The hidden hand in the free-Pollard campaign
I got a call on my way out the door on Christmas Eve. It was David Nyer, announcing the latest development in his effort to gain clemency for Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy serving a life sentence at a federal prison. He had been calling or writing me almost every day for weeks about new groups signing on to his campaign.
By day a 25-year-old social worker in a New York health clinic, Nyer has quietly bagged some big names since he went into high gear to free Pollard last summer.
But he scored big time Tuesday when Binyamin Netanyahu finally went public with an appeal to the White House for Pollard’s release, a campaign that Israel's prime ministers had hitherto pressed through intermediaries or in private.
Nyer played a large, and largely unacknowledged, role in moving Netanyahu to speak out.
Nyer launched his campaign with a press release last June. His pace really picked up over the fall, when two top ranking former officials, Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and Michael B. Mukasey, an attorney general under President George W. Bush, wrote open letters to President Obama appealing for Pollard’s release.
“The severity of Pollard's sentence,” Korb wrote, “is a result of an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies in our foreign policy on the part of my boss at the time, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger."
Mukasey’s letter to Obama echoed Korb’s main point that Pollard’s life sentence was “disproportionate to the crime,” a constant theme of the campaign.
In November Nyer was aslo credited with rounding up 39 Democratic members of the House, headlined by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), outgoing chairman of the powerful Financial Services Committee, to call a press conference to ask for Pollard’s release.
Nyer was "relentless," congressional staffers said, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency’s Washington correspondent Ron Kampeas.
Nyer also had "a couple of meetings last summer" with Korb to persuade him go to Jerusalem to meet with members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and to press Netanyahu on Pollard, a source said.
Netanyahu's letter to Obama, which he read to the Knesset Tuesday, conceded that Pollard’s theft of tens of thousands of U.S. military documents in the 1980s was “wrong and unacceptable." But the prime minister argued that “a new request for clemency is highly appropriate.”
“God bless Larry Korb,” said Nyer, who also credited several others with playing key roles in his campaign, singling out Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, and Kenneth Lasson, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Over 500 Jewish leaders and organizations eventually signed up.
Nyer also praised Angelo Codevilla, a former senior staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and John J. Loftus, a former Nazi war crimes prosecutor at Justice Department, for playing important roles in publicizing Pollard’s plight.
A one-man public relations firm in suburban New York, headed by Aaron Troodler, a veteran of state politics in Albany, churned out press releases for every new group’s enlistment in Nyer's campaign.
"David put an extraordinary amount of time into this," said Troodler, 37, who calls his firm Paul Revere Public Relations.
“It’s been pretty exciting...We spearheaded an effort that generated tens of thousands of calls to the White House switchboard.”
Despite all this, the Obama White House has shown no sign of wavering on Pollard's life term, and U.S. intelligence officials remain resolutely opposed his release.
Nyer is undeterred. Asked whether he’d heard anything from the White House as a result of his campaign, Nyer chuckled.
"The president of the United States doesn't give me a call," he said.
Correction: An earlier edition of this story said John J. Loftus also operates a Web site called Debunking Christianity. That site is operated by a John W. Loftus. I regret the confusion.
| January 5, 2011; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Lawandcourts, Politics
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