Hamodia Interview with Rabbi Pesach Lerner
National Council of Young Israel Advocates For Jonathan Pollard
T. Silber - Hamodia - September 5, 2007
Many people associate the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) with Jonathan Pollard. Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, based in New York City but representing shuls and communities throughout North America, has undertaken a campaign to inform and educate the Jewish community in America and in Israel about the plight of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who spied for Israel. Although the normal punishment for spying for an ally is a 4-6 year prison term, Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence. Hamodia thanks Rabbi Lerner for this important interview.
How did you first get involved with Pollard's plight?
I joined the National Council of Young Israel in October 1991. In order to service the needs of our 150 member shuls, I decided that it was important for me to personally visit each of them, to introduce myself, and get to know them and their needs.
I heard that the Young Israel of Manhattan, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, was having a special program about Jonathan Pollard. I had heard the basic story about the Pollard case and decided that this event would give me a chance to visit the Young Israel branch and to learn more about the Pollard cause.
I listened to the speaker and walked away with many questions. I began researching the story of a Jew in prison because he spied for Israel, and the more I researched, the more questions I had. I inquired of my rabbinic mentors and they told me that if I felt there was an issue of a Jew in trouble, of a mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim, then I should do what I could to help.
In May 1993, I was invited to speak to a group of alumni of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Queens, NY, who were in the field of rabbanus. That talk gave birth to the idea of using the plight of Jonathan Pollard, through which these rabbanim could direct their discussion to the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim, concern for another Jew, etc. From that program, a kol korei, a declaration in support of Jonathan Pollard, was signed by about 30 Roshei Yeshivah, Chassidic Rebbes and Gedolei Yisrael.
That kol korei, and the discussions I had privately with many of the signers on that document, gave me the halachic mandate and obligation to get more involved, stay involved, and get others involved.
Since that time, many additional Gedolei Yisrael have stated publicly, and to me privately, that the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim demands that Klal Yisrael to do everything we can to have Pollard released.
In addition, I have spoken to many individuals, in Washington, D.C., and in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, about the Pollard case. And the more questions I ask, the more research I do, the more I am motivated to help Jonathan.
Yes, Jonathan committed a crime, he admits that. Jonathan is quite remorseful for his actions. The issue here is the life sentence. A life sentence has never been given to anyone spying for an ally, a friendly country, except to Jonathan Pollard, a Jew caught spying for Israel. And, today, there are so many others calling for his release.
According to James Woolsey, who reviewed the entire classified Pollard file as former director of the CIA under President Clinton, Pollard has served a long sentence and he favors releasing him. Woolsey said "now that he has served 20 years of a prison sentence, my view is that a 20 year sentence is enough, and I think the close relationship between the United States and Israel as fellow democracies is also a consideration."
In reference to Pollard's life sentence, Federal Judge Stephen Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared "the government's breach of the plea agreement was a fundamental miscarriage of justice"
Rudolph Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City and a former federal prosecutor, has said that "given comparative sentences, [Jonathan Pollard's] sentence - this I happen to know because I have seen the documents - is way beyond the sentences served by other people that have been convicted of the same offense."
Dennis DeConcini, U.S. Senator (Arizona, retired) and former chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (responsible for overseeing federal intelligence activities) during the time Pollard was arrested, agrees that Pollard should be released, and has written, "I am convinced that Mr. Pollard has expressed the appropriate remorse and served adequate time."
In a letter to the President, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wrote, "...while they represent a broad spectrum of views, the fifty-four member organizations unanimously authorized us to communicate this appeal that you grant clemency to Mr. Pollard ... Mr. Pollard has paid for his crime."
When was the last time you saw him? How is he holding up?
I have visited Jonathan three times within the last month. First, with NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Dr. Joseph Geliebter, whose foundation has been sponsoring the ads asking the community to call the White House, daily, to ask the president to release Pollard. Second, with a non-Jewish clergyman, to encourage him to get involved. And most recently, with another important individual, to introduce him to Jonathan Pollard.
Jonathan has numerous serious illnesses, and his medications often counteract one another. He has issues of diabetes, and has a limited diet as it is, because he is keeping kosher under difficult conditions. However, under the circumstances, he is holding up well. Jonathan is a man of unbelievable emunah and bitachon, faith and trust in G-d. He is not bitter or angry. He is very bright and, to the best of his ability, upbeat.
Each time I visit him, either by myself or with others, I come away impressed how, after 21 years in prison, many of those in a most difficult situation, he can be so well adjusted, believing, and a pleasure to be around. He is a very special person.
How often does he have visitors, phone calls?
Jonathan is allowed a limited number of visitors each month, and just 300 minutes of monthly phone time. His visitors are most often individuals involved in his campaign, and individuals he wants to get involved in his efforts to be freed. He does not have the koach or interest for social visits. He uses all of his 300 monthly minutes, which works out to 10 minutes each day, to speak to his wife, Esther, who is currently in Jerusalem, coordinating all international activities and initiatives for his release.
Are there any legal venues left?
Why hasn't he applied for parole?
The suggestion that Pollard is eligible for parole is correct, but the implication that there is a possibility that he would receive parole is totally incorrect. The law enforcement and intelligence agency officials who have been given the opportunity to express themselves on the subject have indicated that they would oppose parole. Immediately following sentencing, the U.S. Attorney vowed that Mr. Pollard would "never see the light of day." Parole is a virtual impossibility under those circumstances.
Every legal expert the Pollard camp has spoken to - and there have been many - told them that the parole board would reject Jonathan's request out of hand. However, a greater risk in the rejection of a parole request could be a 15-year "set aside," which means that not only will parole be denied but, also, the case cannot be revisited for another 15 years. That "set aside" would be catastrophic for any clemency request to be made within that time period. In short, a parole request is absolutely the wrong avenue to follow.
Who are his attorneys, and are you satisfied with their work?
I wish to assure your readers that Jonathan's pro-bono Orthodox attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP, have done and continue to do everything that can be done, within the legal field, to gain Jonathan's freedom. They are outstanding professionals, stymied only by a judicial system that is strongly biased against Jonathan.
Does Jonathan appreciate letters?
I believe he does, but it is impossible for him to respond to them. Therefore, when he receives them, he feels badly about not answering them. [See *J4JP Clarification Re: Mail for Jonathan Pollard below.] Jonathan is very bright, so the letters need to have serious content.
Has the present Israeli government done anything on his behalf?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Do letters/phone calls to President Bush really make a difference?
We believe the phone calls and letters are being noticed. The Pollard Call-In Campaign spearheaded by the National Council of Young Israel last spring put Pollard on the agenda in the White House. His name now appears on the list of issues that all the White House phone operators are given to check off the number of calls instead of writing in the subject matter.
For the first time, the White House is responding, albeit with a form letter, to everyone who writes to the president about Jonathan Pollard. Recently, in early August, I met with individuals who work in the White House, and they told me that the campaign has been noticed. It is important that the president and his staff realize that Jonathan Pollard is important to the Jewish community.
Currently, we are coordinating many activities behind the scenes with the goal of finding the right person or persons to present directly to the president the correct packet of information and documents that will encourage him to free Pollard. The calls and letters to the White House are very important.
Any final message for our readers?
The community must be mitpallel for Yehonatan ben Malka, call the White House daily at 202-456-1111, ask their shul rabbis to discuss Jonathan, educate themselves about the case, and educate their state and federal officials about Pollard. We must do all of this until Pollard is released.
We must all continue to pray for the release of Yehonatan ben Malka, and with G-d's help, we will soon merit to have our prayers answered.
*Justice4JP Clarification RE: Mail for Jonathan Pollard
1) INGOING MAIL FOR JONATHAN:
Jonathan Pollard derives great pleasure and comfort from the letters he receives. It is recommended to write in English. Letters that arrive in Hebrew are shown to him very briefly and then destroyed. Jonathan receives all of his in-going mail, provided that it is correctly addressed, and that the envelope does not contain anything but a letter. Jonathan's address is:
Jonathan Pollard #09185-016
c/o FCI Butner
P.O. Box 1000
2) OUTGOING MAIL FROM JONATHAN:
Please be aware that Jonathan is not able to respond to letters he receives. All of his out-going mail is sent to Washington for scrutiny. In theory, his mail is supposed to be reviewed for content in Washington and then forwarded on to the addressee. In practice, Jonathan's out-going mail is deliberately lost, destroyed, or delayed by Washington for so long as to be irrelevant. This only occurs with mail that Jonathan sends out. As a rule, Jonathan receives all of the mail that is sent to him. Please do write!