JERUSALEM (Mar. 12)
A Knesset subcommittee began closed hearings Thursday on the government’s role in the Jonathan Pollard spy case. But the Cabinet’s effort to launch its own probe hit a snag when one of the two men asked to form a “clarification committee” declined the task.
Justice Moshe Landau, former President of the Supreme Court, expressed his regrets in a letter to Premier Yitzhak Shamir. Landau issued a statement later that he had no objections in principle to the committee but could not accept the offer to sit on it.
The offer was accepted by Gen. (Res.) Zvi Tzur, a former Chief of Staff. The search for another public figure of equal stature was begun immediately by Cabinet Secretary Elyakum Rubinstein.
Although Justice Landau did not specify his reason for declining, it was evident from his letter that he did not want to be part of a committee that would lack the statutory powers of a state or judicial commission of inquiry such as the right to subpoena witnesses to testify under oath.
The idea of a “clarification committee” emerged from an eight-hour meeting of the Inner Cabinet Wednesday as pressure mounted at home and abroad for a full-scale inquiry into the government’s handling of the Pollard affair. The Inner Cabinet (five Labor and five Likud Ministers) fell far short of satisfying those demands. But it did give its assent, retroactively, to the independent probe undertaken by the intelligence subcomittee of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.
Committee chairman Abba Eban announced the hearings on Monday when Premier Shamir was saying that the Pollard matter was “closed”. The hearing opened under tight secrecy Thursday morning at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was the first to testify. Subcommittee members refused any comment after the 3 1/2 hour session.
Meanwhile, the Knesset on Tuesday easily defeated three nonconfidence motions over the government’s handling of the Pollard affair. The motions were introduced by the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM), Mapam and the Progressive List for Peace. Only one coalition member, Mordechai Virshubsky of the Shinui Party, crossed over to vote with the opposition.
Demonstratively absent from the session were Premier Shamir, Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Rabin Likud Minister of Transport Haim Corfu, replied for the government.
Reading a prepared statement, he reiterated that the espionage for which Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst employed by the U.S. Navy, received a life sentence last week was a “rogue operation” conducted without the government’s knowledge.