One of the most painful moments in Israel’s recent history is the subject of the latest stage hit in Tel Aviv.
“Pollard,” which has drawn thousands since it opened Feb. 4, condemns what is portrayed as Israel’s abandonment of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.
It presents Pollard as a passionate Zionist torn by dual loyalties and examines tensions between Israeli and American Jews over whose community is the true spiritual center of Judaism.
After each performance, audience members rush to the lobby to sign a petition asking President Clinton to pardon Pollard - a move considered and rejected last year.
Playwright Motti Lerner said “Pollard” was not meant as an accurate reenactment of history, but as a way to explore such questions as “Who is the American Jew? What is his relationship to Israel?”
But in the Maariv daily, critic Gal Ohovsky blasted the play as “sensationalism … by cynical people who decided to use the theater to make money quick and easy.”
Pollard, 40, admitted to selling Israel thousands of secrets from 1984 until his arrest in November 1985. Anne Pollard, 34, served five years for helping him and immigrated to Israel in 1991, a year after their divorce.
Despite Israel’s claims it was an unauthorized rogue operation, the Pollard affair strained relations between Israel and its key ally. Senior statesman Abba Eban termed it “the most difficult moment in the history of Israel’s international relations.”
At least two participants - Anne Pollard and Pollard handler Col. Aviem Sella - threatened to sue the Cameri Theater over their portrayal, said theater spokesman Ilan Sheinfeld.
Sella, whose character is now referred to merely as The Colonel, has been quoted as saying he believed the play would only harm Pollard’s chances of parole when his case is reviewed in November.
Sheinfeld dismissed the criticism, saying the play has helped revive public interest in the Pollard case.
Anne Pollard, whose character comes across as hysterical and greedy, said she withdrew the threat after deciding the play might help her ex-husband.
In English and halting Hebrew, she participates in panel discussions after each performance, exhorting the audience to sign the petition.