Pollard Ends Hunger Strike After Meeting PM

Leora Eren Frucht - The Canadian Jewish News - August 22, 1996


- Esther Pollard, the Canadian wife of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, ended a 19-day hunger strike in Jerusalem last week, following a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.

Only the day before, Esther Pollard had pledged to continue her strike until the United States releases her husband, who is serving a life sentence for passing secret information to Israel. But after the meeting with Netanyahu, the second in three days, Pollard ended the strike, saying she was convinced that the prime minister was deeply committed to fighting for her husbands' release.

"I have never heard any Israeli prime minister make such strong promises in such unequivocal terms," she said. "Netanyahu has publicly committed himself to bring Jonathan home."

Last month, she accused Netanyahu of not bothering to raise her husband's case during his recent meeting with President Bill Clinton in Washington.

"There has been a dramatic change in the prime minister's attitude," said Pollard following her second talk with Netanyahu.

The meeting was arranged by Rabbi Eliyahu, who had just returned from visiting Pollard in the North Carolina prison where he is serving the 11th year of his sentence.

"The rabbi guaranteed the words of the prime minister," said Esther Pollard, an Orthodox woman who describes Eliyahu as the couple's chosen spiritual leader and religious authority. The rabbi also offered a prayer that Jonathan Pollard be free by Rosh Hashanah.

Esther Pollard embarked on the hunger strike in order to draw attention to the plight of her husband, following Clinton's recent refusal to grant him executive clemency. It was the third time that a U.S. president has effused to commute the sentence.

She said she decided to hold the hunger strike in Jerusalem rather than in Washington because she believes the key to her husband's release lies in Israeli, not American, hands.

"If Israel asked for his release in strong, clear terms, Jonathan could be free within 24 hours," said Pollard, who maintains that previous request by Israeli prime ministers were not forceful enough. Jonathan Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship earlier this year.

She said the hunger strike, held outside a department store in the center of Jerusalem, had been a last resort to help her husband, whose health and morale are rapidly deteriorating. "I don't know how much longer he can hold on."

During her strike, some 70,000 Israelis signed a petition calling on Netanyahu to take urgent action to get the U.S. administration to release Pollard, who has already served longer than any other American convicted of the same crime.

Esther Pollard, formerly Esther (Elaine) Zeitz, of Montreal, said she expected her husband to be released shortly, following Netanyahu's promise and Rabbi Eliyahu's prayer. She said she had no immediate plans to return to her job as a special education teacher in Toronto.

"I'm staying right here and waiting for Jonathan."