NEW YORK — The telephone calls come at least once a day to the drab office suite inside an anonymous high-rise building at the edge of Manhattan's garment district. For Bernard Henderson, the man at the receiving end, they are at once intensely personal and strictly business.
The caller is his daughter, Anne Henderson-Pollard, wife of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced a year ago to life imprisonment. She dials each day from a federal prison hospital in Rochester, Minn., where she, too, is serving time--a five-year term for aiding her husband.
As father and daughter speak, a prison tape recorder runs. Government monitors regularly listen in.
Their talks touch on trivial matters--greetings from friends, a cousin's latest art show, the prison's faulty air-conditioning system. But at the heart of every conversation is the difficult business of getting the Pollards out of jail.
Heads Lobbying Effort
Over the last year, Henderson, a veteran New York public relations man whose clients have included Teamsters and motor oil makers, has become the linchpin of a campaign that most seasoned publicity hands would shun. Bolstered by a network of loyalists and aided by prominent civil libertarian brothers Alan and Nathan Dershowitz, Henderson heads a lobbying effort aimed at freeing his daughter and reducing Pollard's prison term.
It is a monumental task. The Pollards' notoriety, their guilty pleas and steadfast allegiance to Israel--coupled with the U.S. government's insistence that spies should be dealt with harshly--have made them remote and unsympathetic figures during a period of escalating public concern about espionage.
But the movement appears to be reviving interest in the Pollard affair, a sensitive issue that vexed American Jews for months after the couple's arrest three years ago. Claiming thousands of petition signatures for the couple's freedom and planning rallies in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities, supporters have made inroads among Orthodox Jews and ardent Zionists. The affair is also provoking renewed discussion among mainstream Jewish leaders, whose worries about questions of loyalty still prompt many to condemn the Pollards for placing Israeli interests above American security.
Pollard supporters portray the couple as American Dreyfuses, victims of vendetta and government-sanctioned anti-Semitism. They allege that Anne Henderson-Pollard, 27, has grown dangerously ill in prison because of poor medical treatment by authorities. Her husband, 32, who is being held in a protective cell at the nation's highest-security prison in Marion, Ill., went on a four-day hunger strike last week to protest her condition.
Health Issue Clouded
Federal officials acknowledge Henderson-Pollard's illness, but describe her treatment as exemplary. The health issue has been clouded by her isolation in the prison hospital where she undergoes weekly tests.
Authorities also dismiss talk of anti-Semitism. But national Jewish leaders are nervous about its use by the Pollards' supporters, fearing the charge is becoming, as one rabbi said, "an automatic response."
After a year of virtual silence, the fact that the American Jewish community is again rehashing the Pollard affair is taken by Bernard Henderson as no small victory. His optimism appears fashioned from a P.R. man's bravado and a father's earnest devotion. But midway through a well-rehearsed recitation of the VIPs he has buttonholed for the cause, his eyes suddenly moisten.
"It's been tough getting people to listen," he said. "Sometimes, you want to just let it all out, but you have to take your emotions and pull back."
Portly and harried, Henderson, 54, wears weariness like a bad suit. His hair has grayed considerably since his daughter's arrest. His eyelids are pouches. He devours Kools, breathing loudly in smoker's gasps. On weekends, he often works the phones and fax machine in his office, sleeping fitfully on an old sofa.
News releases have to get out. Calls must be fielded. He is constantly short copies of "A Spy's Story," the book he wrote last year to vindicate the Pollards and defray their legal expenses. And he must always stay on top of things for his daughter. During calls, she peppers her father with advice, eager for new signs of support.
"We've got the rally tonight," he tells her during one conversation. "I got a letter from another prison friend of yours. . . . Yeah, I'll talk to the attorney. . . . By the way, I was on the radio this morning in Florida. . . ."
Like her father, Anne Henderson-Pollard knows the value of publicity. When she was arrested in the Washington apartment she shared with her husband on Nov. 22, 1985, she was working as a public relations consultant.