I Cry For My Brother Jonathan

Rabbi Simcha A. Green - The Jewish Press (NY) - June 7, 2002

Another Yom Tov has passed during which Jonathan Pollard spent his time in federal prison. His hope for a quick release remains in the signature hand of President Bush.

In this column, I wish to speak of one of the main reasons the please and requests for presidential compassion remain unanswered.

I preface my remarks by saying that Senator Joseph Lieberman is a beloved friend of mine. I respect and give honor to the way he has conducted himself as an observant Jew in the halls of the Senate. He was my student in his teenage years, and I had a small role in bringing him alone the path to full observance. I have been in his house and that of his parents. The Lieberman family remains today as a fine example to our Jewish youngsters seeking to regain their tradition.

For 15 years, Senator Joe and I have been on opposite sides of the Pollard question. He has expressed, in strong language, that Jonathan's crime deserves no "understanding," and has told me that he feels a life sentence without parole is just. And he has not been shy in publicizing his position.

I have been unable to move him from that position all these years. I respectfully feel that he is totally wrong - but I respect his right to hold his opinion. What I cannot accept is his refusal to join with all the other Jewish leaders who have now spoken out and said that after 15 years Jonathan has paid the price for his crime. His punishment has been greater than that received by anyone else for similar crimes.

Senator Lieberman has been taken to task several times by this newspaper, and he has remained unmoved. For that I say to him, "Shame on you, my friend."

You might recall that during her Senate campaign, Hillary Clinton noted the position of Senator Lieberman and said that she would be guided in her "decision" by Senator Lieberman's statements. We can easily imagine how her husband was similarly swayed on his last day in office.

But I am even more concerned that every major Jewish organization to which I have spoken in the past several years has turned down my request to them. Each of these major Jewish organizations claims that "they are doing everything possible" to secure Jonathan's release. My simple request has been that they ask their constituents (in some cases members of their rabbinical organizations, in other cases lay members of their groups) to write a personal letter to Senator Lieberman encouraging him to speak out in favor of rachmanut and to suggest that a presidential commutation of the life sentence would be the proper thing.

If the senator were to receive hundreds of such letters, I can't believe that he would not be moved.

Surprise! Not one of these major Jewish organizations has agreed to make that proposal to their constituents. And they have all given me the same answer. I will tell you what that answer, but I suggest that you sit down first.

They have all rejected my request because they are convinced it wouldn't help - the senator cannot be moved to change his position.

So, my brother Jonathan, you remain in prison because all those who are helping "to secure your release" don't think that they "carry enough weight" with Senator Joe.

I conclude by asking: Who is to be blamed more? Senator Joe or the major Jewish organizations? And while we debate that question, Jonathan Pollard sits in prison.