Second Class Citizens:
The Failure of the American Jewish Leadership
to Secure Justice for Jonathan Pollard

"I honestly believe that had the major Jewish organizations followed their members' wishes and strongly supported Pollard's legitimate quest for equal justice he would be a free man by now."

March 7, 1999 - Alan Dershowitz
See Justice for Jonathan Pollard AFTER WORD below

History will look back at the Jonathan Pollard case as a watershed in the life of the American-Jewish community. The crime itself - an American Jew Spying for Israel - sent a shock wave through this country and Israel. It raised the false and ugly specter of "dual loyalty". The sentence - life imprisonment - was unprecedented for a defendant who pleaded guilty to spying for a loyal ally.

Almost as soon as the sentence was announced the Jewish Community broke down into warring factions. One faction consisted of those who saw the sentence as outrageously excessive and an illegal breach of a plea bargain, under which the prosecutor had promised to recommend a sentence of less than life imprisonment. Another was comprised of Jews who privately believed that the Pollard sentence was unjust, but who were afraid to speak out publicly, out of fear that Jewish support for a Jewish spy would foment Anti-Semitism. Yet another camp - tiny in comparison to the first two - regarded Pollard as a hero to be praised, and sought to justify his actions as legitimate civil disobedience. The final camp - also small - consisted of apologetic Jews who tried to prove their super-patriotism by leaning over backwards to condemn Pollard even more loudly than they would have condemned an American who spied for an enemy nation.

Where one stood in the Pollard case became a kind of barometer for measuring one's comfort level as a true American entitled to criticize one's own government when it engaged in an injustice. Far too many American Jews became frightened of losing their status as first-class Americans, and in order to protect that hard-earned status, they acted - ironically - like second-class citizens who were not entitled to demand equal justice for one of their own.

Where then do most American Jews stand on the Pollard matter? Over the past several years, I have spoken about the Pollard case to tens of thousands of Jews (and to thousands of non-Jews) in every part of the United States. Invariably I ask a series of questions at the end of my talk: I start by asking how many of the audience favor a reduction in Pollard's sentence. The overwhelming majority - upwards of 90 percent - support such a reduction. I then ask how many of those who support a reduction are members of one of the major Jewish organizations whose leadership has refused to support a reduction. A very significant percentage raise their hands. Finally I ask those who raised their hands if they have ever been asked by the organization to which they belong and pay dues what their opinion is regarding the Pollard case. Rarely does a hand go up in response to that question. The uncomfortable implication of these answers is that the Jewish leadership in this country - which is largely self-appointed, self-perpetuating, and self-accountable - is sadly out of touch with their grassroots, dues-paying membership. When a major Jewish organization - such as the Anti-Defamation League, or American Jewish Congress - states a position on the Pollard case or indeed on any other controversial issue involving the Jewish community it claims to be speaking for tens of thousands of its Jewish members. But that is not always the case. That certainly was not the case of Jonathan Pollard who had far more grassroots support for a reduction in his sentence, than he had organizational support.

The issue of democracy and accountability within the Jewish organizational structure transcends the Pollard case, but it was brought to a head by that case. Several Jewish organizations and "leaders" have lost their legitimacy over their refusal to follow the wishes of their membership in actively seeking a reduction in Pollard's sentence. This is especially so in light of the willingness of many American non-Jewish leaders of all political stripes - ranging from Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP to Father Robert Drinan to Pat Robertson - to call for equal justice for Jonathan Pollard.

I honestly believe that had the major Jewish organizations followed their members' wishes and strongly supported Pollard's legitimate quest for equal justice he would be a free man by now. The two-to-one decision against him by the Court of Appeals - with the deciding vote being cast by Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had been active in the American Jewish Congress - might well have gone the other way if the climate of Jewish leadership opinion had been different. Cases are not decided on abstract principles alone. The courts of law are influenced by the court of public opinion. The embarrassed silence of the Jewish Leadership in the face of the palpable injustice done to Jonathan Pollard sent a powerful message to judges, legislators, and even presidents.

That message is now changing a bit, but it may be too little and too late. Some leaders and organizations, in an effort to placate influential members, are now beginning to support a movement for executive commutation of Pollard's sentence. But that will not happen unless a united Jewish Community demands that President Clinton keep his 1992 campaign promise to review the entire Pollard sentencing issue. If the President and the Justice Department give Pollard a full and fair review, I am confident that they will conclude that he has already served far more time in prison than any other American who pleaded guilty of spying for a trusted ally and far more than justice and equality permit under the circumstances.

Unless the Jewish leadership of this country begins to be more insistent and more assertive about the injustice of Jonathan Pollard's sentence, it will owe history and the Jewish community an explanation.

All information necessary to prove that Jonathan Pollard has been treated unjustly, unequally and illegally is readily available. Inaction in the face of this record will be seen by history as complicity in injustice.


The above essay was penned as a warning to the American Jewish Leadership in 1993. The ensuing 7 years have only lent strength to Dershowitz's quasi-prophetic statement as Jonathan Pollard continues to languish in prison in his 14th year of a life sentence with no end in sight.

Moreover the weakness of the American Jewish leadership's support for justice for Jonathan Pollard has allowed Pollard to continue to be used as a tool to undermine Israel's reliability as an ally and the American Jewish community's standing as loyal citizens. Pollard continues to be vilified in the media and blamed by nameless US Govt. officials -though never indicted- for the crimes of a host of other spies who have since been caught, including Aldrich Ames, David Boone and Ronald Pelton. No protest has ever been voiced by the American Jewish leaders.

To this day, the American Jewish leadership has never made a case for the lack of due process in the Pollard case, or for the grossly disproportionate sentence that Pollard received. Their weakness, in whispered appeals that are barely audible in Washington, that Pollard should be released on 'humanitarian grounds" is exploited to accuse them of the canard of "dual loyalty". They do not protest these evil and false accusations, just turn and bury their heads.

As the years go by and Pollard continues to languish in prison, Dershowitz's words written in August of 1993 "Unless the Jewish leadership of this country begins to be more insistent and more assertive about the injustice of Jonathan Pollard's sentence, it will owe history and the Jewish community an explanation." sound less and less like a warning to the American Jewish leaders, and more and more like an indictment.