Jonathan Pollard collapses in jail, rushed to hospital

JERUSALEM — Convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard is undergoing observation in a hospital after collapsing in his jail cell. Pollard collapsed Saturday at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, N.C., after complaining of being in serious pain for several weeks.

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He is receiving strong pain management medication, the Committee to Bring Jonathan Pollard Home told JTA in a statement. Doctors are set to hold more consultations and decide on further medical intervention, the statement said.

The committee said that Pollard’s wife, Esther, has been receiving updates about her husband’s condition. She and the committee have called on people to pray for his recovery. Pollard has suffered from a variety of illnesses since being imprisoned for life in 1986 after accepting a plea bargain for spying for Israel while working as a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy.

Esther Pollard recently asked President Obama to grant clemency for her husband, since U.S presidents often grant clemency requests from Thanksgiving through the winter holidays.

The calls to release Pollard have intensified in recent months, with pleas from lawmakers and former top officials of both U.S. political parties.

U.S. Army to build large security complex near Tel Aviv

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is preparing to supervise the construction of an underground military complex near Tel Aviv.

The five-story complex, dubbed “Site 911,” is expected to take more than two years to build and will cost up to $100 million, according to a Nov. 29 report in the Washington Post. The complex, which will have extremely tight security, will be situated inside an Israeli Air Force base.

The construction of the facility, to be supervised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will have classrooms, an auditorium, a laboratory, shock-resistant doors and protection from non-ionizing radiation. 

Only U.S. construction firms are allowed to bid on the contract and proposals are due by Dec. 3, according to the paper, which quoted the latest Corps of Engineers notice.

Within the past two years the Corps, which has three offices in Israel, completed a $30 million set of hangars at the IAF Nevatim base, the paper reported.

Site 911, which will be built at another base, appears to be one of the largest projects undertaken by the Corps in Israel. Each of the first three underground floors is to be roughly 41,000 square feet, according to the Corps notice.

The lower two floors are much smaller and hold equipment.

Obama administration pledges more funding for Iron Dome

The Obama administration will seek additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile program in the wake of its successes in the most recent Israel-Hamas war.

“This spring, we announced that we would provide $70 million in fiscal 2012 on top of the $205 million previously appropriated to meet Israel’s needs for that fiscal year,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a Pentagon news conference Nov. 29 with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak. “And we will obviously continue to work together to seek additional funding to enable Israel to boost Iron Dome’s capacity further and to help prevent the kind of escalation and violence that we’ve seen.”

Panetta said Iron Dome intercepted 400 rockets during the eight day war, an 85 percent success rate. 

On Nov. 29, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that urges the administration to assess any further Israeli need for additional Iron Dome batteries. 

Panetta presented Barak, who is retiring, with the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor — one traditionally given to U.S. presidents when they leave office — the Distinguished Public Servant Award.

Panetta also presented Barak with a signed photo of the two men at an Iron Dome battery in Israel, in August. Barak, in turn, presented Panetta with a model of an Iron Dome missile.

Barak is widely admired within the Pentagon establishment, and has been seen especially during his most recent tenure as defense minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as the best address for U.S. pleas to Israel for restraint. 

Many of the recent U.S. overtures calling on Israel to keep from striking Iran in a bid to head off its suspected nuclear program were made in representations to Barak.

The news conference, however, suggested that some fissures between the countries persist, particularly regarding Iran and Syria policy.

Panetta said he and Barak had discussed Iran and suggested that Barak agreed with the U.S. assessment that “there is time and space for an effort to try to achieve a diplomatic solution.”

Such a solution, Panetta continued, “remains, I believe, the preferred outcome for both the United States and for Israel,” Panetta said. “After all, Minister Barak is a battle-hardened warrior.  And like so many great military leaders, he is fundamentally a man of peace, because he’s seen war firsthand.  He recognizes that we must take every possible step to try to avoid war.” 

Barak did not address Iran in his prepared remarks, but, pressed by reporters, implied skepticism of the Obama administration’s diplomatic gambits. 

“Sanctions are working, and they’re more helping than anything I remember in the past, vis-a-vis Iran,” Barak said.  “But I don’t believe that this kind of sanctions will bring the ayatollahs into a moment of truth, where they sit around the table and look at each other’s eyes and decide that the game is over, they cannot stand it anymore, they’re going to give up their nuclear intention.  I don’t see it happening.”

Instead, Barak said, Iran would have to be “coerced” into ending the program, which he predicted would happen in 2013.

Barak also offered an implied critique of how the Obama administration was handling the civil war in Syria and the Assad regime’s brutal response.

“It’s criminal behavior on a global scale, what he’s doing to his own people, using jet fighters and helicopters and artillery and tanks, killing his own people,” Barak said.  “The whole world is watching.  And somehow, it’s not easy to mobilize enough sense of purpose and unity of action and political will to translate the — our feelings about what happens there into action to stop it.  And that’s one of the lessons I have took from the last few years in the Middle East.”

U.S. extradites alleged Jewish day school sex abuser to Australia

SYDNEY — A former teacher at a Jewish boys’ school in Melbourne was returned to Australia to face sexual abuse charges.  David Kramer, 52, was surrendered by U.S. authorities on Nov. 29 and extradited to Australia. He is accused of sexually abusing children at Yeshivah College, a Chabad-run school where he worked as a teacher from 1989 to 1992.

Kramer is scheduled to appear in court on Monday to face 10 counts of indecent assault on minors and two counts of indecent acts with a child under 16, a Victoria Police statement said.

The chairman of the College Board at the time, Harry Cooper, confirmed to The Australian newspaper last year that the Yeshivah Center, which houses the Chabad headquarters in Melbourne, sent Kramer to Israel without reporting him to police soon after the allegations emerged against him.

Kramer later went to America, where he was convicted and sentenced in 2008 to seven years in jail for sodomizing a 12-year-old boy in St. Louis.

Earlier this year, the Yeshivah Center “unreservedly” apologized to the victims for any “historical wrongs.” Last week, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry met the center’s leaders and received a “comprehensive briefing” about Yeshivah College’s policies, processes and programs to prevent abuse and ensure allegations are reported to authorities.