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U.S. Jewish Leaders Decry Clinton Refusal to Free Pollard

By Nathan Jones

 

"Political experts note that with a 90 percent-plus approval rating in the Jewish community, Clinton would gain little other than barbs from Republicans, and risked losing the support of his own intelligence community by commuting Pollard's sentence now."
-- Staff writer Eric Greenberg, The Jewish Week, New York, Aug. 2, 1996

 

One of the most divisive issues among U.S. Jewish leaders is how to react to the life sentence meted out to former U.S. naval counter-intelligence specialist Jonathan J. Pollard for turning over top-secret U.S. military intelligence to Israel. Pollard and his former wife, Anne, were arrested in 1985 while they were seeking in vain to take refuge from pursuing FBI agents in the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC.

The arrest revealed that Pollard had been delivering a suitcase of highly classified documents every two weeks to Israeli embassy officials over a period of years. For the operation Pollard's Israeli "handlers" had used two apartments near the embassy purchased by dual national Herbert Katz, an attorney who had emigrated from Boston to Israel and who subsequently has been involved in money laundering in Switzerland, presumably for other Israeli intelligence operations.

On each biweekly visit, while Pollard sat talking to a handler in one of the apartments, an Israeli embassy aide photocopied all of the stolen documents in the other apartment. Then Pollard would leave with the original documents, and a list of classified U.S. documents he was instructed to steal for the next biweekly rendezvous.

According to U.S. counterintelligence authorities, the total number of documents turned over to the Israelis by Pollard would fill an entire room full of filing cabinets. Branding the Pollard affair a "rogue operation," the Israeli government promised to present Pollard's principal handler in U.S. courts when asked to do so. Instead, however, Israeli officials facilitated his escape to Israel. Then, although the Israeli government promised to "return" the stolen photocopied documents so that the U.S. could assess the damage, an American team that traveled to Israel returned almost empty-handed.

The Pentagon nevertheless was able to reconstruct much of what Pollard had revealed to the Israelis, based upon the record of intelligence documents he had checked out during his years of espionage. A damage estimate was contained in a pre-sentencing memo by Reagan-administration Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who said that Pollard "should be shot" for his multiple acts of treason.

Rather than letting the case be aired in court, where he would have been interrogated about his instructions and the identities of his contacts in the U.S. and Israel, where he had gone for training, Pollard pled guilty to the espionage charges and was sentenced to life in prison. His wife, Anne, received a much shorter sentence, was released early because of health problems, and now resides in Israel.

While still in prison Pollard divorced her and then married Esther Zeitz, who had been conducting a high-profile campaign in Canada for his release. She has supplanted his sister, Carol, who had been working quietly with some U.S. Jewish and Israeli leaders in a behind-the-scenes campaign for a presidential pardon for Pollard, which in effect would have expunged the entire record of the case of Israeli espionage against its U.S. benefactor. Insiders said that campaign was a factor in the dismissal by Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno of her top deputy, Harvard Law professor Philip Heymann, who apparently was trying to bypass her while preparing a Justice Department recommendation for presidential clemency. The memorandum that finally reached the White House after Heymann's departure recorded the U.S. intelligence community's overwhelming opposition to clemency or a pardon.

The organization of U.S. Jewish war veterans refuses to lend its name to appeals for clemency. After initial silence however, most other participants in the 45-member Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations have supported such appeals, which reveal a wide gap in perceptions of the case between America's Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

Non-Jews saw Pollard's unwillingness to testify at his trial as a blatant attempt to conceal the identity or identities of other highly placed Israeli spies in the U.S. government who may have been describing the documents Pollard was instructed to steal.

The gap has grown over the years as a protective mythology has been propagated in Jewish weekly newspapers across the United States, insisting that Pollard had only stolen documents pertaining to Israel's Arab neighbors, which "the U.S. was obligated to turn over to Israel." Scattered items in the mainstream press, by contrast, have implied that much of what Pollard stole concerned U.S. knowledge of Soviet military defenses and compromised U.S. intelligence sources and methods. It also has been suggested that the Israeli government bartered this information to the former Soviet Union in return for the release of Soviet Jews for emigration to Israel.

Members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met privately with President Bill Clinton on July 26. Although none of the Jewish leaders present brought up the Pollard case with Clinton, the White House apparently had anticipated that they would. Therefore, at a press briefing following the meeting, White House spokesman Michael McCurry announced that Clinton had rejected a Pollard request, submitted eight months earlier, for commutation of his sentence to time served, which by now has passed 10 years.

"The enormity of Mr. Pollard's offenses, his lack of remorse, the damage done to our national security, the need for general deterrence and the continuing threat to national security that he posed make the original life sentence imposed by the court warranted," McCurry said.

Some Jewish leaders were quick to criticize the Clinton decision.

"I am offended by it," former Conference of Presidents chairman Seymour Reich told Eric Greenberg of The Jewish Week of New York. "I am dumbfounded that he would do this to us. Maybe he wanted to show the world and the Jewish community, even though he is the best friend Israel ever had, that on this one he's not gonna give in."

Jewish leaders were even more upset that the announcement had come only a few days after Clinton met in the White House with newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had promised during his election campaign to help free Pollard, who now is 42 years old and who recently was granted Israeli citizenship. "Although President Clinton has shown himself to be a man deeply committed to human rights, the continued imprisonment of Jonathan Pollard is contrary to the president's record on humanitarian issues," said Tommy P. Baer, B'nai B'rith international president.

Publicity-hungry Rabbi Avi Weiss, head of the extremist Coalition for Jewish Concerns (AMCHA), who describes himself as ";Pollard's rabbi," called Pollard's imprisonment "a perversion of American justice." (Weiss was ejected last May from a convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel's principal Washington, DC lobby, where he had planned to protest the organization's unwillingness to put the Pollard case on its convention agenda.)

Esther Pollard went on a week-long liquids-only hunger strike, stationing herself in a downtown Jerusalem square to gather signatures on a petition calling on Netanyahu to take stronger action to free her husband. Also in Jerusalem, Pollard's attorney, Leonard Dub, speculated that Clinton acted now "to show the American public he is not afraid of the Jewish lobby."

"Jonathan feels that the lack of seriousness on the part of the Israeli delegation to Washington sort of sealed his fate," Dub told The Jewish Week. "Had they kept their campaign promises and asked for his release in unequivocal terms, I don't think Clinton would have done this."

Dub added that he had rejected the idea of seeking a parole hearing for Pollard in favor of filing a new petition for commutation in November. Dub didn't have to add that it would be after the Nov. 2 presidential election, in which national Jewish leaders are speculating that Clinton will receive more than 90 percent of the votes cast by the U.S. Jewish community, and may then wish to return the favor.

 




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