Is Lieberman In Contempt of Dina d'Malchuta Dina?

Special to IMRA - August 27, 2000
by Esther Pollard

Senator Joseph Lieberman has repeatedly attempted to justify his unjust condemnation of my husband, Jonathan Pollard, by invoking the Jewish law, Dina d'Malchuta Dina. Roughly translated as "the law of the land is the law", this is the Jewish legal principle which obliges Diaspora Jews to obey the laws of the land in which they reside.

In his subjective interpretation of Dina d'Malchuta Dina as it applies to Jonathan's case, Senator Lieberman subordinates principle to rank political expediency. As virtually the only prominent voice in the Jewish community condemning Jonathan, Lieberman is attempting to prove to the gentiles that he is "more Catholic than the Pope."

Obviously Dina d'Malchuta Dina does not mean that a Jew can or should be punished more harshly than a non-Jew. Yet in his anti-Pollard stance, Lieberman implies just that. For the sake of gentile acceptance and to inoculate himself from charges of dual loyalty, Lieberman is willing to corrupt the law of the land. His (uninformed) position enables the Administration to perpetuate the grossly disproportionate sentence and the lack of due process that have been Jonathan's lot for the last 15 years.

According to Lieberman, Jonathan's violation of Dina d'Malchuta Dina makes him undeserving of community support in his struggle for equal justice. Lieberman insists that Jonathan be imprisoned forever as a warning to other American Jews lest they, too, be tempted to break the law on behalf of Israel.

Who passkins (rules on Jewish law) for Lieberman? Would any credible possek (authorized rabbinical legal authority) allow Lieberman to put himself above the rabbinic leaders of the world Jewish community who have ruled that freeing my husband is the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim (the redemption of a captive)?

Eminent rabbi and possek, the honored Rav Mordecai Eliyahu, who is Jonathan's own rabbi, has ruled that the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim devolves upon all persons - Jew and Gentile alike - and that includes Senator Lieberman. It appears that Senator Lieberman is acting as his own rabbi and in doing so, is placing himself in contempt of Jewish law.

For Lieberman all that matters is that his own loyalty to the United States should be above suspicion. If a co-religionist has to be sacrificed in order to prove the senator's patriotism beyond a doubt, so be it. Consequently, he has refused to meet with Jonathan's attorneys or representatives to learn the facts of the case. Lieberman is only interested in keeping Jonathan locked up.

Not surprisingly, Senator Lieberman's loyalty to the Democratic Party has led him to adopt a self-serving approach to American law, as well. In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, William J. Bennett reveals just how far Senator Lieberman has trimmed his legal objectivity to fit his personal agenda: "On the question of whether President Clinton lied under oath to a Grand Jury, Mr. Lieberman said a few days ago that 'I'm not really in a position to make that legal judgment'. But after the impeachment trial was concluded he did make a legal judgment; Mr. Clinton, according to Mr. Lieberman, 'made false or misleading statementsto a federal grand jury' and his actions likely 'had the effect of impeding the discovery of evidence in judicial proceedings.'" (WSJ- 08/16/00)

Leaving aside the issue of Senator Lieberman's selective amnesia, what this story clearly establishes is that he voted against impeaching Mr. Clinton despite his conviction at the time that the president was, in fact, guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Thus, Lieberman's conduct during the impeachment proceedings really wasn't as virtuous and courageous as it has been made out to be. In fact, Lieberman, the so-called "moral conscience" of the Senate, tipped the scales of justice not just to protect his standing in the Democratic party but also to protect the president, whom Lieberman himself judged to be guilty of criminal actions. It appears that both law and principle, for Lieberman, routinely take a back seat to politics and personal goals.

Similarly, Lieberman's recent sudden reversal of his long-standing principle calling for the United States embassy in Israel to be immediately moved to Jerusalem, stands Lieberman in contempt of "the law of the land".

The senator's spin doctors have maintained that his backtracking on relocating the embassy is nothing more than a minor accommodation to the vice-president's stand on the matter. But this is not so. It is another another example which calls into question Senator Lieberman's fundamental commitment to the law of the land, as he once again deftly trims his principles to suit his political needs.

In 1995, it was Joseph Lieberman himself who characterized the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act as "the law of the land" - without qualification. Indeed, President Clinton's use of a broad national security waiver to allow his non-compliance with the Act was repeatedly condemned by Senator Lieberman. Lieberman's objection specified that the limited waiver provisions of the legislation did not apply and that Clinton was in contempt of the law by thwarting the embassy move. But now that Senator Lieberman has been nominated as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, he too invokes this same national security waiver that he previously condemned as illegal.

What happened to Senator Lieberman's uncompromising commitment to Dina d'Malchuta Dina? Does the law of the land not apply to "Mr. Integrity"? Did he just chuck it out the window when the White House was in sight, or did he have yet another attack of amnesia? Either way, the senator's cynical contempt for the law of the land and his betrayal of Jerusalem does not bode well for the Jewish people.

As Senator Lieberman has demonstrated, his overriding commitment is not to the law or to principle but to his own political advancement. Consequently, the American Jewish community would be well-advised to guard against blind support of Lieberman's candidacy, based on a presumption of his "moral integrity."

Above all, the American Jewish community must resist the temptation to sweep Jonathan Pollard under the rug, and to sacrifice him "for the good of all". Those who may be tempted to assist Senator Lieberman in this way, to maintain his image as a patriotic American and to purge themselves of any hint of dual loyalty, are doomed to failure. Neither truth nor justice can be sacrificed for "the good of all", if the rule of law is to prevail.

Putting his judgment above that of our rabbinic and lay leaders, Joseph Lieberman has been leading the charge to keep Jonathan Pollard in prison forever. Lieberman must be held to account for his unconscionable willingness to sacrifice of one of his own, for the sake of political expediency.

The Pollard case is just the tip of Lieberman's political iceberg. Ignoring the issue merely gives Lieberman a hechsher (stamp of approval) to inflict further damage on the Jewish community in the guise of a "moral authority." Nothing could be further from the truth.

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