I Wanted to Prevent Another Holocaust: An Exclusive Interview with Jonathan Pollard
There are two approaches to Jonathan Pollard, one is a time line, the other is the broad approach. The time line begins with the dawn of American Jewish consciousness: a young boy stands with his class and recites one after the other, the words to "HaTikvah" Israel's national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, without ever realizing that a day may come that these two may come into conflict with each other.
The second approach, the broader view, takes place in the State of North Carolina. The day I visited Pollard there, a light rainfall had turned the lake next to the landing-strip into a muddy brown pool of swirling water. Aviv Ezra, the Israeli Deputy Consul General in Atlanta, met us at the airport. With his Sabra appearance, up to and including his suit, he looks like the face of our nation: young and proud and at the same time not overly self-possessed.
We meet up with Esther Pollard on the way to the prison, at the cheap, depressing motel where she lives. She is wearing a gray suit and her hair is covered with attractive reddish shaytl. She receives us with a mixture of wariness and hope. Her movements are energetic; the look in her eyes resembles that of a child who is lost; who sees strangers approaching, and wonders if they are coming to help or to hurt.
Esther shows us her tiny room, which smells of commercial cleansers. "I have been here for some time," she says, not without a trace of anger. The room is cramped. It has an air of sadness and isolation. Before we leave the place, she explains that Jonathan's health deteriorated severely after the cruel and inhumane treatment he was subjected to in Washington when he was held there prior to his court hearing. "Since then, I have not been able to leave him. So I remain here. It is difficult these days to cross international borders; I cannot risk leaving and not being able to return to be here for him."
Esther has been with Jonathan for 15 years; they married in 1993, when he had already served 8 years in prison. After spending a few minutes with Esther, I begin to understand that she too is in prison. There were some who cautioned me that she is not in touch with reality. Not so. Her main character trait is loyalty. Jonathan is her husband, and her life. I ask her quietly if she and Jonathan are permitted conjugal visits. Her laughter has a bitter edge and she responds, "You really do not understand the situation at all. You do not understand that behind the vision of America that you see, there is another America which is totally different. You have to be in a situation like ours, on the other side of the law, to see the other America. It is a vision of America where notions like fairness or compassion simply do not exist."
"The other side of the law", the words echo in my mind. In the mind of every American and especially of every American Jew, there is an ingrained belief that there is no contradiction between his ethnic or religious beliefs and his American identity. For American Jews it has been very hard to accept the fact that in a very clear and unequivocal way, the actions of Pollard forced them to question their American identity. No other spy did this. Not even Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They spied for the Soviet Union, and their actions did not damage the collective dream of the Jewish community. Only Jonathan Pollard has done that.
MY HEART IS IN THE EAST
"I understood that we are alone."
This is how Jonathan Pollard responds when I ask him what motivated him to make such a definitive choice between two loyalties. We had already entered the prison. FCI Butner is a medium to maximum security federal prison in North Carolina. Pollard has been incarcerated here for 12 years. Five people are present for the interview: Jonathan and Esther Pollard; the Deputy Consul General, Aviv Ezra; the publisher of Makor Rishon, Shlomo Ben-Tzvi and myself. Other than us, there is also Nick. Nick is a representative of US Naval Intelligence, who flies in from Washington every time Pollard has visitors to ensure that he does not transfer secrets out of the prison walls.
In the visit room there are small tables, upholstered chairs and vending machines for coffee and chocolate. Pollard receives us warmly as a host. His wife treats us to drinks and buys us chocolate, as if we were visiting in her home. I had also been warned about Jonathan; I had been told that he too is not entirely sane. But if he is crazy, there is no evidence of it. Throughout the visit I did not notice even the slightest sign of inappropriate or neurotic behavior. In fact this was the most surprising thing of all, Pollard's utter sanity after 20 years in prison.
We started from the beginning. Jonathan Pollard was born in Texas 50 years ago, and grew up in Indiana. His father was a professor of microbiology and worked, among other things, developing weapons for the American Army. Jonathan studied Political Science, Economics and Classical Studies at Stanford University. He was in the midst of studies towards a Doctorate in International Relations and Military History in 1979 when he was recruited by American Naval Intelligence. "It was a year full of events," he remembers with enthusiasm. "The Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Khomeini had toppled the Shah in Iran. There was lots of action."
And what was your Jewish and Zionist background?
Pollard readily begins to speak about his Jewish roots. "I grew up in an American, modern orthodox home, where the centrality of Israel was continuously stressed. I experienced two painful episodes during my childhood. The first was a visit to the concentration camp, Dachau, with my parents in 1966. The second was the Six Day War (in 1967) and a year after that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. This chain of events led me to understand what is needed in order to win, and about the nature of the Diaspora."
And visits to Israel?
I first visited Israel in the summer of 1971. I was in the summer program at Machon Weizman. My parents were concerned that I would not return home. I wish I had remained there. I should have been in Israel for the war. For the Yom Kippur war, or for Operation Peace for Galilee, even if just to pick melons on a kibbutz to free up other Israelis for army duty. I regret that the critical events of our history in recent years have been so bloody. All the same, this is our history, and I should have been there."
Why didn't you make Aliyah?
"I thought about Aliyah all the time. But it is hard to get up and leave the Goldineh Medina, America. That was the conflict. I was here, but my heart was in the East.
My parents are Americans. My father is a decorated officer in the army, who has received citations. He carries a copy of the American Constitution in his pocket. I did not know how to resolve the conflict. When I began to work for Naval Intelligence, my father warned me that it is no place for a Jew. That there is a lot of anti-Semitism there. But even after experiencing it, I thought it was better for me to remain.
TREATMENT IN PRISON
Come, let's put that aside for a moment, and let's return to the present. Describe for us what a day in your life in prison looks like.
Pollard looks at me cautiously. Turning from a past he misses, to talk about a present he wishes to escape from, is hard for him. Esther, holding his hand, sighs in protest. Esther had warned me earlier that as long as Jonathan is in prison, he cannot safely discuss prison life or conditions.
"I don't want to go into detail," he responds. "I will give you an impressionistic description of my life. Life here involves constant noise, endless noise that is impossible to imagine, all the time; constant violence; profanity every conceivable type of profanity." His voice which a moment ago was strong and clear has become a quiet sigh.
"There is no place to be quiet or to find quiet to read. You really have to be disciplined not to be provoked. You need to be disciplined to see when a situation is getting out of hand and to get away as quickly as possible. I have to be ready if my door opens at 2 in the morning.
"I live in a small room, not in a cell, with a roommate. My room is so small that when I sit on my bed and stretch out my arms I touch both of the walls. And it is impossible to lock the door. There are snap inspections and I constantly wash windows and floors for them."
Esther has told me that Jonathan gets up in the middle of the night to wash all of the prison windows so that he can be finished his work in time for visit hours. "I wash a lot of windows every day," he says.
When he is not washing windows, Pollard listens to the radio. He is prohibited from using computers, much less the internet. The prison has television sets set up in common rooms for inmates. His fellow inmates include murderers, rapists, armed robbers, pedophiles and other violent criminals.
All of his personal property has to fit into a small locker smaller than an IDF locker. He is not allowed to leave things out of his locker or to give them to his visitors, so he is forced to throw away most of his books and his letters after he has read them, just to make room.
He is not given kosher food, and has to make do. Fruit and vegetables are hard to come by. The prison commissary is limited and sells only dry goods. While Arabic speaking prisoners receive Arabic newspapers, he is forbidden from reading anything not written in English. He reads the newspaper Hamodia in English and a range of scientific journals and magazines.
"You have to understand," he says, "I knew that I needed to change my life. When I am released I cannot go back to work as I did in my previous life. I need to do something new. So I am now working on projects in alternate methods of energy generation and water production which will replace oil and current water reclamation technology."
Where were you on September 11?
"I was in the TV room. I was waiting for a special visit scheduled for that day. Mickey Eitan and another Knesset member were coming to meet Esther and me. I was in the TV room watching CNN. I knew at once, even before the second plane hit the tower, that this was a terror attack."
How did you feel knowing that the United States was under attack?
"I felt sick to my stomach."
But why would it bother you to see the US under attack? Especially after the last 20 years.
To this, Jonathan gave me a look of profound sadness and said, "I fell in love with two women Israel and the US. It doesn't work in private life, and it doesn't work in politics.
My reaction to September 11 was as an American. As an American, I believe that this country is guarding the gates of Western civilization from the barbarians. I believe in a muscular foreign policy."
ESPIONAGE WAS THE ONLY WAY
You are an American patriot, but you betrayed the US.
"I was forced to make a choice."
What happened? What forced you to choose?
"It was something that happened during the Operation Peace for Galilee campaign. I can't talk about it in detail." He nods at the monitor. He is able to say that he was the professional expert at special meetings between the US and Israel. "It was then that I discovered the amazing cynicism with which the US regards Israel. As part of my work, I met with some Israelis. I took a couple of them aside and I told them, 'We should be screaming to high Heaven about this!' One of them looked at me and asked,
'Who is 'we'?'
"I told him, 'You know what I mean!' He replied, 'No I don't know.' And that is when it happened. That is when I understood."
What did you understand?
"I understood that we are alone."
Why didn't you leave Naval Intelligence? Why didn't you leave your job and make Aliyah?
"I don't know why I stayed. I wanted to see how bad, bad really was. Like a car that slows down to watch a highway accident to see how bad the damage is. I couldn't leave."
After the Israeli Air Force blew up the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, then deputy director of the CIA Admiral Bobby Ray Inman unilaterally decided to stop all intelligence transfers to Israel on Arab and Muslim states not directly bordering Israel. This included Iraq, Iran, Libya, Tunis and Pakistan. Around the same time, the United States began to arm Iraq which was then at war with Iran. The government permitted various companies to built dual usage factories in Iraq and they quickly advanced the development of Iraqi chemical weapons. Pollard, a US Intelligence analyst, had access to this information, which - until it was embargoed by Inman, who was opposed to the US / Israel strategic alliance - was routinely shared with Israel.
So you saw this information and you thought it was not right that Israel was not receiving it but that's still a long ways from engaging in espionage.
"I saw before my eyes the danger that Israel was facing. I considered my options. I could go to the media; I could go to Congress; and I could go to the Jewish leaders in New York. The media was a non-starter because of its hostility to Israel. Moreover, if I would have told the media, then the Russians and the Syrians would also know. The Syrians would be able to take advantage of the information, and even to misunderstand it, which might draw them to open a new offensive on the Golan Heights. I could have gone to Capital Hill. Nothing would come of this approach, except that I would be fired. As for the Jewish leaders, they would just throw me out of their offices. A prominent Jewish leader came to visit me in prison some years ago. I asked him, "What would you have done, if I had come to you with this information?" He responded that he would immediately have called the FBI the minute I left his office, and reported me as an agent provocateur trying to entrap him."
So why didn't you resign?
"Because I wanted to prevent another Holocaust."
In the 20 years that have elapsed since he was arrested, Jonathan Pollard has expressed remorse for his deeds many, many times, both orally and in writing. In truth, the entire affair stemmed from administrative failure on both sides. The US preferred appeasement of the Arabs for which it is now paying the price, with 150 thousand US soldiers in Iraq - over its commitment to Israel. Israel, for its part, ran Pollard without any regard for the danger it was posing to American Jewry by running him. As one Jew who worked in the office of the Naval Secretary in those years put it, "Israel never had any shortage of Jews willing to help her. Why did she have to use Pollard? He wanted to help. Fine. But Israel did not really have to use him."
There is no doubt that the US conspired against Pollard. Anti-Semitism is the only reasonable way to understand: the decision to impose a life sentence upon him for an offense that usually carries a sentence of about 4 years; the exaggeration of the damage done to the US; the gross opposition by the CIA to every attempt to release him; the seven years he spent in solitary confinement in unbearable conditions; and also the conditions he is held in today. It is impossible to deal with the Pollard case without becoming convinced that he is suffering for no other reason than because he is a Jew who spied for the State of Israel.
Worse still, Israel the State in whose service Pollard risked his life has behaved reprehensibly. "After I was arrested, I went through a very difficult time which brought me to the threshold of despair. The FBI investigators who were debriefing me, purposely allowed me to see the statements that the Israelis had made about me. The Mossad cast all the blame on Rafi Eitan (Pollard's handler) and on LAKAM (the Office for Information Cooperation which Eitan headed). They wanted to bury me. It was the Mossad that was the source of all the disinformation about me and my character. The lies that I used cocaine and was a mercenary, selling secrets to countries other than Israel, it all came from them. It was clear that the Mossad had three goals: to bury me; to destroy LAKAM and to protect AIPAC at all costs. To this day, this remains the policy of the Mossad.
In 1995 a Mossad agent came here and suggested that I commit suicide. I told him that I was ready to die for Israel, but not for a bunch of political toadies. "The Israelis claimed that mine was a rogue operation. But this was a total lie. Not only did the senior political and military leadership know what was happening, Ariel Sharon tried to use me for his own ends. Rafi Eitan was Arik's man. And he asked me to collect political intelligence for Sharon what people in Washington were saying about him and the like. I refused. "
Rafi Eitan, Israel's master spy who served as Pollard's chief handler from his position as head of the Office for Information Cooperation at the Israeli Embassy, told him that his information was discussed at cabinet meetings and Pollard understood that his main contractor was then Major General Ehud Barak, who then served as Commander of Military Intelligence.
"Afterwards, Rafi asked me to get them the names of American agents in Israel. I refused. This was something that would have hurt the US, and I wouldn't do it. Rafi told me, 'Watch it! Your refusal to give us the names will end up killing you. These agents will betray you to the authorities in the US.'
"But what hurt me the most was when I saw the unclassified version of the Eban Report. [The Eban Report was a report of the Knesset's sub-committee on intelligence services investigation into the Pollard affair that was published in 1987.] It made me almost physically ill. The report includes a summary of a midnight conversation between [the prime minister] Shimon Peres and [the US Secretary of State George] Schultz about a week after I was arrested. Schultz asked Peres to return the documents I took and Peres agreed but made Schultz promise that the documents wouldn't be used against me and Schultz agreed.
"No one ever told me about this agreement. I could have used it in my defense. It is the country's responsibility. It had standing before the court. Israel is the only country to participate in the prosecution of its own agent."
These days we are hearing that the Israeli Ambassador Danni Ayalon may come to visit Pollard. About a month ago, Ayalon was in North Carolina, in the neighborhood, but refused to come to the prison. Just by way of comparison, the Korean Ambassador made monthly visits to Robert Kim, the Korean agent who was incarcerated in America.
The only Israeli Prime Minister until now, who has ever done anything for Jonathan Pollard, is Bibi Netanyahu. A year ago Sharon refused to give President Bush a petition signed by 112 Members of Knesset, which he himself signed, with a request to release Pollard. (J4JP: to date, the President has never received this historic and unprecedented appeal.) This trip the Prime Minister refused to deliver another historic appeal signed by all of the Chief Rabbis, past and present
Dennis Ross, the former American Special Envoy to the Middle East in the 1990's writes in his book, (THE MISSING PEACE) of a conversation he had with President Clinton about Netanyahu's request to free Pollard parallel to the signing of the Wye Accords (October 1998). Ross says that he advised Clinton, " I would not free him now. It would be a big payoff for Bibi. You do not have many big ones like this in your pocket. I would save it for the final status talks."
Do you think that Clinton's refusal to free you then has priced you out of the market? That there is nothing big enough that Israel can offer for your release?
"No, I believe that the opposite is true. But Israel has to ask, and Sharon refuses to ask. It was chutzpah of the first order for Sharon to define the return of that no-goodnik Tannenbaum as the mitzvah of Pidyan Shvuyim. That was spitting in the face of our religious beliefs."
TO BE WITH MY WIFE, MY PEOPLE AND MY LAND
When you are sitting in your room, what do you think about?
"My dream is to be with my wife, at home in Israel. I am worried about my wife. She is a Cancer survivor. But she refused to have chemotherapy because it would have destroyed any chance of having children. Because of our circumstances, she has not had any Cancer follow up treatments for more than 2 years. Do you have any idea of what it feels like for a husband to have to hear over the phone that his wife has Cancer?
"Last year the government refused to implement my status as a captive (not to grant me the status I have it as an agent but to implement it.) Instead they leaked to the media that Pollard is just after money. And they leaked a story about how they were going to give me a million dollars; they did this in order to destroy public concern for me. [J4JP: Jonathan and his wife Esther have never received a cent from the Israeli Government.