JERUSALEM (Apr. 7)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recruited his entire Cabinet to sign a request to President Clinton seeking a pardon for jailed spy Jonathan Pollard.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz, quoting government sources, said Netanyahu hoped to gather 100 signatures from Knesset members to add to the letter.
Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh, who heads a ministerial committee seeking Pollard’s release, said opposition legislators have also agreed to support the campaign.
Several Cabinet members recently met with the former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst in the North Carolina prison where he has been serving a life sentence since 1987 for spying for Israel.
According to Ha’aretz, the request for Pollard’s release does not contain the wording drawn up by the ministerial committee a week ago — language that drew criticism from Pollard.
The committee had approved a statement that Pollard was “recruited by people who worked on behalf of the State of Israel” and that he could consider himself an agent for the state “even if his handlers did not receive the necessary authorization.”
Pollard said last week in a statement that he had instructed his attorney to reject what he termed a “bogus offer,” saying the committee had not gone far enough.
National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly told the Cabinet this week that he, too, did not agree with the ministerial committee’s statement, adding that Israel should take more direct responsibility for Pollard’s spying activities in the letter to Clinton.
Results of a Gallup poll published last month showed that among 500 Israeli respondents, three-quarters believed the government should publicly take responsibility for Pollard’s activities.
The High Court of Justice is considering a petition filed by Pollard asking that it compel the government to recognize him as an agent for the state.
The court recently gave the government 60 days to explain what efforts are being taken on his behalf.
In the past, Israeli leaders have disassociated themselves from Pollard, maintaining that he passed on information during the 1980s without official Israeli sanction.
Pollard was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to stealing secrets for the Israeli government and in 1987 was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Netanyahu recently denied that he had abandoned Pollard’s cause, adding that he had raised the matter three times in discussions with President Clinton.