Purim Plea for Pollard

Yisrael Medad - The Jerusalem Post - March 4, 1993

Exactly six years ago, on March 4, 1987, Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to W in the US District Court in Washington, D.C., by Judge Aubrey Robinson. Despite a plea agreement with the prosecution, the judge meted out the most severe sentence ever in a case where an American citizen admitted to acting on behalf of an American ally.

Pollard was found guilty on one count of delivering classified information to a foreign government. Nevertheless, US government officials colored his activities to such an extent that the impression was conveyed to the media, the public and the sentencing judge (via Caspar Weinberger's notorious memorandum on the day prior to sentencing) that a venal traitor was in the dock. In addition, Weinberger, who was recently pardoned by former president George Bush for his Iran-Contra involvement, recommended to Judge Robinson that Pollard never be paroled.

Arrested on November 21, 1985, Pollard had been an active intelligence agent for Israel for a period of 18 months. He is now in his eighth year behind bars; he has spent the last five and a half of them in solitary, 23-hour confinement. For almost a year, he was imprisoned in a ward for the criminally insane. The first month there he was kept stripped naked.

I visited with Jonathan for three hours last year in the Marion Penitentiary, a maximum security facility. He is on a non-meat diet, because the prison authorities cannot properly provide kosher meals fit to eat. His telephone privileges are curtailed and limited. His cell, three floors down and windowless, has overflowed with sewage on more than one occasion, posing the additional dangers of HIV contamination, to say nothing of the accompanying physical discomfort.

In comparison, Abdelkader Helmy, an Egyptian-born US naturalized citizen convicted of illegally exporting material used in the Stealth airplane for Iraqi aircraft missiles and rockets, received 46 months and was deported before the end of his jail term. Clayton Lonetree, convicted on 13 counts of espionage for the KGB, was sentenced to 30 years, but his sentence was set aside on appeal after five years. Sharon Scrange revealed the names of CIA operatives to a Ghanaian agent, and was jailed for two years.

Pollard only went to the courts to reverse his sentencing and to vacate his plea-bargain after his wife was released. Indeed, Anne was the only spouse of a convicted agent ever to be jailed on the minor charge of an after-the-fact accessory to the possession of security-related documents.

The Federal Appellate Court, in a majority decision, rejected Pollard's arguments that the government had acted unfairly and broken faith with him even while terming his sentence "harsh." The dissenting judge, the sole non-Jew, gave vent to his emotions and claimed there had been a "fundamental miscarriage of justice." Referring to the government's behavior, Judge Williams quoted Shakespeare's lines in Macbeth: "Be these juggling fiends no more believed ... that keep the word of promise to our ear, and break it to our hope."

Undoubtedly, a major factor in keeping Pollard behind bars and, indeed, originally facilitating the US government's vicious prosecution, was and is the response of the organized American Jewish community.

The refusal of high-profile groups such as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress to act on Pollard's behalf, claiming the issue is not a Jewish one, is difficult to grasp. Morally speaking, it is probably the most callous decision of non-intervention made in the last 50 years.

In contradistinction, last December, almost 700 Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist American and Canadian rabbis published a plea for the commutation of Pollard's sentence. Other major groups such as the B'nai B'rith, Hadassah and the WJC have joined the campaign for Pollard's release to time served.

The US Supreme Court's rejection of Pollard's appeal has stirred the hearts of formerly indifferent men and women. It is notable that outstanding Christians - clergy, nuns and laymen - have been in the forefront in the Pollard campaign for years.

One more front must be addressed. Just days prior to his leaving office, Yitzhak Shamir signed a letter to president Bush asking that Pollard be pardoned. This was a major turnabout in the Israel government's behavior.

Pollard filed for Israeli citizenship years ago, but official instructions were that the request be denied. Israeli consular officials were not to get involved. Support was limited to other behind-the-scenes efforts involving, to their anonymous credit, some of the highest officials in government.

The time has come, however, for Prime Minister Rabin, who is not unfamiliar with the case, to appeal directly and unequivocally to President Clinton, requesting that he commute Pollard's sentence. Such a humanitarian act by the new president - who during the election campaign promised to review the case - would be very fitting.

Even the villain of the piece, defense secretary Weinberger, has made it known that he feels Pollard, if released, would no longer present a security risk. A commutation could be achieved if the Israeli government openly made known its desire that Pollard be freed.

Jonathan Pollard sacrificed himself. He acted in the perceived spirit of the 1983 Executive Agreement signed by president Ronald Reagan, which was to assure Israel's survival. He revealed to Israel data on Syrian and Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear buildup. He was privy to Weinberger's reports to the Saudis on US defense systems sold to Israel and other covert operations inimical to Israel. He disturbed an FBI operation called SCOPE, revealed in the Wall Street Journal on January 17, 1992, to maintain surveillance on Jews in government service.

Purim tells the story of Jewish pride and the intervention of leadership (Esther and Mordecai). How fitting it would be were the campaign to free Pollard to move into a different phase - one of responsible public protest, firm diplomatic demands and wide-ranging pressure. Jonathan Pollard deserves that support in so many ways.

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