On Clemency for Pollard

Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz - The Jewish Week [NY] - March 18, 1993

Over the past few years there has been a groundswell of opinion on behalf of Jonathan Pollard's commutation. Group after group, organization after organization, in addition to thousands of individuals - rabbis and lay - have taken a stand that Pollard's sentence should be commuted.

But by a vote of 162 to 147 with 41 abstentions at the recent National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council convention (Feb. 26-March 4), the message has reached the White House that Pollard is not a priority for the Jewish community. This misrepresentation of the true sentiments of the vast majority of Jews will cost Pollard dearly.

Equally shocking were the canards leveled by the executive director of a major Jewish organization against pro-Pollard "activists." I am not sure what is meant by a Pollard activist. If one who cares deeply about a fellow Jew, considers the sentence to be unduly harsh and has visited him in prison - if these categorize one as a Pollard activist, then I proudly stand guilty together with Elie Wiesel, Seynour Reich and countless others. What a sham to vote against helping Pollard because the sensitivities of an executive director have been slighted.

Douglas Kahn of San Francisco, who spoke in favor of commutation, nevertheless "strongly disassociated himself from the Pollard activists who often justify the spy's actions." Never once did any one of us hear anyone justify his espionage activities. To allege otherwise is libelous.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, apparently thinks that "there are others who received similar sentences for similar crimes." That is just the point: No one else received a life sentence for a similar crime. Rabbi Yoffie reminds us that Pollard becomes eligible for parole in 1995, "which is very shortly." I suggest that 1995 is "very shortly" for Rabbi Yoffie and not for Jonathan Pollard, confined 23 hours a day in a cell freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer.

The banal suggestion by David Luchins, a vice president of the Orthodox Union, that too much time has been spent on the Pollard issue rather than on Jewish education, inter-marriage and other issues "more pressing for Jewish survival" is Jewishly untenable. Is he not aware of the talmudic dictum, "He who saves one soul is as if he has saved the entire world"?

While NJCRAC voted not to help Pollard, it did vote to support further funding for Head Start, increasing the earned income credit and expanding women's and children's programs. What happened to "Jewish" in the title of this organization?

Could it be that the "establishment" (those who oppose us activists) is still worried about our image as Jews and terrified about accusations of dual loyalty? In 1993 I would expect a little bit more Jewish pride from our Jewish leaders.