JERUSALEM (Nov. 27)
As Jonathan Pollard begins his 17th year in jail for passing classified information to the State of Israel, the Israeli government is reportedly looking to pay him off.
According to Larry Dub, Pollard’s attorney in Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government offered Pollard $2 million.
In exchange, Dub said, Israel would no longer have the responsibility of seeking Pollard’s release.
The offer was brought to the imprisoned Pollard on Nov. 14 by an Israeli envoy armed with official documents, according to Justice for Jonathan Pollard, a group advocating Pollard’s release. Pollard and his wife, Esther, immediately rejected the offer.
A spokeswoman for Cabinet minister Dan Naveh, who is dealing with the issue on behalf of the government, refused to comment.
The Knesset last week marked the 16th anniversary of Pollard’s incarceration.
Legislator Michael Kleiner, who initiated the Nov. 21 session, accused successive Israeli governments of abandoning Pollard.
“Our government is willing to do a lot in order to return the bodies of soldiers so they can be buried in Israel, but prefers to bury Pollard alive,” Kleiner charged.
Dub, too, had harsh words for the government.
“The government is obviously embarrassed because it’s trying to buy off the Pollards with money,” Dub told JTA. “They thought he’d be intrigued by it, but he dismissed all offers out of hand.”
Dub said the government first offered Pollard a $1 million grant in September to help with legal fees and other expenses.
Pollard, 47, who is imprisoned in North Carolina, has said he feels abandoned by Israel.
He has told reporters that since Sharon took office last March, the premier has not once raised the issue of Pollard’s release with the U.S. government.
“Sharon is not even attempting to secure my release,” Pollard was quoted as telling the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot. “Instead, Israel is trying to buy my silence with money. But it won’t work.”
A former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard was convicted of espionage for passing secret U.S. military information to Israel. Serving a life sentence since 1987, he has received support from numerous American Jewish groups and leaders.
He reportedly has been incarcerated longer than any other American ever convicted of spying for a U.S. ally.
When Pollard was first arrested in 1985, Israel tried to distance itself from the affair.
From the time that Yitzhak Rabin took office in 1992, all Israeli prime ministers have appealed to U.S. administrations to grant Pollard clemency, but to no avail.
Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in 1996, a move he hoped would bolster his chances for release.
Two years later, the Netanyahu government officially recognized Pollard as an Israeli agent and accepted full responsibility for him and his actions.
The closest he came to gaining his freedom was during the Wye River peace negotiations in 1998, when President Clinton reportedly promised to free Pollard as a means of inducing Netanyahu into making concessions to the Palestinians.
But Clinton eventually backed out after American law enforcement officials threatened to resign in protest.
Sharon has called himself a Pollard supporter, but he hasn’t done anything to obtain his release, said Dub, who has been representing Pollard since 1994.
“It’s shocking the way Mr. Sharon has allowed this situation to linger,” Dub said. “If Pollard had been one of his cronies, he would have been released many years ago. It’s clear to me that when Israel wants someone home, they get them home.”
Dub sent Sharon a detailed letter in July requesting that the government send a delegation to the United States, including ministers and Mossad representatives, to obtain Pollard’s release.
The letter was signed by 16 ministers and deputy ministers, but Dub received no response.
Sharon was due to travel to Washington later this week to meet with President Bush, but Dub said he has little expectation for any movement on the Pollard case.
Sharon told Israel Radio last week that he would ask for Pollard’s release, but added that he had “no expectations” that he would succeed.
Kleiner called upon Sharon to “bring Pollard back on your plane,” he said.
At the special session last week, Knesset members from across the political spectrum joined Kleiner in calling for Pollard’s release, but Dub described such calls as worthless.
“It’s the same people getting up once a year, breaking their hearts about how much it hurts them,” he said.
Pollard supporters said they have received indications from the U.S. government that Bush would be inclined to release him, given Clinton’s promise at Wye.
“Political deals are political deals,” Dub said. “Bush can just say that Clinton promised at Wye and he’s fulfilling it now.”
Last year, Dub and Pollard’s North American lawyers launched an initiative aimed at overturning Pollard’s conviction and having him resentenced. Dub believes a new judge would sentence Pollard to no more than two years.
They filed their request in October 2000, and expect the court to respond this year.