The Israeli government appears to be stepping up its lobbying effort on behalf of Jonathan Pollard, as the Clinton administration moves closer to a decision on whether to commute the convicted spy’s life prison sentence.
Israeli Justice Minister David Libai met here privately Wednesday with Attorney General Janet Reno, who is expected to submit a recommendation on Pollard’s fate to President Clinton within a couple of weeks.
Libai urged her to “assist the president in making a favorable decision” on the case.
He told her that in light of Israel’s planned release of thousands of convicted Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli public expects the “same gesture” from the United States.
The Pollard issue dominated half of the hour-long meeting, according to Libai, who spoke to reporters afterward.
Reno told the Israeli justice minister that she had not yet received the materials from Deputy Attorney General Phillip Heymann necessary to make a recommendation on Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was convicted in 1986 of passing hundreds of pages of classified information to Israel.
The Justice Department will not say when Reno plans to give Clinton the long-awaited recommendation on the Pollard case.
But sources say a recommendation is imminent, and anticipation has been heightened by the fact that presidential pardons and commutations are often made on the eve of the new year.
Support for Pollard has been building in the organized American Jewish community, most of whose leaders now believe the life sentence he received was too severe, considering that the classified information was provided to an ally.
Until recently, the Israeli government had not made a major issue of the case, perhaps sensing a potential irritant in relations with Washington.
But Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wrote a letter requesting clemency to Clinton earlier this year, and he discussed the case with the president directly during a White House visit last month.
SPECULATION ABOUT A DEAL
The heightened activity and expectations concerning the Pollard case have touched off a wave of speculation about what the United States is being offered for the convicted spy’s release.
The Forward, a New York-based weekly newspaper, reported Nov. 19 that a prominent Israeli activist had proposed a plan to the White House concerning a commutation of Pollard’s sentence.
The confidential document reportedly promised that if Pollard was released, he would maintain a low profile, he would not return to Israel as a “national hero” and a prominent Israeli figure would act as his custodian.
A source familiar with the Pollard case said Wednesday that Pollard had indicated in the past his desire not to be considered a heroic figure, and his willingness to keep a low profile if released.
But the source added that the proposal’s provisions would probably not be sufficient to attain Pollard’s release, and that a decision by the administration to free Pollard would likely be based on other grounds.
Rumors of a spy swap, in which Israel would release a prisoner in exchange for Pollard’s freedom, have circulated among circles close to the case for a couple of years.
A letter in The New York Times last week called for Israel to release Mordechai Vanunu in exchange for Pollard.
Vanunu is an Israeli convicted of treason for leaking information on Israel’s nuclear capability to the British press.
The letter urged Clinton to recommend Vanunu’s release to Rabin in order to demonstrate U.S. opposition to nuclear weapons proliferation.
Sources also note Israel’s recent release of Yosef Amit, an Israeli imprisoned for spying for an unnamed country, which, according to Moment magazine, was in fact the United States.
Pollard activists had previously suggested trading Amit for Pollard.
U.S. officials have denied, however, that an American spy was imprisoned in Israel.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.