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Focus on Issues: Controversial Israeli Play Revisits the Pollard Affair

The date is Nov. 21, 1985. Jonathan Jay and Anne Pollard enter the Israeli Embassy in Washington to seek political asylum.

To the astonishment of the security personnel working there, Jonathan Pollard identifies himself by name, says he has been working for the Mossad — Israel’s intelligence service — and adds that the FBI is literally on his tail.

The Pollards are invited in and offered something to drink while the security officer in charge makes a phone call.

The officer speaks to Rafi Eitan, head of the Science Liaison Bureau, a Mossad branch, in Jerusalem, who then contacts an unidentified government minister.

The instructions from the top are clear: Kick the Pollards out!

The officer argues that they are Jews and that according to regulations, he must admit them.

Out! orders Eitan.

The stunned and desperate Pollards sit down and invoke the Law of Return, under which Israel must admit any Jew who requests it.

But Eitan does not budge: He instructs the security officer to throw the Pollards out, by force if need be.

Anne and Jonathan Pollard plead for their lives, but to no avail. They are forced off the embassy grounds into the waiting arms of the FBI.

This is the climactic scene in a controversial new play, “Pollard (The Patriots),” which has been enjoying a successful run at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv for more than a month.

Described in the playbill as “a fictional play inspired by the Pollard affair,” the show uses for its plot the events that led to the arrests of Jonathan and Anne Pollard on charges of spying and treason, and their subsequent imprisonment.

The controversial nature of the play was evident in the enormous pressures brought to bear on the play’s author, Motti Lerner, and its producers to cancel the show.

The unease of the audience during the powerful and chilling final scene is tangible.

At the play’s end, there is a short public debate with a panel that includes the now-divorced Anne Pollard. When asked how much of the play is true and how much is fiction, she begins to list the gaps, then stops herself.

“One thing you can be sure of, this last scene at the embassy is 100 percent true,” she says, “We were there for 20 minutes, by the end of which we were forced to leave and were arrested. This was the last time I saw Jonathan in freedom.”

Jonathan Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst and strongly identified Jew who believed that the United States was not passing important intelligence information to Israel, began passing secret information to Israeli officials in 1984.

As a result of a plea bargain, Jonathan Pollard received a life sentence. In solitary confinement for the past 10 years in a federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill., he is up for parole in November.

Anne Pollard was sentenced to five years in prison for her part in the case. She was released early because of illness and has since been divorced and immigrated to Israel.

From the play’s inception, those involved with the production were under intense pressure to suppress it.

The pressure was unprecedented in Israeli theater history. according to some involved in the production.

At a recent news conference, the Cameri Theater’s directors, Noam Semel and Omri Nitzan, along with director Ilan Ronen and playwright Lerner, said the pressure began even before the play saw the light of day.

They spoke of blatant warning to “watch out,” unveiled threats of libel suits from those mentioned in the play — including Anne Pollard — and warnings that funding would be cut off.

They said the pressure went as far as a cash offer of up to $330,000 to shelve the project entirely.

When all this failed, they said, a campaign was launched to postpone the opening, amid claims that it would harm Pollard’s parole hearing in November.

According to the Cameri’s officials, every effort was made to ensure that Jonathan Pollard’s case was not harmed in any way.

Both Anne Pollard and Amnon Dror, who heads the Release Jonathan Pollard Committee in Israel, which receives major funding from the Israeli government, were initially adamantly opposed to the play.

But now they say they are convinced the production can only help Pollard.

This is partially due to the 10,000 people who have so far signed a petition asking President Clinton to consider Pollard’s immediate release.

The Cameri puts the petition in the theater’s foyer during the play, and people are urged to sign by the actors and panelists at the end of the evening.

Lerner, 46, one of Israel’s prominent young playwrights, expresses regret over the scandal that has surrounded his play.

“I used Pollard as a fable, as a symbol of Diaspora Hews,” he said in a recent interview at his Tel Aviv studio.

He said his goal in writing the play was to examine the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community.

Lerner said the Pollard affair provided him with a “dramatic plot” with which to approach “the complicated components that make up this relationship: questions such as dual loyalty, our mutual obligations and commitment to each other, coinciding and conflicting interest, and our Jewish identity.”

“Unfortunately, this is not perceived as the play’s central theme,” said Lerner, who noted that he visited the United States and spoke with leaders of major American Jewish organizations as part of his research for the play.

“If there is a lesson for me here, it is that anchoring a play in a contemporary affair can shift the focus from the play’s essence as I saw it.”

Lerner said he does not believe that the campaign against the play was orchestrated by the state or by one of its agencies. Although he does not name names, he said he thinks that the pressure came from a group of individuals – – the security agents or officials involved in the operation — who felt the play put them in a bad light.

Because some of them occupy high positions, he added, they were able to exert their considerable influence in an attempt to suppress it.

Despite the hardships that accompanied the mounting of the play, Lerner is on the whole pleased with the Israeli public’s response to the production.

Of the 15,000 Israelis who have seen the show so far, most remain for the discussion and two-thirds have signed the petition, Lerner said, adding that he expects that some 100,000 Israelis will see the production before it closes.

The play has already been translated into English and there have been negotiations for staging the production in the United States. However, Lerner, concerned about the effect the play could have on Jonathan Pollard’s parole board hearing, said it should be performed in America only after that hearing.

“Maybe this will help open a dialogue between” the Israeli and Diaspora communities, the playwright said of his production.

“If a true, symmetrical and open dialogue had existed, one that recognized the legitimacy of the other side, it is possible that the whole Pollard affair could have been avoided.

“In a post-Zionist Israel, we must recognize the legitimacy of Jewish communities outside Israel, and the necessity of a dialogue between Israel and the Diaspora, a dialogue that is vital and crucial to both.”

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