On Choosing Between Marc Rich and Jonathan Pollard

Jewish Press - Editorial - February 15, 2001

We are gratified that reports that Elie Wiesel had weighed in on behalf of Marc Rich's effort to secure a pardon turned out to be in error. As Mr. Wiesel told a New York Times reporter, he "didn't do anything," and "didn't speak to anybody in the White House about the matter."

It appears that since November, various lawyers, public relations types and players in the world of philanthropy - seeking the help of someone with moral authority - had tried to induce Wiesel to join in the Rich pardon project, but he steadfastly declined. While the news of his refusal to trade on his renowned public identification with Holocaust or his closeness to President and Mrs. Clinton to go to bat for Mr. Rich is most welcome, the reasons he gave are also instructive.

As The New York Times reports, Wiesel said that from the outset, his intuition told him that since Rich was a fugitive, his chances for a pardon were a long shot. But Wiesel says he was also very much concerned about diverting attention from the person he really wanted to see pardoned - Jonathan Pollard.

"I saw him (Pollard) twice in prison and I condemn what he did. Nevertheless, he suffered enough, and I thought if I did anything else, it would affect Jonathan Pollard," Wiesel said.

Alluding to the strong pitch on Rich's behalf by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Wiesel said that he would have thought that had Mr. Clinton wanted to appease the Israelis, he would have pardoned Pollard and not Rich, given the calls for clemency for Pollard from both Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu at Camp David.

Marc Rich has never been imprisoned and was not in any danger of being imprisoned, despite being indicted for, among other things, illegal trading with enemies of the United States. And because of his vast wealth, being forced to live outside the United States did not result in any hardship. Whereas Jonathan Pollard, after 15 years in prison, continues to languish in solitary confinement under an unprecedented Draconian life sentence for spying for the closest ally of the United States.

As for Mr. Barak, as William Safire, Sidney Zion and others have written, in the end he clearly made the choice of pushing for a pardon for Marc Rich over one for Jonathan Pollard. As Mr. Zion said this week,

"Barak, as the prime minister of Israel, was supposed to do everything in his power to free Jonathan Pollard. Instead, he cashed in his marker for Rich..."

Barak leaves his spy, who informed Israel about Arab intentions to destroy the Jewish state, to languish in prison - while Marc Rich, fugitive from American justice, goes free.

Barak, the man who was allegedly in charge of the Pollard spy operation, did next to nothing to free him, and put all his power in behalf of Marc Rich.

To be sure, money seems to have played a pivotal role in the Rich affair. But in a very real sense, those who, unlike Elie Wiesel, chose to jump on the Rich bandwagon will have to live with their giving short shrift to the plight of Jonathan Pollard.
See Also:
  • The Clemency Page
  • We Should Be Ashamed of Ourselves:
  • The Hypocrisy Of Joseph diGenova
  • Israel's Role in Pardon Sparks Capital Feuding
  • Friends in High Places: Marc Rich's Jewish Fans