OpEd: The Saddest Jew

Charley J. Levine - In Jerusalem Magazine - August 8, 2003

"To an extent not fathomed, Jonathan Pollard is a litmus test about the real values commitments and actual sovereignty of the State of Israel... If the government of Israel were to tell President Bush that nothing is going to move forward on the "Roadmap" until this one man comes home, he would be home tomorrow..."

The saddest Jew in the world yesterday on the Ninth of Av was Jonathan Pollard.

My thoughts turn to Jonathan on Tisha B'Av, because I remember that same day several years ago when then-Justice Minister David Libai finally found a few minutes to receive wife Esther Pollard, and I escorted her to the Justice Ministry offices in East Jerusalem.

He said all the right things. Jonathan's freedom was a high priority for him. He was going to take the issue up with his counterpart in Washington, DC. I took Esther to some other meetings over the years - to then-President Ezer Weizman (who insulted her personally before she even had a chance to sit down on the sofa in his office!), to then-mover and shaker of the Labor Party Haim Ramon, and others. These were just the few that I happened to attend. Esther has been pounding the Israeli pavement for far too many years, hearing the same thing from dozens of powerbrokers.

They all echo Libai in promising the sky, affirming their support, tossing out possible actions to be taken. And then they fade away, and Pollard remains in prison.

I visited Jonathan in jail, in 1996, in Butner, North Carolina. My wife and I came to comfort, but it was he who comforted us. He was in command, robust, focused, bloodied but unbowed.

My most recent conversation, via cell phone while sitting with Esther in Rimon Cafe several months ago, was far more disconcerting. Jonathan sounded terribly down. No wonder. He could have made the Guiness Book of World Records for spending more time in prison than any other American citizen in history convicted of the crime for which he was tried. (And they say anti-Semitism has nothing to do with it.)

I was shocked and frightened for his well-being as never before. And yet, still helpless.

Jonathan resurfaced recently, as he occasionally does in between long, damning spells of benign neglect. 112 Members of Knesset signed a petition on his behalf-they should be doing much more than that, but certainly a positive initiative.

And then the predictable happened: Prime Minister Sharon "declined" to take this petition with him to give to President Bush in Washington during his visit.

An Israeli reporter asked President Bush, in a joint press conference with Sharon, about Israel's willingness to set hundreds of terrorists free-why couldn't the US see its way to letting Pollard go home after nearly two decades behind bars?

President Bush gave a loopy reply about the freed Arabs, but studiously ignored the point of the query, regarding Pollard.

I heard House Majority Leader and fellow Texan Tom DeLay speak about US-Israel relations in the Knesset last week. And then I read that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin had presented him the petition, belatedly, to take to Bush. DeLay agreed to deliver the document but felt impelled to add that he personally would not support the freeing of Pollard.

Something is dramatically, terribly wrong with this picture. Ariel Sharon is Super-Patriot who should recoil from the notion of abandoning a soldier in the battlefield. President Bush is the best friend Israel has had in the White House for decades, a good, moral man and a visionary leader. Congressman DeLay is a prototypical friend and supporter who said absolutely everything right in his remarks, except that nudnicky "thing" about Pollard.

In a recent Israel opinion poll, the two issues that absolutely topped the list in terms of sweeping, 95%+ support, were the continued unity of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the proposition that Jonathan Pollard should be freed. Something is fundamentally wrong when political leaders race to affirm Jerusalem's status, yet shy away from expressing Israel's firm resolve on the Pollard matter.

Only two groups of people care about Jonathan Pollard today. Most Americans never heard of him and couldn't care less about his fate. A hard-core Casper Weinberger-esque cabal of US intelligence spooks are adamantly against any move to let him go. Call it professional bitterness, call it anti-Semitism, call it whatever you want, but these are the folks who are keeping him imprisoned.

The second group is Jews, divided amongst American Jews and Israelis. These are the people who SHOULD be the counter-force, pressuring to overcome the intelligence community's nasty stance. The American Jews, until today, have never rallied around the Pollard cause in anything approximating a systematic, sustained effort. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

I must multiply that shame infinitely when I see how Israel has failed to step up to the plate. American Jews are nebukh, Galut creatures enslaved by decades of being too timid to get worked up over the life of a lone fellow Jew who's served his time and deserves to be freed.

But the Israelis! The brave Israelis who fear no man. The "Bulldozer" Prime Minister. Countless Prime Ministers preceding Sharon who had countless meetings in Washington with Bush's predecessors.

I will say this as clearly as I possibly can. If the government of Israel were to tell President Bush that Jonathan Pollard's life means everything to our nation, that nothing is going to move forward on the "Roadmap" or anything else until this one man comes home.he would be home tomorrow if not today.

That message has not been communicated. It should be. It must be. To an extent not fathomed, Jonathan Pollard is a litmus test about the real values, commitments and actual sovereignty of the State of Israel.

No Prime Minister who fails to free the prisoner deserves to be re-elected. No Cabinet Minister who does not visit Pollard in prison during his or her American visits and does not work for his release every day deserves to serve ever again. No Knesset member or political party that lets an hour go by without banging the Pollard drum has earned your support.

Jonathan Pollard has hung tough for nearly 20 years. Who knows how long he can keep doing this?

My recommendation: That everyone, and I mean everyone from newspaper hawker and taxi driver to Foreign Affairs Minister and Prime Minister, turn a new leaf and make Pollard their number one priority.

It will free him at long last.

Note: "In Jerusalem Magazine" is a supplement to the weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post.

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