Bush Visit Puts Pollard Back in Spotlight

Cam Simpson - The Wall Street Journal - May 14, 2008


J4JP Note:

See also:

Jonathan Pollard was an ideologue, not a mercenary


JERUSALEM -- A resurgent Israeli right wing and a departing U.S. president add up to a familiar result: a push by Israelis to win a pardon for Jonathan Pollard.

He is the former U.S. intelligence analyst whose spying for Israel more than two decades ago still irritates relations between the allies. Politicians and activists hope the visit of President Bush, who arrives Wednesday, will provide the spur for Mr. Pollard's release.

"We are planning on putting the Pollard issue on the agenda when Bush arrives," said Roi Lachmanovitch, a spokesman for Israel's right-wing Shas party, which earlier this year became the crucial force keeping Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ever-dwindling coalition in power.

Though especially dear to the Israeli right, Mr. Pollard's case also resonates in the mainstream here. A 53-year-old Texas-born Jew, he was convicted in 1986 of stealing secrets for Israel. He is serving a

life sentence

for espionage in a North Carolina prison. The Israeli government, after initially covering up its involvement, granted him citizenship and has worked for his release.

Mr. Bush and earlier presidents have refused to pardon Mr. Pollard. But some Israelis see a chance for haggling between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Bush, who has made advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a signature goal of his waning days in office.

National Security Council spokeswoman Kate Starr said that if the issue is raised during the visit, the president will tell Mr. Olmert that the U.S. position hasn't changed.

Uri Dromi, a political analyst and onetime spokesman for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said a Pollard deal could enhance Mr. Olmert's influence with the Israeli right and help him sell a peace deal. The Israeli prime minister has been weakened by a new corruption investigation.

Right-wing Israeli lawmakers have ordered an investigation by Israel's independent state comptroller into recent government efforts to secure Mr. Pollard's freedom. It started early this year, and it isn't clear when it will be finished. Leaders on the Israeli right have fiercely criticized Mr. Olmert's efforts as inadequate. His backers say he is trying hard, but in a discreet fashion.

Mr. Pollard's most-vociferous backers have been anything but discreet. When President Bush came to Israel in January, the first visit here of his White House tenure, they plastered the sides of Jerusalem buses with ads comparing the U.S. president with the leaders of the Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Each is holding captured Israeli soldiers.

Prosecutors say Mr. Pollard spirited more than 1,000 classified documents to his Israeli handlers. Mr. Pollard claimed he was acting as a loyal Jew worried about Israel's survival, but he also received some $50,000* (see

J4JP clarification

) from the Israeli government, along with a promise that more cash would follow, according to prosecutors. Defenders say Mr. Pollard largely handed over intelligence that was being improperly withheld from Israel in the first place.

See J4JP Clarification:

Jonathan Pollard was an ideologue, not a mercenary