How Israel Failed to Free Pollard

With a great sense of disappointment, I sensed that the strategies presented in my memorandum might have been redirected to secure the pardon of Marc Rich.

Lenny Ben-David
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Lenny Ben-David

I truly believe that Jonathan Pollard could have been released seven years ago, between the November 2000 presidential election and George W. Bush's inauguration in January 2001. Indeed, in my capacity as Israel's number two diplomat in Washington, I drafted a confidential memo to Israel's leadership early in 1999 presenting a comprehensive strategy for securing a presidential pardon for Pollard from the lame-duck president, Bill Clinton, during the three months of the American interregnum.

Because the memorandum was classified, it is no longer in my hands. But according to my notes, the memo recommended a comprehensive, "quiet, behind-the-scenes campaign," including the following:

b Quiet consultations with White House and media personnel to fully understand what works with Clinton, including senior advisor George Stephanopoulos, press secretary Mike McCurry, senior advisor Rahm Emmanuel and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who knows the Pollard history.

b Resume quiet enlistment of leading theologians to sign a private letter to Clinton asking for Pollard's release, including Billy Graham, Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh, leading rabbis, etc.

b Immediate quiet consultations with lawyers and public relations consultants, including some of Pollard's former lawyers, former prosecutors, etc.

b "Maintenance" of Pollard and his wife - hiring a "case worker" who would maintain regular contact, handling health issues, providing for holiday needs, handling personal requests, arranging for synagogue and school mailings to Pollard.

b Developing "release strategies" if full and total release is not in the cards. These could include halfway houses, exile to a Negev kibbutz or yeshiva, paying for an American guard to make sure there is no contact with intelligence sources, promises of a low profile, etc. (If and when he is released, imagine the anger in Washington if CNN showed Pollard escorted to the Western Wall by hundreds of well-wishers and press cameras.)

With a great sense of disappointment, I sensed that the strategies presented in my memorandum might have been redirected to securing the pardon of Marc Rich, an American financier who escaped to Switzerland in 1983 after being indicted for tax evasion, money laundering and illegal trading with Iran.

In the period leading up to the presidential interregnum, a major campaign was underway to secure Rich's pardon. Israel's prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, interceded with Clinton on Rich's behalf, according to congressional testimony by then White House chief of staff John Podesta. Former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova told "Meet the Press" in February 2001: "When the prime minister of Israel, one of our closest allies, communicates with the president of the United States about a pardon, I would say to you that the president has a pretty good idea of how important the case is. The prime minister of Israel became deeply involved in this case, and he recommended a pardon."

Rich was pardoned; Pollard was not.

Jonathan Pollard should be released today for humanitarian and health reasons. Leaving aside the fact that his continued incarceration after 21 years constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment, he and two former AIPAC staffers are apparently being used today as cards in some undefined, malevolent gambit by American law enforcement officials to "teach American Jews a lesson" about ties to Israel.

Why do I release this memo now? Because a confidential strategy to secure Pollard's release, written more than a year before the end of Clinton's presidency, went astray. I hope the release of the gist of the memo today will prevent Israel's leaders from squandering another chance to secure Pollard's freedom after the November 2008 elections, if, God forbid, he is still in prison.

Ironic postscript: Between 1985 and 2000, Marc Rich was represented in the United States by a lawyer named Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who later became Vice President Richard Cheney's chief of staff. In March, Libby was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. President Bush commuted Libby's sentence last month.

The writer served as Israel's deputy chief of mission in Washington.



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