Pollard in a Pandora’s box
Hebrew media review

Pollard in a Pandora’s box

The expected release of the spy-for-Israel leads the press to revisit his arrest and long prison term

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

File photo of Jonathan Pollard, 1998. (AP/Karl DeBlaker/File)
File photo of Jonathan Pollard, 1998. (AP/Karl DeBlaker/File)

The surprise announcement on the expected release of Jonathan Pollard, a former civilian analyst for the US Navy convicted of spying for Israel, from a US jail on November 20 after serving 30 years of a life sentence, truly excites the Hebrew media on Wednesday, with all three major print news outlets dedicating their front pages to the story.

Numerous writers engage in a series of analyses aimed at finally clarifying the true reasons behind Pollard’s lengthy imprisonment, as well as the vehement insistence by all US administrations up to this point, be they friendly or hostile to the Israeli government, not to grant the spy an early parole under any circumstances.

Israel Hayom contributor Haim Shain, typically critical of the US and its policy toward the Jewish state, accuses American authorities of scapegoating Pollard in an attempt to cover up a major breach within the FBI and the CIA during the final years of the cold war.

“It was very convenient for [the US] to blame the collapse of an American spy network in the USSR on Pollard,” Shain writes, in an apparent reference to claims by anonymous US officials quoted in a 1999 New Yorker article, according to which the agent had provided Israel with top secret information on US operations in the Soviet Union. The information offered by Pollard, the US officials maintained, was later transferred by Jerusalem to Moscow in exchange for the approval of Jewish immigration to Israel, leading to the exposure of several American spys.

The claims as stated by the unnamed officials were never brought up during Pollard’s trial and, like many other details surrounding one of the heaviest instances of US-Israeli mistrust, were never authenticated. On the other hand, however, Shain’s adamant charges brought forth later in his column, namely, that Pollard had taken the fall for a screw-up by treacherous FBI agents, has not been verified either.

In Yedioth Aharonoth, analyst Eitan Haber insists that the US never had any intention of releasing Pollard before his 30th year of imprisonment, and that all attempts by Israeli government officials and Jewish lobbying groups to pressure the American government on the issue had simply been for show.

“Anyone who needed to know knew he was not going to be freed,” Haber writes. “A state tends always to take revenge on its traitors: That is what we had done, and still do, with [nuclear leaker Mordechai] Vanunu, for example,” he adds. “The Americans did so to Pollard.”

Echoing Haber’s assessments, Haaretz writer Amir Oren explains that Pollard had been kept in jail for so long in order to send a message to potential spies in the future that one cannot truly hold loyalties to two different countries and expect a light sentence when betraying one of them. “[In this sense], it is not anti-Israeli, it’s pro-American,” Oren says. “Respect, yet be wary, so that [spies] avoid similar pitfalls in the future.”

The second top story in the Hebrew papers’ minds is the ongoing battle over the demolition of two structures in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. Yedioth analyst Nahum Barnea notes that despite a definitive ruling to go through with the demolitions, the High Court of Justice is still a major ally of West Bank Jewish settlers, as the decision on the illegality of two structures is in essence also a statement on the legality of all others.

“If two skeletons of a building on the outskirts of the settlement are deemed unlawful, that is a sign that [in the eyes of the court] the rest of the settlement is as bright as snow,” Barnea writes in a critical tone which shines almost as bright.

In Israel Hayom, veteran Israeli journalist Dan Margalit criticizes members of the government, specifically singling out Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, for rallying West Bank Jewish youth against the demolition, in spite of the court’s ruling.

“Bennett, Uri Ariel, not to mention Bezalel Smotrich and Oren Hazan, are treading in their path just like an elephant in a china store,” Margalit charges. “They have stirred and riled up the spirits both near and far, and sent the youngsters to draw a series of accusations against [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu… and against the court.”

Yedioth’s backpage offers a bittersweet story on a woman injured in a 2001 terrorist attack in Jerusalem, who found consolation while building friendship with a horse named Haner. Fifty-eight percent of Leah Saban’s body had been covered in burns following the attack, and as a result she underwent a series of medical procedures, which included riding therapy with Haner.

After awaking from a nightmare in which she envisioned the horse in danger, she immediately rushed to Haner’s side, only to discover that he was in fact in critical condition. Saban vowed not to leave Haner from that moment on, and after the horse’s recovery, established a therapeutic riding ranch, bringing the steed with her. “Just for him it was worth suffering burns on all my body,” Saban says. “We are one soul.”

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