Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard said he believes there is “not a snow ball’s chance in hell” President Bill Clinton will free him unless the three major Jewish defense organizations openly support his release. “The president doesn’t give a damn about the Jewish community’s opinion, except for the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League,” Pollard said this week in a phone call from the federal prison in North Carolina. “If people want to do something to help me in this matter, they have to understand that the president only listens to a select few in the Jewish community — those three groups. This is not going to turn out well unless there is a massive intervention by the American Jewish establishment to demand that I get a fair chance to defend myself.”
During the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks at Wye, Md., in October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his call for Pollard’s release on humanitarian grounds. Clinton promised to review Pollard’s case and asked the defense and intelligence agencies for their opinions by early next month.
A spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League said the organization continues to take no position on the Pollard case because several reviews during the 13 years Pollard has been in prison have found “no evidence of any anti-Semitism.”
Clinton’s announced review triggered a letter on Nov. 5 from the president of the American Jewish Committee, Bruce Ramer, in which he reaffirmed the group’s 1993 position that the White House review the appropriateness of Pollard’s life sentence. The group said it did not wish to suggest an appropriate sentence because it was not privy to the entire record, part of which remains classified.
Phil Baum, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said his organization is already on record as saying it would be “appropriate for [Pollard] to be paroled.”
Baum noted that he and Seymour Reich are co-chairs of a committee looking into the Pollard case for the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. He said they both sent a letter to the White House three weeks ago asking for a meeting with White House counsel to press for Pollard’s release on humanitarian grounds. The letter — signed also by Melvin Salberg, chairman of the President’s Conference, and Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive vice chairman — indicated that there was a consensus in the President’s Conference for Pollard’s release.
At a press conference with Clinton in Jerusalem on Sunday, Netanyahu said that in asking for Pollard’s release he was not seeking to exonerate him. But he said Pollard had endured a “very, very heavy sentence” and that he had been sent on this spy mission in the early 1980s as an agent of the Israeli government. Pollard, 44, was a civilian Navy intelligence analyst when he was arrested in November 1985. He was later sentenced to life in prison for passing American secrets to Israel.
Four retired Navy admirals, each of whom served as director of naval intelligence from 1978 to 1991, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post last week calling Pollard a “traitor” who should not be released. They claimed that Pollard’s supporters have waged a “clever public relations campaign aimed at transforming Pollard from [a] greedy, arrogant betrayer of the American national trust into Pollard, committed Israeli patriot.”
They argued that he was “very highly paid for his services” and not an ideologue as Pollard supporters contend. They also rejected Pollard’s contention that he was helping Israel because the U.S. had unilaterally decided to withhold intelligence information it had previously agreed to share.
“The fact is Pollard had no way of knowing what the Israeli government was receiving,” they said. And they added that Pollard never bothered to look at the “suitcase-loads of material he was turning over. Some of the data he compromised had nothing to do with Israeli security or even with the Middle East.”
But Pollard said he knew exactly what was being shared with Israel. And he said he examined every document before handing it over to his Israeli associates.
“I went to great lengths to sanitize as much of the information as I could before I provided it to Israel,” he said. “I cleaned it up as much as I could. If the Israelis were to get only one thing on a page and there were three or four items, I [removed the other items] to ensure that they got just the information they were to receive under the terms of our bilateral sharing agreement.”
He maintained money was never an issue for him because he was an Israeli agent. And he said Israel was cut off from the information the U.S. was supposed to share in order to prevent Israel from taking any more unilateral actions like its 1981 bombing of the nearly completed Iraqi nuclear reactor.
Pollard noted that his lawyer had not received a reply from the White House to his request that he have an opportunity to respond to any charges against his client.
“I’m fighting an uphill battle,” said Pollard. “This is about basic fairness, not just about getting out.” He added that by calling him a traitor — a crime with which he was never charged — the admirals were “redefining the status of Israel with regard to the U.S. If I am a traitor, who is the enemy I served?”