Director General of Foreign Ministry: We never did anything for Pollard

Ben Caspit - Maariv [Mussaf-Shabbat] - November 19, 2010

Israel never came to Pollard's rescue

Translated to English by J4JP [May be reprinted with full attribution to author and venue]

Last week a public/media campaign was launched here for the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard. This coming Sunday, Jonathan will "celebrate" 25 years in an American prison - an indescribably harsh punishment: cruel, grossly disproportionate, and unjust.

The information that has come to light in recent weeks proves once again, beyond any doubt, that Pollard was locked away for things he did not do. They fabricated false charges against him. Yes, he did sin and offend and had to be punished, but if we compare the sentence he received (an unlimited life sentence with no end in sight at this time) to the sentences others received for similar offenses, the enormity of the travesty of justice is apparent.

Against this backdrop, a discussion took place this week about the Pollard case, on the Television program "Politica" on Channel One. Invited to participate were: MK Nachman Shai (who said courageous and constructive things); Yitzhak Oren, who was the Israeli Congressional liaison in Washington and the first Israeli official to visit Pollard; and the former Director General of the Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel.

On the air, Liel said some shocking things: "In my eyes, Pollard is no hero. When Pollard lands here, I am not going to Ben Gurion Airport to greet him. Just a minute ago someone mentioned how the US relates to traitors. How do we relate to traitors? After all he betrayed the United States, our best friend. I served as an Israeli official for 30 years. What Pollard did was not a heroic deed in my eyes."

The moderator, Oded Shachar, tried to explain to Liel that it was Israel that requested and received the information from Pollard. But Liel persevered: "First of all, whether or not that is so, is also subject to debate. I served for 30 years in the Israeli Foreign Ministry in the United States, and indeed in all the years that I worked in Chicago (where Pollard was first held) and then in Atlanta (near where Pollard is now held) we never made any effort to free him, and we were right not to. Today it is already another matter since he has been in prison for so many years."

Incredible to hear such things! I picked up the phone and called Liel this week, but he just continued his tirade. Pollard, Liel told me, is a traitor in the same league as Vanunu. "When I was an Israeli consul in the United States, the policy was, we do not visit Pollard, we do not have anything to do with him, and if anyone ever mentions him, we must silence them and calm things down, lest it harm the Jewish community. Pollard betrayed his employers. I was an official for 30 years. How am I supposed to feel towards someone who took the most sensitive documents and gave them, for money, to someone else?"

Liel was, as has been pointed out, the Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Was he also the Director General of the American Foreign Ministry? Pollard endangered his life to pass (pass, not sell) information he saw as vital to "someone else". That "someone else" was us. For this, he is now paying an exorbitant price.

Liel's bitter comments contain no small amount of unwarranted evil, but other than that, they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what was written in this column last week: the State of Israel never really came to the rescue of Jonathan Pollard.

To the credit of the first Netanyahu government in 1998, Pollard was officially recognized as an Israeli agent. Period. There is no argument about this fact, nor can there be. But this did not change things much for Liel (or the rest of the Foreign Ministry staff). It is true that he was a consul before this recognition was granted and he did not go to visit Pollard, because that was the policy at the time. But in the years 1999 to 2001, after Pollard was granted official recognition, Liel was the Director General of the Foreign Ministry under Ehud Barak. Did someone forget to update Liel? He says, "Even when I was the Director General of the Foreign Ministry, I do not recall a single time when the issue of Pollard was raised. There was never any discussion of Pollard raised at the level of the Director General."

So now it is perfectly clear. Liel was the superior of the deputy general manager of the Foreign Ministry for North America, the one who held responsibility for the Pollard file for the Government of Israel all of these years. And as his superior, Liel admits that nothing was ever done to secure Pollard's release. Indeed, quite the opposite!

Today top American officials say that Pollard has served far too long in prison, that the charges against him were fabricated, and that he should be released at once. But this means nothing to Liel. When Pollard arrives, Liel won't go to the airport to welcome him. After all, says Liel, he's a traitor.

Let's leave Liel, for the moment. The issue is bigger and more important than he is. The Pollard campaign has to be country-wide. For all to participate. Not just one newspaper or another. Guaranteed: if the entire country, from the smallest of the deputy general managers of the foreign ministry to the Prime Minister, to the Mossad, to the Israeli public at large, believe that this abomination must end after 25 excruciating years, then it will happen. Pollard will be released.

We need to promise in advance that Pollard will not become a national hero. As far as I am concerned, he can promise not to interview for the next 10 years -- let him live in peace and work at putting his life back together. And we won't make a huge public reception for him, nor hold a celebration to welcome him home at Ben Gurion Airport. And we won't even invite Alon Liel.

Just let him be released already.