WEIN ON-LINE: Our duty to free Pollard

Berel Wein - June 30, 2000 - The Jerusalem Post

Though Israel has released dozens of Palestinian terrorists, there has been no movement on the Pollard front

One of the open wounds in the Jewish world is the case of Jonathan Pollard. Pollard is serving a life sentence in a US federal prison, in a confinement cell, for transferring classified US documents to the State of Israel. No one ever accused and convicted of such a crime has served such a draconian sentence in the US.

In the plea bargain agreement that Pollard entered into, his present sentence was never contemplated. But the judge in the case ignored the plea bargain. Pollard has served over 14 years of his sentence, much longer than servced by those found guilty of a comparable crime. Various Jewish organizations have asked the president of the US to commute the sentence or pardon Pollard. All attempts to obtain leniency until now have failed.

Complicating the matter is a letter signed by 61 senators and sent to President Bill Clinton last year urging him not to take any action in the Pollard case.

There are Jewish senators who signed that letter.

When asked for her explanation as to why nothing has been done to free Pollard, Hillary Clinton raised the point that even Jewish senators oppose his release, so why should the Clintons be more Catholic than the Pope?

The Jewish people have a long history with Jewish public officials who feel impelled to bend over backwards to avoid being accused of being biased. The real issue that faces us here is the concept of pidyon shvuyim - redemption and freeing of captives and prisoners. The halacha named pidyun shvuyim as the top priority in the Jewish community. We have been witnesses to the strength of that view in the successful campaign to free Russian Jewry from its Communist prison. Natan Sharanksy, Yosef Mendelovich, Ida Nudel, Yosef Begun and the other Jewish prisoners were freed because the Jewish world exerted all the pressure and influence at its disposal to free them. The issue was never allowed to die, and that tenacity eventually led to their release.

I THINK Jonathan Pollard deserves the same effort on his behalf. He has served more than enough time for his crime by any standard of justice or humanity. We should loudly and insistently demand his release.

For many years, the American government and the CIA (which has consistently opposed any clemency for Pollard) hid behind the slogan that "if you only knew what is in his file, you would agree with us that he is still a danger to American security and vital interests." Since no one was able to see his file, certainly not Pollard or his supporters, this argument remained irrefutable.

However, a few months ago, Pollard's file was reviewed by a key senator and, after seeing the file it was reported that he said: "There is nothing in the file which justifies the harsh sentence that Jonathan Pollard is serving."

The question is, then: Why is Pollard still in jail? The government of Israel has been a less-than-innocent participant in this sordid story. It was evidence provided by the Israeli government that convicted Pollard, even though the US promised Israel that none of its documents would be used in the Pollard prosecution.

Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu thought that he had a deal for the release of Pollard as part of the Wye Plantation agreement. He was apparently mistaken, for even though dozens of Palestinian terrorists have been released as part of the Wye agreement, there has been no movement on the Pollard front.

Now Pollard, like Ron Arad and the other Israeli MIA's, is a bargaining chip in the hands of the Palestinian negotiators. Israel, which was the major beneficiary of Pollard's activities, has a moral duty to effect his release. Pidyon shvuyim is a national priority and value, and not only for individuals.

How can we not respond to that clear obligation and Jewish historical value? The twentieth century was witness to trials of Jews that were forerunners of trends in Europe. The Dreyfus trial and the refusal of the French General Staff to correct the obvious wrong of that court martial accurately predicted the collaboration of Vichy France with the Germans in exterminating its Jewish population. The Beilis trial presaged the anti-Semitism and oppression of Jews in Russia over the past century.

What does the Pollard matter tell us about the true position and security of the American Jewish community in the future?

I also question the special relationship that Israel presumes it has with the US. World Jewry must make a determined effort to obtain Pollard's freedom. The success of such an effort would serve as the strongest proof that American Jewry is truly on solid ground in its faith in American ideals.

Rabbi Berel Wein is an emminent historian, lecturer and author. He has enjoyed a successful career in the US in the field of law and in the rabbinate. He is currently living in Jerusalem where he continues to lecture and write.

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