Jonathan Pollard - 'More Alone Than Ever'
Steve Rodan - July 10, 1998 - The Jerusalem Post - Features
When Israel finally confirmed in May that Jonathan Pollard was its agent,
Pollard and his supporters were heartened by what they described as the
first significant step the government had taken in years to win his
But nearly two months after the announcement, despair is beginning to
return. Pollard and his advocates say the government has not followed up on
its acknowledgment. Instead, they claim, the government is consumed by the
negotiations with Washington over the implementation of the interim
agreement with the Palestinians.
They say the result is that a golden opportunity to start fast-track talks
with the US to secure Pollard's release is being frittered away. "That's
where it started, and it has gone downhill ever since," Pollard's wife,
Esther, said during a visit here this week. "Now, Jonathan is more alone
than ever before." Esther Pollard said the message she has been hearing
senior government officials is that this is not the right time for the
of her husband's release to be raised with the Clinton administration.
Relations with the White House and State Department are tense, and US
officials appear impatient in dealing with Israelis, the officials say.
result, Pollard has been put on the back burner.
But Esther Pollard said she had been given some hope: She had been told by
officials that her husband's case would be raised with the US as the last
element in an agreement on IDF redeployment in the West Bank. As one
official was said to have explained it, the US would make some last-minute
demands for concessions from the Israelis that would include a full
of 13.1 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. In response,
Israel would demand Pollard's release. But Wednesday's inner cabinet
meeting, the Pollards said, dashed those hopes. The couple were furious
during the ministerial deliberations - in which a vote was expected - the
Pollard release was not raised.
The Pollards are convinced they were lied to. "The fact that the inner
cabinet was ready to vote shows their duplicity," Pollard said from the
federal prison in Butner, North Carolina. "There is no linkage. You don't
sign an agreement before the agent is home. If the cabinet had voted on it,
my bargaining or linkage would have gone out the window." The inner cabinet
decision was postponed, a government source said, to protest the UN vote
that raised the PLO's status somewhat at the UN. Other sources maintain
a decision was not made because of the continuing gaps between the US and
Israeli positions on redeployment.
These latest tensions between the Pollards and the Israeli government
characterize their relationship over the past five years. For the first few
years following Pollard's arrest by FBI agents outside the Israeli Embassy
in Washington in 1985 and his being sentenced to life in prison a year
later, he was repeatedly told by Israeli officials that they would work for
his release. At first, Pollard believed them. But by the early 1990s, he
came to the conclusion that he would never leave his jail cell without
waging a fight. That meant declaring his independence from the Israeli
government and developing his own strategy, based on high-profile lobbying
in Washington and Jerusalem, as well as establishing a formal bond between
himself and Israel.
So, in mid-1995, Pollard demanded Israeli citizenship.
Then-interior minister Ehud Barak refused the request, so Pollard took his
case to the High Court of Justice. Barak eventually relented when he
realized that Pollard's petition to the High Court could force Israel to
answer embarrassing questions regarding its accountability to the convicted
spy. Pollard received his Israeli passport in January 1996.
Last year, Pollard returned to the High Court. This time, he demanded that
the court order the Israeli government to reveal who was in charge of his
case and what steps had been taken to secure the release. Pollard's aim was
to force Israel to renounce its earlier claims that he was part of an
operation never approved by government leaders. The Israeli declaration
acknowledging him as an agent, engineered by cabinet secretary Dan Naveh,
came on May 11, over the objections of Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai
and his aides. The Pollards were pleased and expected subsequent
negotiations between Israel and the White House. These would presumably
deal with US demands for a full Israeli account of Pollard's activities in
the early 1980s and a return of all the documents he had transferred to his
The Pollards say that never happened. The government has kept the Pollard
issue in the news, with steady visits to his jail cell by ministers touring
the US - the last was by Science Minister Michael Eitan last week. But, the
Pollards say, no one has actually approached US officials to begin talks on
his release. "They [Israeli officials] don't do anything unless the knife
against their throats," Esther Pollard said. "Our major fight for
freedom is with our own [Israeli] government. We don't even get near the
Americans because the Israelis don't engage with the US."
Naveh, whom Esther Pollard met yesterday, stresses that Israel has not
shelved the issue, and that the government is operating according to a
well-conceived plan. But Naveh is cautious, and prefers keep his answers
general. "The government is fully committed to the release of Jonathan
Pollard," he said. "The essence of the announcement is a major step. We are
doing certain things to free him. We can't say everything in public."
would not confirm the Pollards' assertion that Jonathan's release had been
promised as an element in the negotiations with the White House for an IDF
redeployment. He also did not deny that the redeployment issue was holding
up Israeli efforts to win his release. "I don't want to go into tactical
questions; speaking about them might hurt Pollard," he said.
Naveh was also evasive about whether Israel and the US are currently in
dialogue regarding the release of Pollard. "Israel will do everything it
vis-a-vis the American government regarding Pollard's release," he said.
Another government official involved in the Pollard issue was more direct.
He said the government announcement that acknowledged Pollard was an
authorized spy was a mistake. "In the end, it didn't make one bit of
difference," he said. "They simply don't want to deal with the issue in
Washington." Instead, the official said, the Israeli strategy must be to
stress the humanitarian aspect of Pollard's case. He has been in prison for
13 years, more than most people convicted of espionage, including those who
have spied for the Soviet Union.
This official added that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin
was the first to send ministers at every opportunity to visit Pollard.
Israeli leaders appeal for Pollard's release at every high-level meeting,
said. Esther Pollard has easy access to Netanyahu, and met him on
"I don't understand this anger toward us [by the Pollards]," the official
said. "We followed their suggestions and did what they asked for. What do
they expect now - that we stage an Entebbe-style raid to free him?"
Esther Pollard appears agitated when told this. "Jonathan has been on the
Israeli agenda at every meeting," she said. "But he was always point No. 20
out of 20 points. The message to the Americans is then clear: that Israel
raises the issue [only] for domestic consumption." Some US intelligence
experts say the intelligence community in Washington no longer opposes
Pollard's release. The lobby that wants to keep Pollard in jail consists
mostly of those who dealt with the case in the mid-1980s: then-defense
secretary Caspar Weinberger, Navy Secretary Bobby Ray Inman and US
prosecutors. "It is a straightforward political matter," said Angelo
Codevilla, international relations professor at Boston University, who
served on the staff of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
the Pollard arrest and conviction.
In briefings to the Senate committee on Pollard's activities, Codevilla
said, US officials never claimed that he gave Israel intelligence methods
and sources. Instead, he said, Pollard relayed data, analysis and
photographs, the sort of material that Israel was receiving from the US
anyway. Codevilla says Pollard angered his superiors and eventually US
government leaders by his efforts to undermine what he regarded as a
pro-Iraqi policy by Washington in the early 1980s.
"There is no political
opposition [to Pollard's release] that I know of in the US," he said. "The
only ones whom Pollard's release would anger would be such people as
secretary of state George] Shultz and Weinberger. "They are angry because
committed the worse possible sin in Washington: He was right before his
time. The US policy of aiding Iraq was a disastrous policy. The authors of
that policy were Shultz, Weinberger and Inman."
Codevilla says the Israeli announcement that Pollard was an authorized
is only the first step in a complicated process. Now, he says, the Israeli
officials must stress to their US counterparts that Pollard's release is a
priority. "The Israeli government has to say it at every step of the way,"
he said. "The message must be: 'You want this from us. We want this from