciences and Pollard continues to rot away in prison.

More than the words of encouragement from envoys of the State of Israel, Pollard needs action - action by a moral government that is prepared to take responsibility for its decisions and to exercise its capabilities and connections, forcefully and without fear, in order to persuade the American administration that enough is enough. Twenty years in prison is a sufficiently severe punishment and the time has come for Pollard's release.

It is not a cliche to say that the governments of Israel owe Pollard a moral debt. He was an agent of Israeli intelligence. As such, there was an unwritten covenant between Pollard and the state, based on a mutual guarantee: You help us, and we will come to your aid and do everything we can if something goes wrong. He was a fully authorized operative.

According to foreign sources, this was not the first time that Israel's intelligence community, and the Lakam scientific liaison bureau, in particular, had operated agents in the U.S. and engaged in bribery and theft of information, equipment, technology and more. Precisely because this behavior was practiced for many years, no one in the top security and political echelons was really shocked by the endless stream of information Pollard delivered to Israel. No one asked questions or raised an eyebrow about the fact that Israel was acting in betrayal of its great and important ally. All of the top political and security brass were aware of this during the period of Pollard's activity (1984-1986), including two prime ministers, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres, defense ministers Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Rabin, chief of staff Moshe Levy, air force commander Amos Lapidot, Mossad chief Nahum Admoni, military intelligence commanders Yehoshua Sagi and Ehud Barak, and above all, Rafi Eitan, the head of Lakam, the organization that directly handled Pollard. They knew that Israel had an elite spy with access to secret information and took advantage of the excellent material he provided.

When he was arrested, they tore themselves away from him and fled as if from fire. They did, secretly, order the formation of a "public committee" for Pollard, which received money from the government of Israel to finance his defense. And the government also paid for the personal expenses of Pollard and his first wife, Ann. But to mount a vigorous public campaign on his behalf, to bang on the desks of American presidents and strongly demand that his punishment be eased - this no one dared to do, and this was cowardly and treacherous behavior.

There was also another crime that is unprecedented in the annals of intelligence. Not only did Israel recruit and operate Pollard, and later abandon him, it also was responsible for his conviction. After Pollard was arrested and interrogated, Israel apologized and announced that it would cooperate with the investigation. American investigators came here and asked to receive all of the documents that Pollard delivered in order to assess the scope of his espionage activity, which was, indeed, enormous. Based on this material, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

A decent country that honors its commitments could have set conditions for this cooperation. It could have conditioned its handover of documents with a demand that they not be used as evidence against Pollard, or at least with a promise to reduce his punishment significantly. If Israel had acted in this way, the U.S. might have responded angrily. So what? The mutual interests would have soon overcome the holy rage. But it is also possible that the U.S. would have respected a country that honors its agents. It is true that Pollard is not an easy person. In recent years, he has surrounded himself with a bunch of extreme right-wingers. (Perhaps this is because the left and center, with a few exceptions like MK Ophir Pines-Paz, have unfortunately taken no interest in him.) This bunch acts in a blatant way, bordering on rudeness, and this certainly does not help enhance public sympathy for Pollard. But this does not detract from the government of Israel's obligation to exert efforts to attain his freedom. This is definitely something the prime minister can do. All he needs to do is to make at least the same effort he did to liberate the criminal Elhanan Tannenbaum and Azzam Azzam, neither of whom were emissaries of the state.

See Also: