In Morris Pollard's eyes, there are no lost causes - not the cancer and exotic diseases he has fought as a scientist, and certainly not the crusade that consumes him as a father: freedom for his son, a spy.

Jonathan Jay Pollard sold Israel top-secret documents and that, his father says, was a terrible blunder, a misguided scheme and a crime that should be punished - but not with life in prison.The Pollards have been spreading that word for four years. Now, in the wake of the gulf war, the old message is winning new support.

The campaign to free the man who passed on classified data about Iraq and other Arab states has gained momentum, stirred debate and revived emotional questions in two nations.

A major Jewish organization recently called for Pollard's freedom. A group of rabbis is lending legal support. A top Israeli leader has publicly vowed that Pollard won't be forgotten. And celebrated lawyer Alan Dershowitz is lobbying Jewish groups to rally around his client.

"In the early days of this case, most Jews didn't want to talk to us about this," said the elder Pollard, a cancer researcher and professor emeritus at Notre Dame University. "Now, we're honored. Suddenly, there's a turnaround and they're all jumping on the bandwagon saying, `Well, we were always in favor of you, but we really didn't know what to do.' "

"People are not asking his motivation anymore. They're saying `What can I do?' " said Carol Pollard, who quit her hospital administrator's job in Connecticut to devote full time to her brother's cause.

Supporters argue the time is right: Embarrassment and U.S.-Israeli tensions created by the incident have faded. Pollard has been behind bars 51/2 years, and the war, while not exonerating him, makes him appear less mercenary because he warned the Jewish state about Iraq's chemical threat.

"What the war did is to make people understand his motives. If they do not agree with him, people perhaps understand what motivated him to do what he did," said Jacob Davidson, a board member of the World Jewish Congress, whose American branch - representing 38 national groups - has called for commutation of Pollard's sentence.

That April resolution, which calls the sentence excessive, "was a very important and watershed statement," said Elan Steinberg, the group's executive director. "It's the first time mainstream Jewish organized life has asked for commutation."

Pollard, 36, a former Navy civilian intelligence analyst who pleaded guilty to espionage in 1987, sold Israel hundreds of secrets, including information about Iraq's biological and chemical capabilities.

He also allegedly provided details about Soviet weapons shipments to Arab states, spy satellite photos, military documents about Iran, Syria and Libya, and information about suspected planned Palestine Liberation Organization attacks.

Israel, while calling for Pollard's pardon, has maintained he was recruited by renegade intelligence agents.

Pollard, meanwhile, has argued that his behavior, while mistaken, was guided by fears the United States was denying Israel critical defense information.

Pollard's former wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard, was released from prison last year. Pollard, who declined to be interviewed, is in the federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill., in a unit where his neighbor is convicted spy John Walker.

Pollard's advocates argue that unlike Walker or others who sold secrets to the Soviets, he gave information to an ally - and in such cases, or those involving neutral nations, prison terms have ranged from two to four years.

"This sentence is both unjust in terms of Pollard and a slap in the face to Israel," Dershowitz said.

"When you consider this against other espionage sentences . . . we smell a whiff of not only anti-Israel behavior, but maybe a little anti-Semitism as well," said Rabbi Joseph Glaser, of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which will join a legal brief on Pollard's behalf.

Former U.S. Attorney Joseph di-Genova scoffs at that charge. "He wants to be treated differently because he spied for an ally," diGen-ova said. "The law doesn't provide for that kind of special treatment."

"The guy pleaded guilty," he added. "It's easy to forget that."

That, too, is a subject of dispute. Pollard's attorneys, in a long-shot move, will ask an appeals court this fall to allow him to withdraw that plea and stand trial.

Attorney Hamilton Fox III claims the government sandbagged Pollard by inducing him to plead guilty by promising not to seek a life sentence, then "without ever uttering the words, it conveyed that message to the judge in every possible way."

"He cooperated thoroughly and then the government used the information to condemn him," the elder Pollard said. "They had him dig a hole and then they buried him in it."

"What is happening to Jonathan," he said, "is a form of cancer as far as the legal system is concerned."

Fox also is seeking access to former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's classified assessment of security damage that was believed pivotal in the sentencing. The attorney says he suspects that document is inaccurate and depicts "a much bleaker picture than reality."

DiGenova rejects both charges. He says the government lived up to its promise to seek a substantial sentence and that Pollard knew the judge wasn't bound by that recommendation.

As for claims of exaggerated damage, he notes Israel was given 360 cubic feet of documents.

"You think you give away that much stuff and there's no damage?" he asked. "Tremendous damage was done."

A Defense Department analysis indicated "this was one of the worst compromises in U.S. espionage history," diGenova said.

DiGenova said he doesn't anticipate any change in Pollard's sentence, a new trial or a third option - executive clemency from the president.