Clemency For Pollard

Editorial - The Jewish Week [NY] - November 19, 1993

When Yitzchak Rabin asked President Bill Clinton last week to reduce Jonathan Pollard's life sentence, the Israeli prime minister was reacting, at least in part, to an unprecedented outpouring of popular support, both in the U.S. and Israel, for the convicted intelligence agent.

The New York Times' assertion that "some American Jewish groups have taken up his casein a largely intramural debate" underestimates the fact that a large and diverse cross-section of groups and individuals from around the world have protested the harshness of Pollard's sentence.

The facts are that in 1985 he was condemned to life in prison, with a recommendation against parole, for having passed classified information to Israel, America's chief ally in the Mideast. He has served eight of the last nine years in solitary confinement. No one else ever convicted of the same crime has been dealt with as harshly; the average sentence for a similar offense is four years.

None of this had anything to do with an intramural debate in the Jewish community. Much to the contrary, virtually all the major Jewish organizations have called for clemency. The best-known two that have not - the Anti-Defamation League and the National Jewish Community Relations Council - have been taken to task by their own rank-and-file.

There is no doubt that Pollard broke the law and deserved punishment. But it is equally clear that his sentence was undeservedly harsh. For example, just last month Clayton Lonetree, the army sergeant convicted in 1987 on 13 counts of espionage for the Soviet Union and sentenced to 25 years in prison, was freed.

Pollard, by contrast, was never accused of intending to harm the U.S. Nor was he ever charged with treason, except in a scurrilous memorandum by then-Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, urging the sentencing judge to lock Pollard up for life. Now even Weinberger, perhaps rendered contrite by his own subsequent pardon, says that Pollard's life term is excessive.

Prime Minister Rabin has heightened interest in the case by appealing to the U.S. for leniency for Pollard. President Clinton, in turn, has promised to make a decision after the Justice Department reviews the case.

Until and unless the president exercises clemency, this case won't go away.