WABC Religion on the Air Interview of Esther Pollard
Show Host: Rabbi Joe Potasnik - July 1, 2001
Rabbi Potasnik: Welcome back to Religion of the Air. This is Rabbi Potasnik. This morning we are speaking with Esther Pollard, wife of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.
To my right is the very honorable John Batchelor, one half of a team. John Batchelor and Paul Alexander do a magnificent program here at WABC 77 Talk Radio NYC - the No. 1 Talk Station in the country. I went to John two weeks ago, and I said, "John I want you to help me. Become involved in the Jonathan Pollard case. I feel it's not enough for a Jew or for Jews to be supportive of the release of Pollard. We need to have Christians standing with us in making this case public because the more people hear and read, the more I think people will be convinced that there is an injustice that has been perpetrated against Jonathan Pollard. And John was kind enough to say, "let me look into this." A few days later I received confirmation that indeed John, Paul and I were going to do an expose. Four hours! I don't think any program ever devoted four hours to Jonathan Pollard! So John, publicly I say thank-you to you......
John Batchelor: Good morning Rabbi!
Rabbi Potasnik: Good morning to you. We've got a hot show in here!
John: Jonathan Pollard. The case was at the edges of my rambling knowledge until the Rabbi asked me, and then I worked on the Internet. We were lucky to be introduced to Esther Pollard, Jonathan Pollard's wife. And after that the show was a 'go' - it seemed to Paul and me by Wednesday, that we had to do the show - and we were worried that we couldn't. I mean when
you get to that point where nobody had ever done the show. And I think the pleasure of the show was having you here with us and then Esther so passionately on in Canada.
Rabbi P: I received more phone calls from people I hadn't heard from in years and even from strangers who had listened to the program, and the recurrent descriptive word is anti-Semitism. This case is a dagger aimed at the heart of Israel and the American Jewish community.
We have Esther Pollard on the conference line. Esther are you there?
Esther: Good morning, Rabbi. Good morning, John.
Rabbi P: Good morning Esther!
Esther, you have become a great advocate for your husband, Jonathan Pollard. For those who may not be familiar with some of the facts, let me just make mention of the following; November 1985, Jonathan Pollard, arrested for selling classified information ...(Esther interrupts the Rabbi mid sentence.)
Esther: (adamantly) Jonathan didn't! He did not sell anything!
Rabbi P: OK....
Esther: (passionately) Jonathan gave the information to Israel; he was not a mercenary! He was a bona fide Israeli agent! The Government of Israel has officially admitted that. I'm sorry for interrupting you. I apologize for being so passionate about this, but I feel I must respond because inadvertently you were repeating one of the great canards of this case.
Rabbi P: OK. So to continue: Jonathan Pollard was arrested for conveying classified information to Israel vital to her national security. Information about the build up of non-conventional weapons of war in surrounding Arab nations for use against Israel.
Esther: Interestingly enough, Rabbi, those spies who have sold classified information to both enemies and allies of the United States, the American media routinely talks about their "conveying" or "passing" the information and omits to say that they sold it. But in the case of Jonathan Pollard, no matter how often that lie has been disproved there is a stubborn persistence in repeating that Jonathan "sold" the information to Israel. So it is not surprising that after hearing that lie so often it accidentally slipped into your consciousness.
Rabbi P: True. Another canard so often repeated by the media is the false accusation of treason against Jonathan. This is a charge that has been made routinely in the media - one that Pollard was never formally accused of or indicted for.
The word TREASON has been used very irresponsibly by Tim Russert on Meet the Press.
We spoke about Tim Russert during the 4 hour WABC Pollard Special with John and Paul last week. Russert was corrected by your attorneys: Jonathan Pollard was not found guilty of treason.
Esther: Jonathan was never charged, indicted or convicted of treason. But he has often been falsely accused of treason in the media and repeatedly convicted in the court of public opinion, in a government-led smear campaign.
Rabbi P: All right. And people in the media have been misled and speak of "the treason Pollard committed" as if it were true. Once you talk of treason that's going to be the premise, then you're going to misjudge he entire case.
Rabbi P: We must make this clear at the very outset. We must eliminate it and we clarify that as well.
Esther: Well, you can't blame people, as much as you must hold the government responsible for promoting this false charge of treason in the American media. They continue to 'try' Jonathan in the court of public opinion but never in a court of law.
The false charge of treason was first leveled by none other than, then-Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, who knew that there was no treason involved. But he nevertheless made the false charge of treason in a public statement about the case and the American people continue to be misled about it.
By the way, this false charge of treason has also been repeated by people like Senator John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Senator Richard Shelby, and others who all know that there is no treason involved. Because, Rabbi, if treason were involved, Israel would have to be an enemy and America would have to be at war with Israel.
Rabbi P: The question remains, given that Jonathan gave these military secrets to a friendly nation, an ally, and others who committed similar actions did not serve a fraction of the time. Or if they did, it was a very small amount of the time. No one else has ever been given a life sentence for a similar offense. No one else has been in prison for 16 years for giving secrets to
an ally except Jonathan Pollard. Why, is he being treated more harshly than any of the others? That question still haunts us.
Esther: The question has to be even more haunting when you realize that Jonathan got his life sentence without benefit of trial. He got it in complete violation of a plea agreement that the government had signed. He got it based on false allegations. He got it based on secret evidence which he has never since been allowed to challenge in a court of law.
Rabbi, you keep on talking about Christians becoming involved in addition to Jews. And every time I hear that, I say to myself, I really must tell you that I don't agree. I don't think it's only Christians and Jews that have to get involved. I believe that it's all Americans!
The Pollard case, as long as it is unresolved, remains a blotch, a stain on the integrity of the entire American judicial process. And that has to concern all Americans.
Rabbi P: You've said repeatedly, and I agree with you, that all we're seeking for Jonathan Pollard is fairness, equal justice. We want equal justice for all people. We're not looking for preferential treatment for Jonathan Pollard.
Esther: Absolutely. What's even more compelling at this point, is that we are now - after 16 years in prison- we are trying to save his life. His very life is at stake. Fairness is something that we're never going to have. Because when you look at comparative sentencing, Jonathan has already served three or four times as long as any other person in this country who has committed a similar offense. So at this point, fairness is something you're never going to have in this case. But it is time for justice. Equal justice.
Jonathan has also been subjected to 7 years in solitary confinement in the harshest conditions. He was given "special treatment" in his first year in prison when he was put into a prison facility for the criminally insane and held incommunicado in appalling conditions. He was kept naked, deprived of both clothes and his glasses. Not because of any security considerations, simply to humiliate him in an attempt to break him.
Rabbi P: We'll have to take a break. And then I want to talk about government, that did not honor a commitment it had made to Jonathan in terms of leniency because he co-operated.
(A commercial break follows and then program resumes.)
John Batchelor: Esther, I want you to tell the audience what kind of week you've had after
the 4 hour Special we did. You were so wonderful last week for 4 hours! It was
just a week ago last night. How was your week since then?
Esther: (pauses) I am very hesitant... I am not sure what you're asking me. About my week?
Or Jonathan's week?
John: No, your week. I mean your week after that program. And after you thought about what we said last week and what we learned.
Esther: Okay. But first let me preface my answer just by saying that for listeners who aren't in command of the facts and want to be, they find them on the FACTS page of our web site, located at jonathanpollard.org. and in that way gain a better understanding than we could possibly do on any one radio program.
Now back to answer your question, John, it's been a confusing week. On the one hand, we were extremely buoyed by the WABC program and very hopeful, because it was the first time that there has been 4 hours of nothing but solid truth coming out over the airwaves. And it wasn't just the truth according to Esther Pollard, we had a variety of voices, we had Congressmen on your show...
John: (interjects) Three Congressmen.
Esther: Three Congressmen.
John: Three New York City Congressional Congressmen.
Esther: We had several experts on, yourself as well, gaining an expertise in the case. We had a variety of credible individuals, all pretty much saying the same thing: that an enormous injustice has taken place. And for the first time we were able to - for 4 hours - to put the truth out there.
So on the one hand we were enormously buoyed by that. Whatever feedback we have had on the show has been extremely positive.
On the other hand, I was extremely disappointed. Because, given the kind of solid reporting, factual reporting, authoritative reporting that went out, I would have expected better follow up by other media sources. So on the one hand I was very disappointed - but not surprised, because
the media has been a willing tool of the government in this case for 16 years. And it's going to be very hard to turn around a media mind-set that is largely: 'Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up!'
Rabbi P: That's why I found Eliot Lauer's presentation on John & Paul's program most compelling. And here is a person, so devoted to getting the truth out that he and his partner Jacques Semmelman of Curtis Mallet-Provost & Mosle, of Park Avenue here in New York, are both working pro bono, I understand.
Mr. Lauer spoke about how he had received Top Secret clearance -security clearance, and still was not granted permission by the government to see Jonathan's closed file, and this memorandum by Caspar Weinberger. How does one represent a client if one can't see the
file?! So it's like fighting in the dark.
Esther: What was even more stunning were statements by Anthony Weiner. When John and Paul asked Congressman Anthony Weiner, he said he had seen the secret file and that there was nothing in it to justify the sentence Jonathan received. They then asked him if there was any reason why Jonathan's attorneys, Lauer and Semmelman, shouldn't see the file, and he said, "Absolutely not. Jonathan's attorneys should be able to see to see the file."
So what it comes down to is the complete contradiction between what knowledgeable Pollard advocates like Anthony Weiner, are saying and what the government is saying. The government has everything going for them except one thing. Do you know what that one thing is? The truth. The only thing the Government is not in command of is the truth. And the one thing we have going for us is the truth.
John: Esther, I want to underline what you said about Anthony Weiner. Anthony Weiner is member of Congress. He is in Charles Schumer's seat and in fact he worked for Charles Schumer for many years and he is a trusted aid, now, a Congressman from the Brooklyn area.
And Anthony Weiner, we had Anthony Weiner, Eliot Engel of the Bronx and Gary Ackerman of Long Island, Nassau County, on the show. And all three, three Democrats, are members of the Congressional Caucus here in New York City. All three were consistent in saying that the Pollard
punishment at this point exceeds all rational argument.
Rabbi P: That's right.
John: Anthony Weiner was the one who said that he had seen the file. He didn't speak specifically about the material it contains because it is still classified. But he did say that Eliot Lauer should be able to see the file. What's important to underline here is that Anthony Weiner has seen the file. We know that Charles Schumer has seen the file, and because he is Senior Senator from New York, he is a critical player. Paul and I now believe, and Rabbi Joe does also, that this is a political case more than it is a criminal case.
Esther: No question!
Rabbi P: I raise the question and I do this very carefully. I raise the question: is
anti-Semitism an underlying fact in this Pollard case? Because when I see someone who is treated differently than others, when there is no rational explanation of why Jonathan should serve longer than others, I begin to think: is it Jonathan the Jew who is being treated differently?
Esther: By the way Rabbi, it's not just a longer sentence than all others, it's also in the harshest of all possible conditions. Jonathan did seven years in solitary confinement in the harshest conditions in Marion, Illinois, in K. Unit, a unit that Amnesty International called "inhumane". Compare and contrast that with the treatment of Aldrich Ames, who spied for the Soviet Union, who we know betrayed numerous American programs. You can point to the damage he did. We know Ames was responsible for the death of at least 11 American agents! And he never got that kind of rough treatment. He was not in solitary beyond a very brief period of time when he was being debriefed.
Rabbi P: And in all these other cases, no Secretary of Defense has offered a memorandum.
Esther: The trouble is, not only do you have a Secretary of Defense interfering in the sentencing procedure - and I'd like to point out by the way that I'm speaking to you now from Montreal, Canada. And had the Pollard case happened in Canada, it would never have happened. Why is that? Because the minute that someone like the Secretary of Defense files a Memorandum with a judge and interferes with the judicial process, it's a mistrial here in Canada, and it's over. So there is a real weakness in the American system that allows this kind of politically-driven sentence.
Rabbi P: Not to mention, you have a disgraced Secretary of Defense.
Esther: Absolutely. Weinberger himself was indicted for perjury.
Rabbi P: He had to be pardoned. At the last moment before George Bush Sr. left office he pardoned Caspar Weinberger.
Esther: The trouble is that, not only have you had the interference of the Secretary of Defense in the judicial process of this case, you've also had a media that was quite willing to accept the government's lies, up to and including to this day.
The same American media that fell all over itself apologizing for its treatment of the Wen Ho Lee case, that absolutely, to this day, refuses to take an honest look at the Pollard case. I include
in that papers like the New York Times which issued a public apology for their coverage of Wen Ho Lee. The New York Times has a policy that unless it's news and it's negative, they won't touch Pollard. And we know this, because various journalists have tried to write articles or op-eds about the case for the New York Times and they've come back to us and said that their editors refused permission. The journalists tell us, "I've never been given any hassle writing about any other story, but when I asked my editor if I could write about Pollard I was told a flat 'No'."
Rabbi P: Esther, we're going to take a break in a moment, but I need to focus on this when we come back. Why is it, those who we would have expected would be speaking out, did not. I find again this very troubling. That we have many who claim to be Jewish leaders, or leaders of the Jewish people, and yet they did very little...
Esther: And they're still doing very little.
Rabbi P: ...in this entire episode.
Esther: We also have to address why it is that so many Congressmen and Senators have been misled and continue to mislead - whether knowingly or naively - to mislead the public about the Pollard case.
Rabbi P: During the break earlier, John and I were talking about what sustains you, what sustains Jonathan. I want to hear about that too. So we'll be back....
(Commercial break follows and then program resumes.)
Rabbi P: Esther, we in the religious world use the word commitment quite often. Perhaps by using it so often we may have diminished it's importance, but what I find lacking is the commitment that many I would have expected would make to Jonathan did not make it. They may have expressed some concern by writing an article, by signing a petition. But commitment is lasting and that is missing. And I just don't' know why the Jewish community, for example, has been so passive, or silent, negligent in some cases. What's your read?
Esther: That's an excellent question. It's quite stunning when you consider it.
If, for example the Marc Rich case had never happened - and I remind listeners that Marc Rich was a criminal fugitive from the law, a billionaire hiding out in Switzerland to avoid standing trial in America.
The government of Israel and the American Jewish leaders rallied in astonishing manner, in a very short period of time to see to it that Marc Rich got a complete pardon, got his crime wiped out before he ever stood trial for it - and this is very recent, before President Clinton left office. Now if that case and numerous other similar cases had not happened and the Jewish community had not shown its ability to lobby convincingly, effectively, then you might say: "Oh well, Jews just don't know how to lobby effectively for a pardon. It is not an area that they have experience or expertise in" But the fact of the matter is that by and large, the US American Jewish leadership
know how to lobby effectively when it wants to, when it has a vested interest and self interest it is extremely effective. Ditto the Government of Israel. Both the Jewish leaders and the Jewish government, know how to accomplish its goals and how to work in perfect partnership with each other.
It was Paul Alexander by the way, during our pre-show interviews last week who just very simply tossed out to me: "... but Mrs. Pollard," he said, "the American Jewish community and Israel are one and the same!" And I thought to myself, "This man's got it!" Anyone who does not value US-Israel special relationship, or the American Jewish community, they all get it. John and Paul got it. So why is it that so many in our own community don't?
Bottom line is, and I'm going to go back to what we talked about on the John and Paul show last week. When the Jewish leadership in America takes its marching orders from Israel, as it claims to do on the Pollard case, it is because it's more convenient to them. This is a leadership that functions exclusively on self-interest. It is self-appointed, self-perpetuating, and motivated by self-interest.
Rabbi P: But Esther let me tell you, there were many Jews who were embarrassed by the Marc Rich Pardon and Jews had no problem lambasting so-called Jewish leadership for misguided priorities here.
Esther: And so have the Jewish, leadership! Again you're making excellent point here. When the scandal about Rich broke, Jewish leaders immediately rejected the community's reproach and insisted that their concern was for Pollard too. They claimed to care so much about Pollard and said that they intended to go on working for Pollard's release. Well, forgive me, that was in January of 2001. We are now in July of 2001. I can tell you that if the Jewish leaders have been doing any lobbying in the last 6 months, it's so secret they don't even know about it!
The bottom line is: both the government of Israel and the American Jewish leadership, basically for reasons of self-interest and secondly for reasons of absolute cowardice have done the absolute minimum in this case to avoid future charges of indifference.
John: Esther, I was struck by the story that Congressman Ackerman, Congressman Gary Ackerman told on the show last week.
John: A good friend of this show, told about how he approached President Clinton, I think more than once, but certainly once during a trip on Air Force One, and asked him about Pollard, and why Pollard had not been released. He said that he would look forward to meeting with the President on this case. The President agreed to meet with him, but even months later promised meeting never materialized. At the time, on Air Force One, the President's answer as to why Pollard was still incarcerated, his inarticulate answer, surprisingly for a man with Clinton's reputation for having fact, and I know what trivia facts are and I know that this is not trivia, responded that he'd been told that Pollard couldn't get out , that the damage was serious and repeated that...
Esther: (interrupting) No!
John: That's Tenet's exaggeration. One of the things National Security people always do is they exaggerate . When they have no evidence, no facts, they exaggerate. And the President
repeated this excuse back to Ackerman, and Ackerman was a little stunned, sort of thinking to himself, "You're the President and you're giving me back the kind of garbage that I get out of National Security people!" And President Clinton did nothing for Pollard. Now...
Esther: The real issue, the actual excuse that the President gave Ackerman at that time John...
John: (interrupts) But I'm stuck on the anecdote alone, because Gary Ackerman carried the ball to the man who could've done the job and the man dropped the ball. And then we have reports, that there was a promise made at Wye , and here is a President reneging on a promise he had made to Prime Minister Netanyahu that Jonathan would be released.
Esther: It is a fact that Jonathan's release was negotiated and promised as an integral part of the Wye Accords, and that commitment has yet to be honored by the US.
But I think we have to go back to the damage thing for a moment. We spent a great deal of time with Congressman Ackerman on that issue when he had that conversation with the President. The bottom line on the damage allegation is if you ask anyone: 'point to an example of damage, give me one concrete example of damage done by Jonathan Pollard', they can't. It's 16 years later. If Jonathan had done any damage, you should be able to point to the programs that had to be replaced, to the dead agents, or to codes that had to be changed - by the way Jonathan never had access to codes. But there is not a shred of evidence of any damage. They should be able to show one concrete example of damage. Nobody can, so they just hide behind a veil of secrecy and say "Trust me. He did terrible damage. But it's just too secret..."
But the big issue in the anecdote about Ackeman that you just recounted, the thing that Clinton used as an excuse for Ackerman is the same excuse he used to play everybody for fools. Clinton didn't just do this to Gary Ackerman. He did it repeatedly and routinely to other Congressmen and to other VIPs in his life, including some of his major financial contributors. When they would ask him about Jonathan, he'd look at them very earnestly and he'd say; "Gee I'd love to do something for Pollard but you know, Pollard had never expressed remorse." That was what blew Gary Ackerman away. It was such a lame excuse! Because Gary knew very well that Jonathan has repeatedly expressed remorse. There is even a Remorse Page on our web site that provides examples of Jonathan's statements of remorse!
And by the way, the fact that the FALN terrorists never expressed remorse did not stop Clinton from freeing them. These were the Puerto Rican terrorists that Clinton freed, in spite of a solid wall of opposition from all of his agencies, the CIA, the FBI, the Justice, Intelligence and Defense Departments, and Congress. When he freed the FALN terrorists to boost his wife's votes in the Hispanic community, remorse was not even an issue.
John: Well, let's stay with the President, because the President's wife felt - Senator Clinton is now the junior Senator from New York, and she, combined with Senator Charles Schumer have the authority as majority in the Senate right now, to get Pollard out of jail. The fact that they are not moving on it now, right now, is why we will continue to repeat this on WABC New York City, on the number 1 talk station in the country, because Esther it does matter. Quantity does matter in terms of the truth. If you tell the truth once, you tell it five times. I prefer the five times!
Esther: Yes, we are deeply grateful to you for that.
As for Mrs. Clinton, she acknowledged that there were clearly troubling questions regarding Jonathan's sentencing, and she stated that she felt that the secret documents should be revealed.
I have problems with the sincerity of her call for the release of the documents. This was an appeal to the voters, not to the authorities. At that time, her husband, Mr. Clinton, was the President of the United States. He had full authority to order the documents released, but she avoided directing her appeal for the documents to the one person who could actually do it.
Rabbi P: I must tell you Esther, you know that I'm going to see Jonathan with a group of other rabbis.
Esther: Yes. He is looking forward to your visit.
Rabbi P: One of the things we promise is that we're not going to simply be there momentarily and then disappear. I know there are those who want photo-ops and those who want their names in the paper and then walk away from him. This has been one of the great sins committed against
Jonathan and you. When you have John and Paul, and I'm involved, I think you have people who really have made a commitment for the exposure of truth. There is going to be full disclosure here.
Esther, the reason I keep mentioning the Christian community is because we have dialogue with
Esther: Right, and that is great!
Rabbi P: And we will join together and hopefully we will see justice done. Justice be manifest.
John: When are you going to North Carolina?
Rabbi P: August 8th.
John: And Esther, we will talk with Joe and the rabbis when they're there. Paul and I are going to be on the air that week, and we will be in contact with you because you'll all be down in North Carolina with Jonathan. Esther, thank you!
Esther: Thank you! We're very grateful to you both!