Esther Pollard won’t give up

Imprisoned spy’s wife hopes Peres will finally bring Jonathan home.

Esther Pollard (photo credit: Courtesy Justice for Jonathan Pollard)
Esther Pollard
(photo credit: Courtesy Justice for Jonathan Pollard)
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.
A consensus believes that spying against the US was wrong, and a consensus believes that Pollard has served enough time for his crime and should be released.
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.
While Esther 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.
We believe 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?
If 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 in sight.
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 another agenda.
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?
President Peres 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.
How 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.
Why do you think Obama out of all presidents could succeed where others failed?
There 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 exhausted.
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.
The sublimely 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.
Do you 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 it.
Neither of us has any interest in reliving the past. We want to move forward, to build a good, productive, private life in Israel together.
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 them.
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.