Israel succeeded in obtaining a pardon for Marc Rich, a billionaire fugitive from the law who never spent a day in prison. Israel even bailed Goussinsky out of his troubles with the Soviet Union, “rescuing” him from house-arrest in a villa in Spain. In both cases neither one ever rotted in prison for serving the State of Israel; in fact neither one ever spent even a day in prison. Israel has repeatedly demonstrated that it knows how to work intensively behind the scenes with foreign governments to achieve its goals.
But the case of Jonathan Pollard is another story. Somehow, the State of Israel just can’t seem to rescue Pollard. After all, what did Pollard do? He was no billionaire like Rich or Goussinsky, filling people’s pockets with money. All Pollard did was to give the State of Israel vital security information about the preparations Iraq and other Arab States were undertaking to destroy the Jewish State. This information, deliberately withheld from Israel by the United States, allowed Israel to be prepared for the Gulf War and for the on-going threat to her existence.
Message from America
A window of opportunity to free Pollard opened just before Passover 2001. A senior American official sympathetic to the case sent a message to the Pollards that President Bush would be open to a Passover request for clemency if it were presented by an important religious figure acting as an official representative of the Government of Israel. The official said he believed that such a request would make it easy on Bush to make this holiday gesture to Israel on a humanitarian basis. Pollard’s severely deteriorated health, the result of 16 years of incarceration in the harshest circumstances, would be factored into the humanitarian gesture as well.
When this became known, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu immediately sought a meeting with the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. He was accompanied to the meeting by Minister Rechavaam Ze’evi, attorney Larry Dub, and Jonathan’s wife, Esther. Although Esther is not in good health herself, the result of a brush with cancer, she immediately put aside all else to fly to Israel for the meeting with the Prime Minister.
The meeting was held 4 days before Seder night. The original request had been made much earlier.
“Just the fact that His Honor HaRav Eliyahu was willing to drop everything on the Eve of the Holiday to go to Washington, shows just how convinced he was that he would be able to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim and succeed in gaining Jonathan’s release, ” said Rabbi Shmuel Zafrani, spokesperson for the Rav and head of the Meiri Yeshiva in Jerusalem. “The Rav was willing to fly to Washington right up to the last moment before the Holiday so that Pollard would be freed.”
The Prime Minister is Not Impressed
The only one who was not impressed by the urgent message about a window of opportunity that had come from America was the prime minister, Ariel Sharon. “All of our attempts to even get a meeting with the Prime Minister were initially rebuffed,” Esther recalls. “We then enlisted the help of the Rechvaam Ze’evi, Minister of Tourism. It was only because of Ze’evi’s persistence that the meeting was finally scheduled. Even then, the Prime Minister’s office kept rescheduling the meeting, using the most implausible excuses, trying to frustrate us into cancelling. Of course we did not.”
Esther Pollard adds, “The Prime Minister’s lack of responsiveness to this golden opportunity was terribly disappointing, but consistent with his past lack of action. For example, some years ago I met with Mr. Sharon when he was Leader of the Opposition. I gave him a request from Jonathan that he write a specific letter on Jonathan’s behalf, which he readily promised to do. We are still waiting for the letter.”
After a brief pause, she continues, “I am at a loss to understand this kind of attitude on the part of the Government of Israel. We are talking about a bona fide Israeli agent who has done so much for Israel, including spending the last 16 years of his life in an American prison on behalf of the Jewish State, and I, his wife, have to plead for a meeting with the Prime Minister? Something is just not right here.”
HATZOFEH: Are you sure that the Prime Minister’s Office did not agree to your request for a meeting before the intervention of Minister Ze’evi?
POLLARD: ” Let me give you an example. A week after the meeting with Prime Minister Sharon took place, our attorney Larry Dub received a letter from the Prime Minister’s office responding to his original request for a meeting, made a month earlier. Larry received the PM’s response April 11; it was dated March 8th. It rejected the request for a meeting and indicated a complete lack of interest on the part of the Prime Minister in any aspect of the Pollard case. The letter indicated that “for all matters pertaining to the Pollard case [we should] contact Mr. Moshe Kochanovsky, who is in charge of this issue.”
This kind of insidious and insincere response from the Government has plagued Esther Pollard for years. It was the standard response of the Barak Government which re-appointed Moshe Kochanovsky, supposedly to oversee the Pollard case. Kochanovsky has no authority actually to assist the Pollards and he certainly has no standing in Washington to seek Pollard’s release He was appointed as nothing more than a “dead letter drop” to assist the Government in dispensing with the Pollard issue. In fact, Kochanovsky is so irrelevant to the Pollard case that Sharon did not even include him in the meeting.
Kochanovsky had previously resigned from the case before being reinstated by the Barak government. The Government claimed that Kochanovsky was responsible for all aspects of the case, yet in reality he had no authority to do anything to minimize the suffering of the Pollards, not even to help them secure financial assistance. For this he referred them to the Prime Minister’s legal advisor. The Pollards were told to submit a list of their expenses and receipts which would be studied and then a decision would be taken whether or not to pay them anything at all. This stands in marked contrast to standard government policy which assures that all agents in captivity receive a salary – no questions asked- which goes to their wives or families. But for Pollard, just empty promises and not a cent.
Larry Dub inadvertently tested the willingness of the Government to make good on its promises of financial assistance when Dub was invited by the Government to submit a bill for payment of his legal services. He was told that his bill would initiate a process to negotiate payment. Dub never saw a cent. Instead, at a particularly delicate moment when a case Dub had filed for Pollard in Israel’s Supreme Court was about to be decided, Dub’s bill wound up being splashed across the pages of the Israeli press, calling into question his motive for representing Pollard.
President Katsav Also Refuses
The message about the possibility that Bush would look favorably upon an official request to free Pollard for the Passover Holiday if made by an important religious figure, also reached President Moshe Katsav. Katsav was asked to include the Rishon leTzion, Ha Rav Mordecai Eliyahu, in his official delegation which was about to travel to Washington to meet with the new American President. To this day, Katsav has never officially responded to HaRav Eliyahu or to Jonathan Pollard’s request.
Esther Pollard: “The only response we know of we received via a third party, who repeated to us what he had been told by one of Katsav’s people. According to Katsav’s advisor for political affairs, there were 2 reasons why Katsav would not include HaRav Eliyahu in his delegation: a) because “only professionals could accompany Katsav” – an absurd claim, and b) because “if the Rav is so influential in Washington, then let him arrange his own meeting with Bush.”
Jonathan Pollard has written to Katsav in the past. He sent a letter to the President which was hand-delivered by Dani Naveh. In it Pollard asked the newly-elected President of Israel to mention his name in his inaugural address. Pollard explained that by mentioning his name when the eyes of the world would be upon him, and expressing support for the Israeli agent, his lot in prison would be eased, at least temporarily, and a new momentum for his case might be initiated. But Katsav made only oblique reference to Israel’s POWs and MIAs and no reference at all to Pollard.
In despair, Pollard again wrote to Katsav on May 13, 2001. Among other things, the letter said:
” My rabbi, His Honor HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu wishes to accompany you to your upcoming meeting with President Bush. It is his goal to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim and with G-d’s help to secure my release…
Not so long ago, in your own hour of need, you turned to HaRav Eliyahu for help and asked him to intercede in Heaven on your behalf.. He responded to your request without delay, offered you comfort support and advice, and did all that you asked of him…
Mr. Katsav, isn’t it ironic that that when you needed the help of HaRav Eliyahu, you did not hesitate to turn to him, and now when the Rav turns to you for assistance in the name of Heaven, you do not hesitate to refuse him.
It is possible that you were elected to the Presidency of Israel precisely for such an occasion as this. If the Rav accompanies you to Washington to meet with the American President, G-d will be with you and you surely will succeed. How can you possibly refuse?
But Katsav did indeed refuse.
The Prime Minister Promises to Answer
When the meeting with the Prime Minister finally took place, HaRav Eliyahu, Minister Ze’evi, Attorney Larry Dub and wife Esther Pollard each reported to the Prime Minister, one after the other, that Jonathan Pollard’s very life was at risk. His health, they reported, is poor and deteriorating daily as a result of his long years in the harshest conditions in prison, and that if he is not released soon, he will likely die. Sharon listened politely, smiled from time to time, and appeared to be taking notes. “When we got up to leave we notice that what we assumed were notes on the important points of the meeting were instead just doodlings,” said Esther Pollard, who felt she was watching her hopes for the new window of opportunity for her husband’s release being dashed.
Finally the Prime Minister rose as if to signal the end of the meeting, promised to look into the request to send the Rav to Washington and to get back to them with a response.
“To this day we still have not received an answer and not only is Passover long since gone, so is Shavuot, ” says Rav Eliyahu’s spokesperson, Rabbi Shmuel Zafrani. He adds: “Over the years we could not help but notice that there is something mysterious and underhanded about the Israeli Government’s handling of the Pollard issue.”
No doubt he is correct. All the questions that have been put to the Prime Minister’s spokesperson for years, including our own questions, have all been met with the same implausible response, without exception. It is hard to understand how they do not get tired of recycling the same old response – which underscores their indifference – a response which is readily contradicted by the reality of how very little they have done for this man for the last 16 years.
Even the official Israeli recognition that Pollard was a bona fide agent came about only as a result of a series of lawsuits that Pollard filed in Israel’s Supreme Court. And by the time that that occurred in 1998, Pollard was already a veteran in the American prison system.
The only one who did not use the standard response to silence Pollard appears to be Binyamin Netanyahu. Unlike Ehud Barak who completely rebuffed Pollard, Binyamin Netanyahu did not see any harm in openly seeking Pollard’s release – especially after he had been in prison for 14 years and absolutely no progress had been made through “quiet diplomacy.”
“The unavoidable conclusion to be drawn,” says Esther Pollard, in fluent and polished Hebrew, “is that they simply do not want Jonathan out of prison.” She explains, “Why the Americans feel this way is simple: Jonathan continues to be a convenient tool for those elements within the Administration who have no use for the US – Israel special relationship. These officials routinely exploit the case as a means of calling into question both Israel’s reliability as an ally and the American Jewish community’s loyalty. As well, successive Administrations have found the case useful for squeezing dangerous concessions from Israel.
“But the big question,” Esther adds, ” is why is Israel cooperating? Why doesn’t Israel want Jonathan out? For example, Jonathan’s release was obtained at Wye as an integral part of the Wye Accords. According to Binyamin Netanyahu and other officials who negotiated the deal at Wye, Ehud Barak was well aware of this when he released the 750 murderers and terrorists who were the price paid for Jonathan’s release. When Barak released the murderers why didn’t he insist that the US live up to its end of the deal ? Sharon was an eye witness to the deal made at Wye. Why isn’t he insisting on Jonathan’s release?”
Pollard Turns to his Rabbi
When it became obvious to the Pollards that the Sharon Government was not taking any initiative to secure Jonathan’s release, Jonathan turned to his rabbi, the former chief rabbi of Israel, HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu.
HaRav Eliyahu has visited Pollard in prison numerous times over the years. His first visit occurred while Jonathan was held in solitary confinement in USP Marion, the harshest prison in the federal system.
As a result of a broken plea agreement Pollard was cast into USP Marion, where he spent nearly 7 years in solitary confinement. In the plea agreement, Pollard pled guilty, gave up his right to a trial, cooperated fully with the Government, and in return was assured a lighter sentence – the median sentence for such an offense being 2 to 4 years of actual jail time and in many cases even less. Instead, in complete violation of the plea agreement, Pollard found himself slapped with a life sentence and locked away in Marion.
“The Rav’s first visit to Jonathan in Marion shocked and stunned us. The harshness of his treatment was out of all proportion,” says Rabbi Zafrani who has repeatedly accompanied Rabbi Eliyahu in his prison visits to Pollard. “Right from the start there was a special bond between the Rav and Jonathan and since that first visit the Rav has consistently done everything in his power to try to free him.”
Among other things, the Rav has met with various American officials including former President Reagan and the late Cardinal Law who was the spiritual advisor to George Bush Sr. Rav Eliyahu repeatedly wrote to President Clinton offering take Pollard into his personal custody and be his guarantor. He had also made the same offer to the Justice Department under Bush Sr.’s Administration.
“If anyone would tell HaRav Eliyahu, ‘drop everything you are doing and fly to Washington to meet an American official in order to free Pollard,’ the Rav would drop everything and go. That is because he sees the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim for Jonathan Pollard as being of the utmost urgency and importance.”
In February of 2001, the Rav again visited Jonathan in prison. He found Pollard in dangerously poor health, not getting the medical treatment he needs, oppressed in every way, sometimes even forced to work on Jewish holidays. If Pollard refuses to do as he is ordered he will be punished even more severely and deprived of the few inmate rights that he still has.
And what is going on in Israel in the meantime? To this day Prime Minister Sharon has not responded to HaRav Eliyahu. According to Esther Pollard, Minister Ze’evi spoke with Sharon after their meeting and learned that, “Sharon has no intention of doing anything for Jonathan Pollard.. not this week, not next week, not next month, and not next year. Not at all.” Esther said that Ze’evi told her, “I am ashamed. I am utterly ashamed of the response I received from the Prime Minister.”
What is Really Behind Israel’s Silent Treatment?
All of the Israeli figures who have at various times taken up the cause of Jonathan Pollard have met with the same response that is given to Israeli journalists who want to write about the case and who have been asking the same questions for the last 16 years. All are rebuffed with the same worn out excuse that ” Owing to the sensitivity of the Pollard case, silence is the best approach. Any publicity given to the matter can only hurt Pollard’s chances.”
The writer of this article asked Prime Minister Sharon’s spokesperson why it is that after so many years of successive prime ministers claiming that they were secretly working for Pollard’s release – secret initiatives that have obviously failed – why doesn’t the Government just come out now and state publicly for all the world to hear that it has not abandoned Pollard, that it has not forgotten him and that, in spite of any embarrassment that his case caused the State of Israel, Israel owes him a debt of gratitude. There was no response from the Prime Minister’s office.
The writer made a second attempt to get a response from the Prime Minister. I asked what he is afraid of? Netanyahu secured the promise of Pollard’s release as part of the Wye Accords, so what is there to fear? The world did not come to an end when this became known publicly. Even Bill Clinton didn’t faint when the name Pollard was spoken aloud. On the contrary, Clinton even promised to free him. Of course in typical Clinton fashion, he ultimately reneged on America’s end of the deal. Nevertheless, the question remains: Why is Sharon so afraid to collect on the commitment that was secured by Netanyahu at Wye?
A woman, one of the Prime Minister’s spokespersons, carefully wrote down my comments and my questions and promised to pass them on. She said that the only response she could give me for the moment is the official one: that the Government is working on Pollard’s release but can’t reveal what it is doing. I never received any further response to my questions.
All of this amounts to what is essentially the silent treatment.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Anthony Weiner have each separately attempted to find out once and for all, the truth about the Pollard case. In the last year, both of these legislators have had briefings by American Intelligence officials and have seen the Pollard file. Both Weiner and Schumer have publicly stated that they saw nothing in the file and heard nothing in their respective briefings which would even remotely justify the harsh sentence Pollard received.
Even the old canard that Pollard was responsible for the deaths of American agents in the Soviet Union has long been laid to rest. The true culprit, Aldrich Ames, was caught, indicted, and convicted of these crimes. But Pollard continues to be accused in the press by unnamed government sources” of crimes that he never committed. These claims are made only in the court of public opinion, never in a court of law where Pollard might have the opportunity to challenge his accusers and to demand that they produce evidence. There is, of course, no evidence. Nevertheless, Pollard remains in prison.
Following President Katsav’s refusal to include Rav Eliyahu in his delegation to Washington, I contacted Katsav’s office and spoke with his spokesperson. She said that Katsav had investigated, and his “sources” indicated that the only one who could possibly secure Pollard’s release would be a politician. She said that Katsav had worked and would continue to work for Pollard’s release. Obviously she must have been referring to those official Israeli “sources” who have been peddling the same old song-and-dance routine to Israeli journalists for the last 16 years that, “Initiatives for Pollard’s release are on-going but cannot be discussed for fear of doing damage.”
At this time, Pollard has two new cases before the courts in America. One of them seeks access to the secret portions of his sentencing record. Since the day he was sentenced to life in prison, in complete violation of his plea agreement, neither Pollard nor his attorneys has ever been allowed to access the documents again to challenge them in a court of law – a complete violation of his constitutional due process rights. The other case demonstrates, with full documentation, that Jonathan Pollard was sentenced on the basis of falsehood and lies, without effective assistance of counsel. Pollard’s American attorneys have asked the court to vacate Jonathan’s unjustly-obtained sentence and for the first time to hold a full hearing of all the evidence in the case. Both of these cases will take a long time to make their way through the system, and Pollard runs the risk of dying in prison before they are fully heard.
The new legal documents represent a higher level of proof of the justness of Israel’s request for Pollard’s release. Israel could use these documents to save his life, but has yet to act. Pollard’s American attorneys sought a meeting with Sharon the last time that he was in the United States. They offered to brief him on the legal cases and to assist him in his efforts to seek Jonathan’s release, if he were so inclined. Their offer was rejected.
“Look, if it were only me or Jonathan’s lawyers who were saying so, then you might be able to dismiss us. But in this case it is the Rishon leTzion, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, who is on record that we are talking about a man who is so ill that he is facing imminent death in prison, G-d forbid, if something is not done immediately to save him,” says Esther in a heartbroken voice, “and still they do nothing.”
Both she and Jonathan are ill. And, after sixteen long years that this tragic affair has dragged on, people are tired of hearing the details.
“But I will never stop fighting for Jonathan, and we will never stop believing in a miracle,” Esther declares.
This artcile ran in Hatzofeh Magazine on June 1, 2001