Finally, Pollard is free – opinion

On March 4, 1993, and even earlier, in March 1989, I published op-eds in this paper, at Purim time, on the case of Jonathan (Jay) Pollard. And now, in the month of Hanukkah, I have occasion again to do so.

From 1987 until 1994, I was tasked by MKs Geula Cohen (Tehiya) and Edna Solodar (Labor) to coordinate the activities of the Knesset Lobby for Jonathan Pollard.

One of the first things I did, even as the lobby was being deliberated, was to put through a call from Cohen’s office on the Knesset’s fifth floor, where the faction offices were, to the offices of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations. Cohen wanted to talk to the then-ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu. She wanted to confirm certain details I had been asked to provide her regarding the conditions of his then-imprisonment as well as those of his first wife, Ann.

Convinced of their veracity, the Pollard lobby pursued a policy of pressuring the government, mobilizing political pressure at the most senior echelons and seeking to highlight the injustice the Pollards then faced.

MKs Cohen and Solodar managed to visit the Pollards at their jails, as did MK Rabbi Eliezer Waldman. I visited Jay twice, at the Marion, Illinois, and Butner, North Carolina, penitentiary facilities.

Butner was especially forbidding. I was photographed before going in, to assure that I didn’t manage to trade places with the prisoner. The slamming of the gates was straight out of Hollywood film fare.

I went down several flights until reaching the basement, it seemed. Pollard spent 23 hours each day in the solitary lockup. We sat, facing each other, almost knee to knee, with an agent of Naval Intelligence in the small interview room. No Hebrew was allowed. If it was depressing for me, I could not imagine being in Pollard’s situation.

Cohen and Solodar had tasked me to get the signatures of Knesset members on several petitions that were presented either to members of Israel’s governments or American presidents. The lobby hosted visits by Pollard’s family, notably his parents and several times his sister Carol. We also tried to engage with major elements of the American Jewish establishment, with very few successes.

As a late example of this coldness, I blogged in this paper on February 9, 2014, after Rabbi Eric Yoffie expressed himself that it would be “simply incredible” to believe that the main problem with the lack of Pollard’s release is antisemitism among senior officials, past and present, in the United States Intelligence Community. I had to point out that at the same time Yoffie expressed his disbelief,  former head of the CIA James Woolsey said, in an interview in Israel, that in Pollard’s case, “I think there is antisemitism at work here.” He also publicly called on former US president Barack Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.

Abraham Foxman at least, in criticizing Pollard’s continued incarceration, called it “on the verge of antisemitism,” adding: “It is an intimidation that can only be based on an antisemitic stereotype about the Jewish community.”

Another example of undermining the campaign for Pollard’s release was Shlomo Gazit’s words in this paper on January 4, 1994, when he said Israel “must accept as credible [Les Aspen’s] view that Pollard continues to pose a threat to American security” and even compared him to Mordechai Vanunu, who then was still in jail due to the fear he might leak still-sensitive information. Gazit was a former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence. Vanunu, incidentally, was released in 2004. Several politicians refused to become involved in Pollard’s case, preferring to distance themselves from “that criminal.”

Twenty years later, writing for Ynet, Eitan Haber, Yitzhak Rabin’s speechwriter, wrote that right-wing politicians “turned Pollard’s cell into a pilgrimage site. They made political capital on his broken back and threw him to the dogs and to prison after using him.” If anything, it was left-wing politicians that stymied endeavors for his release.

The last significant success the lobby had was when then-interior minister Ehud Barak agreed to authorize the granting of Israeli citizenship to Pollard. The passport came a bit later from Haim Ramon who had replaced Barak.

IN 2011, I sat in a hotel room with Morris Pollard, Jay’s father. We went over the past decades of activities, and he shared with me his thoughts. He even left me with a copy of a summary he had with him of his thinking on the affair, on how it was handled and what the proper course should be.

Foremost in his mind were the incomprehensible attitude of American authorities toward his son; the suggested charge of “treason” that had been tossed out by the prosecutor; the in camera appeal to the judge; the prison treatment; and the less-than-forthcoming positions of certain Israeli officials. But he would not lessen his determination to work for his son’s release. Unfortunately, he died soon after. His son did not receive permission to attend the funeral.

Jonathan is free now. His burdens with his wife’s illness are great. He has much to make up for. I hope he will do that in Israel.



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