NEW YORK (Oct. 22)
Two members of the Israeli Knesset are trying to get Congress involved in re-evaluating whether Jonathan and Anne Pollard received justice when they were sent to prison respectively for espionage and illegal possession of classified documents.
But the two Israeli lawmakers, Geula Cohen of the far-right party Tehiya and Edna Solodar of the center-left Labor Party, have had little success in persuading American Jewish leaders to join their crusade.
Cohen and Solodar, representing the 71 Knesset members who have formed a Pollard lobby, met in Washington last week with 13 members of Congress to help mobilize support on Capitol Hill for the Pollards’ release from prison.
Cohen said in an interview that the purpose of their visit was “to try to start a nucleus of a committee for the Pollards” among their American legislative counterparts.
The trip to Washington, on Oct. 17 and 18, followed visits the two Israeli legislators made to the couple in their respective federal prisons.
Jonathan Pollard is serving a life sentence at a maximum-security prison in Marion, III., for spying for Israel, His wife is serving two concurrent five-year sentences at the Danbury Federal Prison Camp in Connecticut for being an accessory to possession of classified documents.
Cohen said that she was encouraged by the response from the 13 members of Congress with whom she and Solodar met.
“Many were ready to rethink the Pollard affair,” she said. “Time is healing not only wounds but fears.”
CHARGE OF ANTI-SEMITISM
Cohen said the United States should take a second look at how much damage to U.S. security was caused by Jonathan Pollard’s delivery of classified documents to the Israeli government as well as the role ethnic prejudice played in his trial.
She said that she believed Pollard’s sentence was vastly unfair and disproportionate compared with previous spy cases in the United States.
She also charged that anti-Semitism on the part of then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger could have had an impact on the sentences.
An aide to Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) said the congressman expressed his interest in “participating in a re-evaluation of the case.”
Other members of Congress who met with Cohen and Solodar include: Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Hatch reportedly told the Israelis that the congressional task force they were seeking would more easily be formed if the organized American Jewish community was “100 percent” behind it.
In that regard, Cohen called on the American Jewish organizations to follow the Knesset’s lead in advocating for the Pollards and to “put pressure” on Congress to launch an investigation of the Pollard case.
“Our message to the Jews here is that they have to break the barrier of fear.” Cohen said. “It’s time, after four years, to look at (the case) in proportion.”
But several representatives of major American Jewish organizations who serve on an ad hoccommittee on the Pollards said such action is not on American Jewry’s agenda.
“Anything that has to do with the Pollard case between the Israelis and the Americans has to be worked out between the Israelis and the Americans,” said Jerome Chanes of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, which staffs the ad hoc committee.
AGAINST SWAP WITH TERRORISTS
Phil Baum of the American Jewish Congress, who chairs the committee, stressed the panel’s sole mandate is to monitor the Pollards’ treatment in prison, not the justice of their sentence.
“This is a matter that has to do with the American justice system,” Baum said.
Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, echoed Baum and Chanes, saying that it is not the place of American Jews to advocate for the formation of a congressional task force.
However, he added that if a congressional investigation of the Pollards eventually took place, “it would be interesting to see what they would discover.”
Reich said that if definite evidence of anti-Semitism were to emerge in the documentation of the Pollard case, “there would be a howl of protest by the American Jewish community.”
Cohen and Solodar lavished praise on Jonathan Pollard’s attitude and disposition, after visiting him in prison, They described him as “brilliant” and a true “lover of Israel.”
The Knesset members said Pollard does not blame Israel for his predicament and that he still yearns to make aliyah. He spoke with them about settling in Mitzpe Ramon, in the Negev desert.
They said he told them he would refuse to take part in any sort of prisoner exchange that would involve the release of terrorists who could threaten Israel.
“I don’t want Israel to pay for my freedom with things that will endanger its security,” they quoted him as saying.