A Visit With Jonathan Pollard

President's Letter to Officers of the OU



333 SEVENTH AVENUE - NEW YORK-NY 10001 - (212) 503-4000-FAX (212) 564-9058

Office of the President

September 23, 1993

Dear Fellow Officer:

On the Monday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Raphael Butler, our National Director, and I visited with Jonathan Pollard at the Federal Penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina. Our visit with Jonathan was in conjunction with the Orthodox Union's massive petition drive urging President Clinton to commute his sentence to time served.

Jonathan Pollard turned out to be much different than I expected. Rather than the gaunt, sullen figure depicted in his photographs, in real life he is most positive, with very few traces of bitterness. He expressed a tremendous sense of gratitude towards those who are helping his cause, particularly the grass roots support that has been mushrooming around the country. His resilience after nearly seven years of solitary confinement is truly astonishing. He appears physically fit, and is animated and effusive in his conversation. Clearly, eight years of incarceration m may have imprisoned the man but not this indomitable spirit and active, agile intellect.

The discussions during our four hour meeting covered a full range from the activities which led to his arrest, the conditions of his imprisonment in three federal institutions, the "case" for his release, and his hopes to return to a normal life.

Jonathan does not regard himself, nor does he wish to be regarded, as a "hero". He openly acknowledges that his spying on behalf of the State of Israel, however well-motivated he thought it was at that time, was a mistake for which he deserved to be punished. The lesson which he learned and the message he wishes to convey, particularly to young people, is that they simply cannot do what they think is the right thing, if it is legally wrong.

He is completely aware of the many activities being conducted to secure his release. He feels that legal, humanitarian and political considerations should be taken into account. The legal grounds are based upon the disproportionate sentence that Pollard has received compared to others sentenced for comparable espionage offenses. Except for Pollard, only those who have spied for hostile nations have received life sentences. No other individual disclosing information to a friendly nation, such as Israel, has received such a harsh sentence. Jonathan pointed out that while he was indicted for aiding an ally, his sentence is what is ordinarily meted out for dealing with a hostile power. He stressed that he was not accused of attempting to harm, or actually having harmed the United States. The country (Israel) to which he gave information was an ally and did not pose a danger to the national security of the United States. He rejected the rumors that he had "compromised' any United States agents, emphasizing that his indictment contained no hint of any such charge.

In spelling out the humanitarian grounds compelling his release, Jonathan noted that there is "no justice without mercy." He does not accept the "myth" of Jonathan Pollard. He does not ask for exoneration, but for a measure of justice. He mentioned his destroyed marriage, the broken health of his former wife and the terrible toll taken on the life of his parents and sister. He reminded us that he was originally incarcerated in a psychiatric facility in Springfield among prisoners in the final stages of mens dementia; many of them suicidal. That experience so numbed him, that after ten months he could witness a suicide without any emotional reaction. After the government acknowledged that he was placed in Springfield for "security" and not psychiatric treatment, Congressman Lee Hamilton was able to secure his transfer to Marion, Illinois, where he was placed in solitary confinement for over six years. His transfer in July of this year to Butner, where he lives in a forty-person dormitory, was a radical change which affected, and still affects him quite seriously. While in isolation in Marion, he had time to think, read and write. In Butner, he works daily from 7:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., as (to use his words) a "Schneider" (cutter), lifting bales and cutting fabric for navy uniforms. He is so exhausted at the end of his working day that he is fortunate if he can get through reading one newspaper. He finds himself surrounded by convicted child molesters, drug addicts, rapists, mental patients, and most threatening, informants. "Marion", he said, "was a test of his physical endurance. Butner is a threat to my spirit."

The political basis for his release lies in the fact that events have overtaken any harm that his spying may have caused. He referred to the New York Daily News editorial of September 18, 1993 which stated: "The information he gave Israel dealt with the military might of Iraq and Syria. The disclosure did not hurt the U.S. but did help Israel prepare for possible gas attacks from Saddam's SCUDS during the Gulf War." The editorial further stated that "The Mideast peace breakthrough gives the case a special resonance. " [I]f Arafat can shake hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White house lawn and be toasted in Washington, certainly Jonathan Pollard deserves freedom."

A large block of our time was spent speaking about the future in the event of his release. Jonathan looks forward to returning to his people, his religion and his land. He hopes to raise a family, make aliyah and "build the land." He has come to appreciate the meaning of the word bitachon. "If released, I will do three things: thank God, thank the people who made sacrifices to help me, and encourage young people to make aliyah and be observant." He hopes to create a life which will bring honor to those who worked for his release.

Jonathan sincerely dreams to become a "simple observant baale habus - not a guy who has made a big splash." His kippah srugah is a permanent fixture. Securing kosher food on a regular basis is somewhat problematic. He spent Rosh Hashanah with his talis and Art Scroll machzor praying alone on the playing fields of Butner. On Yom Kippur he will undoubtedly be a lonely penitent.

Somehow, four hours did not seem enough. When we left Jonathan we were emotionally drained but buoyed by his positive attitude and optimism. Rabbi Butler and I stood outside the prison walls and davened mincha with Jonathan very much in our prayers. Together we recited avenu malkeinu. At that moment our davening took on a special, poignant meaning.

When we had asked, "How can we help you, Jonathan?" his response indicated that he knew of our petition campaign and was encouraged by it. He urged us to join the momentum that appears to be building in support of his release and particularly to call upon individual United States Senators to take up his cause directly with the President. He was encourage by Illinois Senator Moseley-Braun's letter of August 13 to the President and recent personal letters by Abraham Foxman and Melvin Salberg, national Director and President of ADL, respectively.

Jonathan Pollard has admitted his guilt, expressed his remorse and urgently desires to return to his people and his religion. It is incumbent on us to urge the President to exercise, particularly at this season, the divine-like attribute tempering din with rachamim - and deal with merciful compassion towards Jonathan. I urge you to participate in that process and personally join, and enlist your synagogue's participation in the Orthodox Union's campaign to secure Jonathan Pollard's release. In that zchuss (merit) may he and we merit a piska tovah for the year to come.


Sheldon Rudoff