pollard protest 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
At every settler demonstration over the last few years, whether against disengagement, police conduct during the Amona showdown or planned future pullbacks, there was a little booth surrounded by dedicated religious youngsters handing out leaflets and asking passersby to sign petitions for the release of Jonathan Pollard.
Their cause seemed to have no connection with the larger venture, but for years now the campaign to release Jonathan Pollard - incarcerated for more than two decades after being convicted of spying for Israel - has been an integral part of the right-wing agenda in Israel. It has long been an open secret among journalists that the lawyers and lobbyists working to mobilize public opinion on behalf of Pollard are also involved in some of the more traditional activities of the settlers' camp.
Most of his visitors over the last few years have been politicians and activists identified with one side of the political spectrum, and Pollard's rabbi is Mordechai Eliahu, the spiritual leader of the religious right. Since they aren't exactly the most popular group with the mainstream media, this hasn't done Pollard's cause much good in the press. Reports on his condition are marginalized to the back pages and claims by his supporters are often treated as crank calls.
Is this treatment justified? There's no clear answer. Pollard still deserves a fair hearing with the Israeli public, despite the media long since being bored with him and his champions, but those who claim to be acting in his interests should ask themselves how they allowed what was once a consensual issue to become so politicized.
The report Sunday of a possible deal whereby Fatah leader Mustafa Barghouti, jailed by Israel for planning terrorist murders, would be released in the hope that he could wrest control of the Palestinian Authority away from Hamas and, as a sweetener for Israel, Pollard would also go free, brought the conflict of interests in Pollard's case out in the open.
Whether the deal is realistic or not, releasing Barghouti and catapulting him to a position of leadership is anathema to the Right. That's why Pollard's wife, Esther, who should have been in favor of any plan to release her husband, claimed yesterday that the government is only interested in setting Barghouti free. She told reporters that the US was actually prepared to release Pollard recently, if only Israel had requested it.
Such claims have been routine for close to a decade, ever since then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was accused of not acting forcefully on Pollard's behalf during the Wye Plantation talks. The truth is that Bill Clinton promised Netanyahu to let Pollard go but at the last moment, the directors of the CIA and FBI threatened to resign and Clinton backed down. But that didn't stop the settlers from accusing Netanyahu of agreeing to cede territory to the Palestinians while forsaking Pollard.
Similar charges were made against Ariel Sharon for not using disengagement as a lever for springing Pollard, as if that would in any way have lessened opposition to the evacuation of Gush Katif. Now Ehud Olmert is being attacked for including the Gil Pensioners Party in his new government. The party's leader, Rafi Eitan, was Pollard's operator and is now being accused of withholding crucial information that could have bought his freedom.
To the right-wing's credit, they have always been more active than their political rivals on behalf of Jews in trouble around the world, be they refuseniks in the Soviet Union or members of the 10 Lost Tribes in Ethiopia. The Left's internationalist outlook doesn't allow them to rally to their Jewish brethren's side with the same enthusiasm.
However in Pollard's case, the Right has taken up his cause to such an extent that he is no longer a Prisoner of Zion, but only of part of Zion.