Why Israel is Willing to Let Jonathan Pollard Die In Prison

IMRA's Weekly Commentary on Israel National Radio

April 19, 2001 - Aaron Lerner

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's inaction following his recent emergency meeting with Esther Pollard makes it clear that Israel is quite willing to let her husband die in prison rather than risk exposing the truth about the US-Israel "special relationship". Israel's failure to fight for Pollard is emblematic of Israel's consistent failure to defend her own interests when they are seen as possibly conflicting with those of the United States.

In its treatment of Jonathan Pollard the US has demonstrated not friendship but utter contempt for the Jewish State and indifference to its security. In cooperating with the Americans in the excessive punishment and torment of her agent, Israel is guilty of self-abasement and of endangering her own security.

In the mid-1980's America deliberately blind-sided Israel by withholding vital security information about the existential threat from Iraq. Pollard put his life on the line to get this information to Israel so that the State would be ready with gas masks, sealed rooms, and a comprehensive defense plan. For this he is serving the longest, harshest sentence in the history of the United States. Successive governments of Israel have done little over the last 16 years to rescue Pollard.

Pollard's beard and hair and have turned white in prison. Seven years in solitary and 16 years of the harshest treatment an American prison can mete out has destroyed his immune system. He is ill. So ill that his wife, Esther, flew to Israel for a hastily-organized meeting at which she presented Sharon with a plan of action that high-level American sources assured the Pollards would win his release - sources whose reliability was known to Sharon.

At the meeting, Israel's former chief rabbi, Mordecai Eliyahu, advised Sharon that he was prepared to leave immediately for Washington as an official emissary of the Israeli government to make a personal request to President Bush to release Pollard for Passover. An act that would serve as an integral part of the plan.

A number of factors were seen coming together to ensure the program's success:

  • The President, a religious man, is publicly committed to doing "the right thing"
  • Pollard is seriously ill
  • Pollard's new legal documents make a solid case for Bush to lay before the American people. (The new case will not save his life if it has to wend its way through the courts.)
  • The previous administration committed the US to Pollard's release as an integral part of the Wye Accords
  • Sharon, a key player at Wye, knows that this unpaid debt can and must be collected.
  • The Passover/Easter holidays provided an natural opening for an appeal
  • The appeal for Israel's agent paralleled America's appeal for its own personnel held by China.

Meeting the next day with Minister Dani Naveh (who oversees the Pollard case), Esther Pollard was assured that he endorsed the plan and recommended it to the Prime Minister for immediate implementation. "Regardless of the outcome," Naveh noted, "we dare not miss this opportunity."

Still in Jerusalem, still trying to get the life-saving initiative going two weeks after her meeting with Sharon, Esther Pollard just received the final blow: official confirmation that the Prime Minister has done nothing about Pollard for the last two weeks and that he intends to do nothing. Not now. Not later. Not any time soon.

If, in the meantime, the seriously ill Pollard should die in prison, Israel would dutifully bring him home in a box so as not to disturb the myth of its "special" relationship with the US. The US could then continue to exploit Pollard in death as a permanent symbol of Jews' dual loyalty and Israeli duplicity.

Contrary to her own interests, Israel has abandoned Pollard to his fate while continuing to assist the US in perpetuating the lies about him. Taking its lead from Israel, American Jewish leadership supports Pollard with lip-service but no action to assist or save his life.

Sharon did not intensively seek Pollard's freedom during his first post-election trip to Washington lest it disturb the excellent relationship the two new leaders were developing. Unfortunately, this failure to pursue Israel's vital interests is seen by the US as weakness and lack of will rather than as friendship. The very same perceived lack of will that prompts the Bush Administration to now press Israel to stand down and refrain from effectively responding to Palestinian military action.

The nation elected Sharon because he claimed that he could and would take the heat in pursuit of Israel's vital interests. Putting the immediate release of Pollard, an Israeli agent in peril, at the top of the Israel-US agenda would make it clear to Washington that this was more than just election rhetoric.

Dr. Aaron Lerner is a commentator and Middle East news analyst. He is the Director of IMRA [Independent Media Analysis and Review] which is based in Israel.

See Also:
  • Knesset Members: Pollard in Failing Health and Spirits
  • No Excuse For Pollard To Die In Prison