HOW YOU feel about Jonathan Pollard depends largely on who you are and where you come from. The Israeli government and many Jews around the world, view Pollard as an agent harshly sentenced to life imprisonment for passing information which he believed could save Israeli lives. To the American establishment, he remains a traitor who betrayed his country’s secrets for cash.
This week President Obama revealed that there were no plans to release Pollard, who was sentenced to life behind bars in 1987 — this despite appeals from Israel’s president, Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Because Pollard, now 57, pleaded guilty to a charge of violation of the Espionage Act, his case was never heard in open court. However, those in the US security hierarchy have long claimed that Pollard was no altruistic spy but rather a cynical traitor, who attempted to pass his country’s secrets to at least four countries — South Africa, Australia, Israel and Pakistan — in return for money.
Pollard has admitted selling thousands of documents to Israel. There has never been a conclusive explanation of why he was given the maximum penalty for his crime, given that Israel was an ally and that he entered a guilty plea in return for leniency.
Pollard was born in Galveston, Texas, into a Jewish family. His father, a microbiologist, moved the family to South Bend, Indiana, where he taught at Notre Dame University. Pollard has told of being the victim of bullying during his childhood but consoled himself with the fact that “I got beaten up, but at least I knew the Israelis would beat up a couple Arab countries and maybe I would feel better”.
His feelings of affinity with Israel were enhanced by a visit to the country in 1970 when he was part of a science programme at the Weizmann Insitute in Rehovot.
Pollard completed a degree in political science at Stanford and applied for a post with the CIA. He was turned down after admitting to frequent drug use in a polygraph test. However, he was hired by US Naval Intelligence. According to reports he lied in vetting assessments and his security clearance was reduced. However, later his security clearance was upgraded meaning he had access to state secrets. The passing of secrets to Israel is thought to date back to a meeting with an Israeli Air Force veteran, Aviem Sella. In June 1984, Pollard
started passing classified information to Sella in return for thousands of dollars.
The Australian authorities also reported the disclosure of classified information to one of their agents — Pollard later claimed to have been ordered by his superiors to disclose the information.
In 1985, Pollard was arrested and in 1987, he was sentenced to life for his activities. After eight years in prison, Pollard applied for, and was awarded, Israeli citizenship. In 1998 Israel admitted that it had bought classified information from him and in 2002 Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu visited Pollard in prison.
The dispute over Pollard has long been a source of friction in relations between the US and Israel. However, the US government has remained implacable on the subject — clearly feeling that despite pressure from its ally, the damage done by Pollard warranted the harshest penalty. It now looks as if Pollard will remain in jail until he becomes eligible for parole in five years time, having completed 30 years of his sentence.
MONDAY MORNING began with a Technion UK team meeting with my colleagues Suzanne and Juliet. We continued to plan for the 11th Ron Arad lecture and dinner which is taking place in November. The Technion’s recent Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Dan Shechtman will be the guest speaker on the night.
Chi Onwurha, the shadow minister for science, called to set a date to meet for an update on the Technion. I’m very much looking forward to that. That afternoon I had a skype conference call with the agency in Paris that is developing our brand new interactive roadshow presentation. We are really excited to be presenting to organisations across the UK this year, to showcase the life-changing research that takes place at the Technion, Israel’s leading university of science and technology.
On my way home that evening, I delivered a project proposal to a prospective donor who is interested in supporting the Technion’s new Human Allergy laboratory. With hayfever sufferers in the family, and it being the start of summer, I have a personal interest in the work of this world-class research.
Tuesday brought an early skype call (thank goodness for skype — it makes life much easier) to the vice president of the Technion, Professor Boaz Golany. We discussed progress on a research project looking at environmentally clean technologies between the LSE and Technion scientists. Then it was an update with our chairman, Daniel Peltz, before I grabbed a sandwich with some young supporters who are planning a tennis tournament. The funds raised will support a student carrying out research into heart disease.
Wednesday saw the Technion announce the development of the Pneumonitor, a lifesaving device that detects respiratory difficulties in premature babies. With Pesach looming, I was reminded of the Jewish people’s will to succeed, either escaping from Pharaoh in Egypt thousands of years ago or a newborn baby no longer having to fight to breathe.
Thursday began by planning a homeland security seminar in conjunction with scientists at UCL. We take lengthy phone calls with excited parents of school students who have been accepted onto this year’s Scitech, the Technion’s prestigious international summer research camp. Increasingly we are using social media to communicate with our supporters, so it was great to see Professor Andrew Levy of Technion’s Faculty of Medicine on Youtube, describing his latest discovery; the reasons why some diabetics develop heart disease, kidney problems, blindness and others don’t.
Suzanne and I plan the programme for the board of governors meeting at the Technion in June. This is the centennial year of the Technion and it is a great opportunity to visit the campus. We will meet Israeli president Shimon Peres, visit the medical laboratories and see the students who we support with scholarships. It’s a short week because of Pesach, with so much to get done and my thoughts move toward my piano lesson tonight. I know that I have not practised enough so Jackie, my music teacher, will no doubt tell me off — again. Tony Bernstein is executive director of Technion UK ( formerly the British Technion Society)