By: Fern Sidman
The Voice of Israel government radio has reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Knesset on Tuesday evening, January 4th at which time he publicly read the much anticipated missive that he has personally penned to President Barack Obama requesting the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard. A former United States Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard has been incarcerated in the U.S. for 25 years on charges stemming from the passage of classified information to Israel. Pollard is presently in deterioriating health in a North Carolina federal prison and an orchestrated campaign amongst his supporters is underway to seek his freedom.
In an unprecedented public appeal to the United States requesting clemency for Pollard, Prime Minister Netanyahu became the first prime minister to formally and publicly request his release. “Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate,” Netanyahu wrote Obama in the letter. “I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful.” In the letter, Netanyahu apologized for using an agent to spy on the United States and pledged that it would never happen again. “Israel’s actions were wrong and totally unacceptable,” he wrote.
Netanyahu has made previous attempts to trade Pollard for pliancy in Middle East peace negotiations, in the hope that his release would appease conservatives in the Israeli government. He also made Pollard’s case a bargaining point with the Palestinians at the Wye Plantation talks in 1998. Most recently, in September of 2010, Israeli officials tried to float a deal in which they would extend a temporary moratorium on settlement construction in Judea and Samaria, a Palestinian condition for negotiations, in exchange for the release of Pollard.
“Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated”, said Netanyahu. In a personal message to Pollard, Netanyahu then added in his speech that he should “continue to be strong,” and told him that the entire nation was behind him and vowed that “you will be here soon.” Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called the Pollard case “perhaps only the issue that everyone here in the Knesset could agree on.”
Previously, Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin had sent a letter from the Knesset to U.S. President Barack Obama, Congress, and the U.S. Attorney General, pleading for the release of Jonathan Pollard.
The letter was signed by a leader in every party except for those known as Arab parties, representing a total of 109 out of the 120 Knesset Members. In dispatching the letter, Rivlin stated that it represents the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public in supporting Pollard’s urgent release. “As Speaker of the Knesset,” he wrote in an introductory note, “I see it as my obligation to bring this letter to your attention.”
Pollard recently made a personal request for a public appeal for his release. The request was relayed in writing by Mr. Pollard’s wife, Esther, who personally met with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday. The prime minister’s office said he made the decision after a series of talks and contacts with senior administration officials in recent months. Accompanying Mrs. Pollard to the meeting held on Monday with Netanyahu was Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and who supports clemency for Pollard.
Mr. Korb told reporters that he had told the prime minister that to “get the ball rolling” he advised Netanyahu to ask for Mr. Pollard’s release publicly and “not as a quid pro quo, but as a matter of justice.” In addition, Mr. Korb said, Israel should acknowledge that it was wrong to have recruited a spy against its closest ally and should say that it is willing to cooperate fully with the Americans to bring the chapter to a close.
Meanwhile, in the US, officials continued to come out on Tuesday with statements calling for Pollard’s release. Donald Levy, a former US Navy cryptologist who participated in the damage assessment of Pollard’s purported espionage, added his name to the long list of senators, congressmen and senior American officials urging Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.
“There was nothing to indicate that Pollard gave information to any country but Israel,” Levy said. “Further, the information consisted primarily of daily operational intelligence summaries, information that is extremely perishable. It did not appear that the information he gave Israel should have resulted in a life sentence.”
According to a December 22nd article by Lee Rennert that appeared on the American Thinker web site, he asserts that Pollard has been “the victim of a CIA cover-up of a massive intelligence failure, with the agency blaming Pollard for the damage caused by a real “mole” inside the CIA who passed to Moscow the names of more than a dozen U.S. informants in the Soviet Union — namely Aldrich Ames, the head of CIA’s Soviet-Eastern Europe division, who fingered Pollard to keep the CIA from discovering his own treachery. The CIA did not discover Ames’ role until well after Pollard was behind bars and it still isn’t willing to acknowledge its mistake in blaming Pollard for Ames’s crimes.”
The genesis of the Pollard imbroglio began in 1983, when Pollard who based in Washington, DC at the time, discovered that information vital to Israel’s security was being deliberately withheld by certain elements within the US national security establishment. Israel was legally entitled to this security information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. The information being withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities – being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
When Pollard questioned his superiors as to why this information was not being disclosed to Israel as had been promised he was told to mind his business. Subsequently, he learned that the objective of suppressing this information to Israel was to severely curtail Israel’s ability to act independently in defense of her own enemies. Pollard did everything in his power to have the legal flow of information to Israel restored. When his efforts met no success, he began to give the information to Israel directly. Pollard was an ideologue, not a mercenary. The FBI concluded after nine months of polygraphing that Pollard acted for ideological reasons only, not for profit. This fact was recognized by the sentencing judge who declined to fine Pollard.
In 1985, Jonathan Pollard was arrested by the FBI but was never afforded a trial. At the request of both the US and Israeli governments, he entered into a plea agreement, which spared both governments a long, difficult, expensive and potentially embarrassing trial. Pollard fulfilled his end of the plea agreement, cooperating fully with the prosecution. Nevertheless, Pollard received a life sentence and a recommendation that he never be paroled – in complete violation of the plea agreement he had reached with the government. Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States, nor was he indicted for compromising codes, agents or war plans and he was never charged with treason. He was indicted on only one charge of passing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the United States.
A broad-based interfaith coalition comprised of more than 500 members of the clergy and community leaders also sent a letter to Obama on Tuesday, January 4th in which they called for Pollard’s release.
The signatories on the letter include prominent religious and communal leaders from a wide array of Christian and Jewish communities, including representatives of Alliance for Jewish Renewal, American Values, Amit, Association of Reform Zionists of America, B’nai B’rith International, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Christians United for Israel, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, EMUNAH of America, Florida Council of Churches, Hebrew Union College, Hillel, JCC’s of North America, Jewish Women International, National Council of Young Israel, New York Board of Rabbis, ORT America, Inc., Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Religious Zionists of America-Mizrachi, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Union for Reform Judaism, Yeshiva University, and the Zionist Organization of America.