ISRAEL: Pollard release — hype or hope?


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Israeli Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan said in an interview Monday with the Knesset (parliament) channel that he assumes ‘we will soon see Pollard in Israel,’ but that he ‘could not, would not say when.’

Eitan, minister of pensioners’ affairs, spent much of his past in the country’s security services and had been in charge of the unit that handled Jonathan Jay Pollard at the time the U.S. Navy intelligence analyst was arrested in 1985.


Pollard denied engaging in espionage against the U.S. but admitted to one count of passing classified information to an ally as part of a plea bargain. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Pollard’s supporters accuse Israel of abandoning him. Indeed, it took 10 years for Israel to officially acknowledge him. They also accuse the U.S. of vengefully keeping him in harsh prison conditions and imposing a heavier sentence than given to all but the most dangerous spies. Their years-long campaign for his release picked up some pace during President Bush’s visit to Israel this January, with posters throughout Jerusalem (see picture) and letters, faxes and petitions to the hotel, delegation and even the president himself.

Rafi Eitan has reportedly not set foot on American soil since, for fear of being arrested. Non-grata or not, President Bush shook his hand at a dinner with several Israeli Cabinet ministers in Jerusalem this January.

In 2006, Pollard petitioned Israel’s supreme court against Eitan’s appointment as minister, accusing him of recklessly recruiting him and ultimately abandoning him to the FBI in order to save his own skin.

The petition was rejected. Eitan, for his part, says he has never stopped working for Pollard’s release. Refusing to say whether he had brought the matter up with Vice President Cheney during his visit, Eitan just said cryptically that the less said, the better.

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusaelm

Hassan Nasrallah, in a poster on a Jerusalem billboard in January. Credit: Batsheva Sobelman/Los Angeles Times.