Leaked Pentagon Memo May Affect Pollard Case
News of a Pentagon memo warning that Israel might be using American Jews to spy on military contractors comes at a bad time for the Israeli government’s quiet efforts to win the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who spied for Israel.
The internal memo, asserting that Israel was trying to steal U.S. military and industrial secrets by exploiting “strong ethnic ties” in the United States, raises anew the specter of American Jews with a dual loyalty. And reports of it have prompted some Israelis to suggest that leaking it may have been a move to stymie efforts to get Pollard a presidential pardon--even though the memo was publicized by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, a prominent Jewish organization.
“Obviously there are a lot of American Jews in sensitive positions, and it is tempting to make accusations,” said Joseph Alpher, director of the Israel/Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem.
But the memo--later retracted--apparently did not document new cases of espionage or point to “the next Pollard,” Alpher said, and so he suspects there was another motive behind its release.
“Maybe the leak of the report was carried out by people who wanted to keep Pollard in jail,” he said.
The Anti-Defamation League said in a letter to Defense Secretary William J. Perry that the Pentagon directive “impugns American Jews and borders on anti-Semitism.”
American Jewish leaders also said the memo reflects the mood in the U.S. intelligence community since Pollard’s spying for Israel was discovered 10 years ago.
The Pollard case has been a painful embarrassment for the Israeli government, first because it was caught spying on its chief benefactor and ally, and then--after it claimed Pollard’s spying was a rogue operation--because it was seen by many Israeli citizens as having effectively abandoned one of its own.
Many Israelis feel their government has preferred to allow Pollard to languish in U.S. federal prison rather than fight with the United States over his release. Last year, a sympathetic play called “Pollard” drew huge crowds in Tel Aviv and helped supporters collect tens of thousands of signatures on a petition calling for presidential clemency.
Three prime ministers have raised the issue with American presidents in one form or another. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin brought it up with President Clinton just weeks before being assassinated in November. Shimon Peres brought up the pardon on his last trip to Washington and in a subsequent letter.
Last week, Peres’ government granted Pollard citizenship and an Israeli passport, hoping to give a boost to his appeal for a pardon.
At least until the revelation of the confidential memo Monday, the Israeli government had felt its chances were good of getting a pardon from such a friendly American president, even though the U.S. intelligence and defense communities have been steadfastly opposed to any break for the convicted spy.
“The Pollard affair left a big scar, and I think we learned our lesson,” said an Israeli official who declined to be identified. “But we feel he has served 10 years and it’s time already. He has paid his dues. This has become a humanitarian issue.”
Among government officials and Pollard supporters, there is a feeling that the post-Cold War and Middle East peace climate should allow for the spy’s release. They say that because the United States has released spies from Russia, and Israel is allowing for the return of Palestinian terrorists, to continue holding Pollard is “vindictive” and a holdover from the days of Caspar W. Weinberger, who was secretary of defense under former President Ronald Reagan at the time Pollard’s spying took place.
No other convicted spy has served more time than Pollard in the United States.
A U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard was arrested in November 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington after Israeli officials refused to admit him.
In 1987, he was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit espionage for supplying thousands of U.S. classified intelligence documents to Israel, including satellite photographs, communications codes, assessments of Arab military strength and details of Syrian and Iraqi chemical warfare programs and Soviet missile shipments to Syria and other Arab states.
The U.S. intelligence community, which was outraged by the spying by a friendly country, insists that Pollard is capable of causing further damage to U.S. interests if he is released.
Some legal experts and supporters of Pollard fear that his new Israeli citizenship may militate against his chances for a pardon, rather than help them, by drawing attention to his loyalty to Israel.
“Instead of an expression of remorse, it is sort of a provocation,” said Amnon Dror, who heads the Public Committee for Pollard in Tel Aviv. “It may be harmful. But he and his second wife demand it.”
Pollard divorced his first wife and co-defendant, Anne Pollard, in 1991. He married his second wife, Esther Zeitz-Pollard, after just one meeting, and the two pushed for his Israeli citizenship against the advice of many lawyers.
Zeitz-Pollard’s aggressive campaign to free her husband has alienated many of his former supporters, including some of his family members.
Alon Gellert, one of Pollard’s current attorneys, is among those who believe the Israeli government has neglected his client and that citizenship will force the government to do more.
“Israel has to take care of Jonathan. As a citizen of the state who is a prisoner in another country, they must take care of him,” he said.
Dror added: “I have no doubt that the legal avenue has been exhausted. If Pollard applies to the parole commission, they will turn him down. The only solution is a political arrangement between Israel and the American government.”