Israel’s controversial decision to spy in the United States nearly three
decades ago divided the people of Israel, caused problems for American Jews, and
raised questions about the US-Israel relationship.
Yet amazingly enough, now
one of the few issues that unites Israelis, brings together Reform and
ultra-Orthodox Jewish Americans, and straddles the divide across the Atlantic is
the need for clemency for Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
believes that spying against the US was wrong, and a consensus believes that
Pollard has served enough time for his crime and should be
Pressure has been building on US President Barack Obama to
commute Pollard’s life sentence to the 26 and a half years he has already
served. That pressure could reach its peak ahead of June 13 when Obama will give
President Shimon Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as Obama announced on
March 4 at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington.
Pollard, 54, made the list this year, if she fails at bringing her husband home,
some would say including her on the list may have been retroactively wrong, others would acknowledge her effort and blame the White House. Meanwhile, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, she explains how despite
being the ultimate political outsider, she succeeded in bringing so much support
for her husband’s cause.
How do you feel about being named to the Post’s
list of the top 50 most influential Jews?
We understand that this great honor,
in fact, says far more about a deeply moral struggle for justice and for
equality before the law than it does about Esther Pollard.
that this extraordinary honor reflects the fact that Jonathan’s plight has
touched the hearts and minds of millions of people in Israel, in America, and
around the world.
What message does this honor send to Washington?
there is a message for Washington that this honor sends it is that the fate of
Jonathan Pollard matters to millions of people. His freedom is a matter of great
concern to the people of Israel, and to all those in America and throughout the
world who care about justice.
Jonathan is serving the longest, harshest
sentence of anyone in the United States ever convicted of a similar offense. The
median sentence for this offense – passing classified information to an ally –
is two to four years. He is now in his 27th year of a life sentence with no end
Caspar Weinberger, the former US secretary of defense, the man
who drove Jonathan’s unjust life sentence, admitted before he died that the
Pollard case was in fact “a minor matter” blown out of proportion to serve
How has the effort to bring about your husband’s release
gained such momentum?
Truth, hard work and perseverance are key words for us. We
believe that if you work hard, tell the truth, and never give up, it is possible
to overcome any obstacle. Over time, the cause has attracted and maintained some
of the most devoted, caring, hard-working volunteers who have enabled us to
amplify our message and reach many more people.
Our core team that leads
the struggle for Jonathan’s release is comprised of a diverse group of people.
Each one came to us with unique skills and talents, and each one is utterly
devoted to doing an unpaid job that has demanded his undivided attention, day in
day out, 24 hours a day, for years on end. Our volunteer team is our treasure
and truth is our currency.
How hopeful are you that President Peres will
return home accompanied by Jonathan and not just a medal?
promised me personally that he would use “every means at [his] disposal” to
press President Obama for Jonathan’s release. He made it clear to me that he was
putting the full weight of his reputation as a senior statesman on the line to
ensure that Jonathan comes home now. President Peres’s close, collegial
relationship with President Obama is well known. The injustice of Jonathan’s
continued incarceration and his failing health are also well known. Jonathan’s
remorse is a matter of record. This is not a complicated issue. It is a matter
of simple justice and a morally compelling humanitarian issue.
symbolic would it be if Peres out of all people succeeds in bringing him home?
It is rare that history presents a golden opportunity such as this one, for one
man to rectify the past – to correct an injustice that he himself participated
in. Mr. Peres was the prime minister at the time of Jonathan’s arrest. He
cooperated with the US by providing the documents that were used to indict
Jonathan and to sentence him to life. This was the first and only time in the
history of modern espionage that a country has cooperated in the prosecution of
its own agent. Jonathan’s release through the direct intervention of President
Shimon Peres would not only be the crowning glory of Mr.
Peres’s long and
illustrious career, it would be the right and moral thing to do.
you think Obama out of all presidents could succeed where others failed?
is a moral imperative compelling intervention on the part of President Obama now
that all other avenues of relief via the American justice system have been
The numerous appeals to the president for executive clemency
for Jonathan that are now pending – many of them submitted by highranking
American officials who previously opposed Jonathan’s release – are Jonathan’s
last hope of resolving a 27-year-long injustice that now threatens to end his
life in prison.
It is precisely for cases like this, which the system
cannot or will not address, that the American Constitution confers upon the
president virtually unlimited powers of executive clemency.
moral task of saving Jonathan’s life, while at the same time safeguarding the
American public by correcting this injustice, sits squarely with the president
of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama. In this case, executive clemency is not
merely the president’s privilege.
It is his solemn duty.
think Jonathan’s release has any implication for the US-Israel relationship?
People who value the US-Israel special relationship now point to Jonathan’s
unjust sentence and his continued incarceration as a reflection of the real
state of relations between Israel and the US. Media reports and commentary
confirm this unfortunate perception.
Why did Jonathan say he doesn’t want
to write a book?
Jonathan and I are painfully aware of all the years that have
been taken from us by this nightmare. We are anxious to get on with our life
together. We long for the time when we can do very ordinary things and take
pleasure in just being together. To retell the story of Jonathan’s years in
prison by writing a book means reliving the experience and rehashing
Neither of us has any interest in reliving the past. We want to move
forward, to build a good, productive, private life in Israel
Jonathan has scientific projects dealing with alternative
energy that he is hoping to realize in Israel. He has a great many projects that
he wants to accomplish when he gets home. Writing a book is not one of
Similarly, Jonathan has no interest in running for public office or
in holding public office of any kind. He has no interest in movies or plays or
anything in the public arena. After so many years of being in the spotlight, we
both long for a quiet and private life.
What happens if Peres’s effort
with Obama fails?
There is no such thing as failure. We have been at this for 27
years. We will never give up.