An Interview with Esther Pollard

Netty C. Gross - The Jerusalem Post - December 15, 1993

Jonathan Pollard's biggest problem at the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, was the ticking of the clock.

"Jonathan used to tell me that his problem in Marion was that his concept of time was going down a gaping hole," says Elaine (Esther) Zeitz, his 39-year-old Canadian fiancee of three years.

Until July, Pollard, serving a life sentence for a 1985 conviction on a charge of passing classified documents to Israel, spent 23-hour days in solitary confinement at the prison.

His concrete cell in the notorious K unit (later condemned as inhumane by Amnesty International) was located three floors below ground.

"The heat in the summer was oppressive. He never saw a blade of grass. Every autumn, rats infested the cells. All his human and civil rights were and continue to be abused. He has suffered and continues to suffer physical and mental abuse. I stress continue."

Pollard was moved five months ago to the medium-security federal penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina.

Zeitz will not discuss her relationship with Pollard prior to 1990, but says they "reconnected" after she responded to an appeal in a newspaper asking readers to send him some words of comfort. Pollard sent her a packet of information about the case.

"I would like to debunk the myth that Jonathan's incarceration is easier [in Butner]. It isn't. Nor can he hang on much longer," Zeitz says. She maintains that Pollard is currently wakened at 4:30 a.m. and works between eight and 12 hours cutting fabric. He shares a dormitory room with 49 other inmates.

She says Pollard, who became religious in Marion, is denied the use of ritual objects and kosher food.

"He arrived from eight and a half years of total isolation to a hostile antisemitic atmosphere in Butner ... Today Jonathan is hanging onto the cliff while they are dancing on his fingernails. In terms of his well-being, it's the 11th hour. A minute before midnight, actually."

Zeitz arrived here last Thursday "at the request of Jonathan, whom I speak to on a daily basis and with whom I consult on every single matter pertaining to him." She came at the invitation of the New Channel 2 talk-show host Rafi Reshef.

She says she decided to go public after her romance with Pollard was disclosed by Amnon Dror, who heads the Israel Committee for the Release of Pollard. He says it was an inadvertent slip of the tongue to a reporter.

A comely, soft-spoken educator, Zeitz runs a bilingual (English and French) center in Toronto for children with learning disabilities.

She keeps a photograph of Pollard in her leather billfold along with a laminated note from former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, who visited Pollard in Marion on October 15, 1991. Eliahu gave him a prayer book, which Zeitz says was confiscated by authorities to harass him.

Zeitz's decision to talk publicly about her engagement to Pollard came after a recent flurry of articles in the American press predicting that the US Justice Department would recommend that President Bill Clinton deny Pollard clemency.

An account in the November 8 New York Times said that Clinton was considering turning down Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin's request last month to release Pollard. A story in Time magazine said Pollard had done irreparable damage to American interests by supplying a compendium of secret codes which Time's story said was later sold to the Soviet Union.

The Justice Department's pardon attorney, Margaret C. Love, has not yet made any recommendations public, although observers believe a public statement is imminent.

Clinton, sources say, may issue his opinion on the case before Christmas. He has not acted on a campaign promise to review the Pollard file.

"We believe the Justice Department is leaking these trial balloons to test Israel. The allegations are outrageous. Why weren't they in the original indictment? Don't forget, Jonathan was convicted on one count of passing information to an allied country. Don't forget that Jonathan was induced to enter a plea bargain and instead got the book thrown at him. After all, who plea-bargains for a life sentence?" Zeitz asks.

She brought a chart which lists federal sentencing guidelines, and says the maximum sentence for Pollard's crime was subsequently lowered to 10 years.

Zeitz told Reshef she considers Pollard to be an Israeli soldier abandoned behind enemy lines.

"If the Americans can use the rumor that they have created - [that] Israel doesn't care - to turn down Rabin's request for Pollard, won't Israel's enemies then be able to avail themselves of the same lie as they try to secure our other soldiers [Israel's missing soldiers]?

"That Jonathan's was a rogue operation is a moot point. The Israelis know these stories are lies, so why don't they respond? Rabin has our unqualified thanks for taking the initiative, but I am also extending my plea to him: Finish the job. Bring Jonathan home. Don't let the Americans weasel out of this with innuendo that tarnishes Israel as well."

According to Zeitz, who heads Canadian Citizens for Justice, a pro-Pollard lobby, American Jewish public support for the commutation of Pollard's sentence is "as overwhelming in its scope as it was during the days of the movement to free Soviet Jews. There are no opposing groups. From heads of ultra-Orthodox yeshivot to leaders of the Reform movement, at this point everyone wants Jonathan out of jail."

Zeitz will not discuss her relationship with Pollard's parents nor with his sister Carol, who also tangled with Pollard's first wife, Anne. Pollard family members have claimed not to know who Zeitz is, or said that her views on how to handle Jonathan's case are harmful to the cause.

Though Dror says he has never met or spoken to Zeitz ("she came to all of this late in the game"), he confirms that Pollard identified her as the woman he intends to marry one day.

"The connection between Jonathan and myself is intact," Zeitz says.

"We have managed to achieve as a couple - under the worst of all possible circumstances - something so rare that we understand it is difficult for most people to comprehend."