Pollard hopeful GOP changes will benefit him

November 11, 1998 - Walter Ruby - Special to the NJ Jewish News

Could Newt -- one of Israel's best friends on the Hill -- have been so adamant against Pollard's release because the Wye summit handed Clinton a foreign policy photo-op two weeks before the election and because he and other Republican bigs weren't invited? Does a "normal" man give his wife a divorce on her death-bed or throw tantrums on Air Force 1?

Among the legions of people celebrating the fall of Newt Gingrich these days, few are chortling with greater delight than is Jonathan Pollard.

From his cell at Butner Federal Penitentiary in North Carolina, in the days preceding the Nov. 3 congressional elections, Pollard made clear that he puts the primary blame for the collapse of a purported deal at the Wye summit for his release squarely on the two top Republicans in Washington: House Speaker Gingrich (R-GA) and Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS).

Pollard was incensed that when the news of his possible release had leaked to the press prematurely, Gingrich and Lott - long seen as staunch political allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - immediately dispatched a stern open letter to President Bill Clinton asking that he not free Pollard.

Calling Pollard "one of the most notorious traitors in U.S. history," the GOP leaders expressed the fear that once Pollard was allowed to go to Israel he might "resume his treacherous conduct."

Talking about Gingrich's resignation, Pollard called his departure from the House "a wonderful irony. Newt tried to prevent me from ever seeing the light of day, but I'm still alive and struggling for my freedom and Newt is finished politically.

"Whoever comprises the new GOP leadership will have to look at this in a fresh light," said Pollard.

Despite Pollard's declared optimism, pro-Israel sources in Washington believe that Pollard's chances of an early release by Clinton, who promised Netanyahu at Wye that he would conduct another review of the case, have worsened.

A big obstacle is likely to be Rep. Robert Livingston (R-LA), House Appropriations Committee chair, and a likely candidate to replace Gingrich.

According to one highly placed Jewish Republican source, "Livingston just doesn't have the web of relationships with the Jewish community that Gingrich had, and he doesn't have Gingrich's ideological world view in which Israel played an important part. He is very close to the intelligence community that is adamantly opposed to freeing Pollard."

Morton Klein, the national director of the Zionist Organization of America, who has played a leading role in building the informal relationship between Netanyahu and the Republican leadership, bemoaned the loss of Gingrich. The speaker has been "one of Israel's strongest supporters on the Hill simply the best," he said, adding that, "Livingston's support for Israel is not as strong."

According to Klein, Livingston threatened to cut aid to Israel when Samuel Sheinbaum a youth from Maryland who had Israeli citizenship through his father was not immediately returned by Israel to the United States to face murder charges, "even though it is Israeli law that no Israeli citizen will be extradited. But he never demanded that the Palestinians turn over to the United States at least 11 terrorists who murdered Americans."

If there was any optimism for Pollard's release following the elections, it was dampened by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who prompted by the CIA shot off a letter to Clinton on the morning of Friday, Oct. 23 even before Gingrich and Lott got their letter on record. Shelby's letter strongly opposed Pollard's release.

According to the Alabama senator's press secretary, Laura Cox, "Sen. Shelby believes [Pollard's release] would send a very dangerous message to anyone who would contemplate spying against the United States."

Vera Golovinsky, a top aide to Israeli Absorption Minister Yuli Edelshtein, accompanied the minister on a trip to Washington in mid-September during which he met with a number of unidentified "key Republicans" on the Hill.

According to Golovinsky, "We asked them that if a situation arose in which Clinton was in a position to free Pollard, would the GOP stand in the way, and we were assured that it would not be a problem for them as long as Pollard were taken out of the country quietly and not as a hero."

Golovinsky did not directly confirm a contention by Pollard that one of the Republicans with whom Edelshtein met was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), but said, while Hatch had made a statement on CNN in the wake of the Wye debacle that he wished no one had ever heard the name Pollard, nevertheless, "Hatch's statements have been much more conciliatory and not in the spirit of Gingrich. We think he could live with [the release of Pollard]."

What seems clear is that the premature leaking on the last morning of the summit of the possibility of Pollard's release in exchange for an agreement by Israel not to demand the extradition of 36 Palestinians wanted on terrorism charges, including Ghazi Jabili, the commander of the Palestinian police unleashed a hornet's nest of opposition by top officials in the CIA, who immediately alerted Shelby and other top Republicans.

Pollard insists that the request for his release in exchange for Jabali came from Arafat and not from the Israelis, a point disputed by others claiming inside knowledge of the Wye summit.

Pollard said he is convinced that Gingrich vociferously echoed Shelby's complaint in part because "Newt was royally pissed at Bibi for agreeing to hold the Wye summit two weeks before the election and giving Clinton such a foreign-policy triumph, and also because Bibi did not push Clinton to allow Newt and Lott to attend the White House photo-op for the signing. It was pay-back time and while the political relationship [between Netanyahu and the Republicans] was not seriously shaken, one soldier yours truly was ground to dust."

Sounding like a newly minted Democrat, Pollard said he "has hopes" Clinton will still decide to commute his sentence.

Other observers are much less sanguine concerning Pollard's chances of release; contending that the events at the Wye summit may have effectively killed for the time being any chance that Clinton will free Pollard. They point out that much of the neo-conservative pro-Israel community in Washington, the Jews who most frequently interact with the GOP leadership and might ameliorate their opposition on the issue, are themselves either lukewarm or downright hostile to Pollard. Representative of this group is Michael Ledeen, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, thinks "Pollard should have been executed. It was crazy of the Israelis to recruit an American Jewish spy, but since he was their spy, it makes sense that they should go all out to free him."

Nor are even those Jewish conservatives who support Pollard apparently ready to damage the close relationships they have built up with the Republican leadership in the face of its vociferous anti-Pollard stand.

Mendel Ganchrow, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, has pushed the Pollard issue aggressively in his dealings with a range of Washington figures ranging from Gingrich and Lott to Vice President Al Gore. As a result of Wye, he said, "Clearly the cause of Jonathan Pollard was dealt a setback by the way it was handled. If he is going to be freed, it has to be done quietly, not in such a public way. Our relationship with the Republican leadership is going to remain good regardless of our differences on Pollard."