Hillary Must Speak Out For Pollard

The Jewish Week (NY) - July 28, 2000 - Milton Viorst

Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Senate has leaped from the summer doldrums into major crisis, brought on by the implausible charge that she once made an anti-Semitic remark. Her campaign badly needed a spark, but this was not it.

That is why now is the time for her to shed her reputation for cream-cheese blandness while taking on the anti-Semitism issue by coming out for presidential clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1986 after pleading guilty to espionage in behalf of Israel. None of the evidence against him most notably the "Weinberger memo," which was the basis for the life term has ever been made public. Pollard's guilt is incontestable, but with 14 years behind him he already has served far more time than any American who has been convicted of spying for a friendly country.

Mrs. Clinton's support of Pollard would do more than counteract the anti-Semitism charge. Neither she nor President Clinton in their eight years in the White House have ever showed the slightest sign of anti-Semitism; never has a presidency been less marked by ethnic prejudice.

But the Pollard case goes far beyond the petty campaign tactics. The issue is secret evidence, the abuse of trial procedures and prejudicial sentencing.

As a candidate, Mrs. Clinton has earned a reputation for avoiding controversial positions. All too typically, she has fobbed off a stand on the Pollard case by proclaiming her reliance on the judgment of Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman was a central figure last year, while a clemency petition was on the president's desk, in obtaining the signatures of 61 senators in favor of keeping Pollard in prison. The letter gave the president an excuse for taking no action.

Mrs. Clinton explains her deference to Lieberman on the grounds that he is, like Pollard, an Orthodox Jew, and one Orthodox Jew would surely not do ill to another without genuine justification. Lieberman, a would-be vice-presidential candidate, has said that Pollard committed acts that were both criminal and immoral.

The Pollard case has been peculiarly contentious in judicial annals because without a trial, there was never an official record on which the public can reach an independent judgment. Lieberman has said that his review of the classified file of the Pollard case left him with no reservations about the sentence. When New York Sen. Charles Schumer, reviewing the same file, said he found nothing to justify the life term, neither Lieberman nor Mrs. Clinton saw fit to make a reply. Schumer is also Jewish.

Since last spring, Lieberman has come under attack from Assemblyman Sam Colman, a New York Democrat who represents a Rockland County district.

Colman, an Orthodox Jew, does not dispute Pollard's guilt. He desists from using the term "anti-Semitism," but he does say that a "double standard" was applied to Pollard. Colman has long insisted that Pollard was "arrested as an American but punished as a Jew."

In an exchange of letters, Colman asked Lieberman to explain his commitment to keeping Pollard locked up.

Lieberman ignored the question but went on to claim, "Throughout my twelve years in the Senate, I have followed this personal rule of nonintervention in criminal cases, including the post-sentencing parole or pardon phase that the Pollard case is now at, and that is what I am doing."

Colman pursued Lieberman, pointing out that he had violated his own rule of nonintervention by joining with 60 other senators of which, thanks to his Jewish credentials, he was the most prominentto urge the denial of clemency.

Colman also said, "We Jews in America will be truly first-class American citizens only when we have the courage to state openly and publicly that when a Jew commits a crime he should be punished, but not more severely than another American in similar circumstances."

Colman said that in a meeting with Democrats in Albany, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged familiarity with Pollard's case and agreed that his sentence was disproportionate. But, he said, she also conceded the unlikelihood of her taking a stand in Pollard's behalf without Lieberman taking the lead.

Meanwhile, President Clinton has made a Herculean effort at Camp David to nail down peace between Israel and the Palestinians. If he succeeds, Pollard will almost surely find his way into the agreement, if only because Prime Minister Barak needs his freedom to help sell territorial concessions to the Knesset and the Israeli people. Mrs. Clinton would look strong if she came out before a public announcement. Such a move would be good for the campaign and good for the Jews, and best of all for American justice.

Milton Viorst has written about the Middle East for the New Yorker and The New York Times. In recent years he has taken a special interest in the Pollard case.

See Also:
  • The Lieberman Page
  • The Senate Race page

    Other Viorst Articles:

  • Pollard & Haddam: Prisoners of Secret Evidence
  • A Second Look at the Pollard Case