Hillary Seen Eyeing Pollard Clemency Call

Rachel Doniado - The Forward (NY) - September 1, 2000

Hikind Nod May Hang On Her Pollard Stance
At Stake: Orthodox Votes

NEW YORK A senior New York Democratic leader appears to be brokering a deal in which Hillary Rodham Clinton would call for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for an endorsement by a key politician in an Orthodox section of Brooklyn.

Pollard's fate was discussed at a meeting last week between Mrs. Clinton and Assemblyman Dov Hikind, according to Mr. Hikind and the Speaker of the State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who arranged the meeting. Mr. Silver indicated that Mr. Hikind, who represents Boro Park, had urged Mrs. Clinton to "take certain positions" before he would consider an endorsement, presumably referring to Pollard. The Clinton campaign said it would welcome an endorsement from Mr. Hikind, who has been a vocal critic of the first lady.

It said that Mrs. Clinton is still "looking at the issue" of Pollard.

Although still uncertain, with the election just nine weeks away, such a deal could shore up Mrs. Clinton's shaky support among thousands of conservative and Orthodox Jewish voters. If it were to happen, the deal would also put the first lady directly at odds with her husband, who repeatedly has refused to grant clemency to Pollard. Pollard was sentenced in 1987 to a life sentence after admitting he had passed classified documents to Israel while serving as a civilian analyst in the U.S. Naval Intelligence.

"It wouldn't be surprising if she has to restate her position on Pollard and on Jerusalem being the eternal and undivided capital of Israel," said a veteran Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, when asked what it would take for Mr. Hikind to endorse Mrs. Clinton.

"We talked very much about Jonathan Pollard and very seriously, and I can only say that it was productive. I told her what was on my mind," Mr. Hikind said of the meeting, which lasted an hour and a half.

Mr. Silver, New York's highest-ranking Democrat and an Orthodox Jew who has played a major role in the Clinton campaign, has been discussing the Pollard case with Mrs. Clinton for months. "I think she's studied the issue and I can't tell you what she's going to do," Mr. Silver said after the meeting. "I think she has a good understanding of it and she does have a sense that there's a certain unfairness that's taken place in the treatment of Jonathan Pollard." Mr. Silver said it would be "wonderful" if Mr. Hikind endorsed Mrs. Clinton.

Asked if Mrs. Clinton would come out in favor of granting Pollard clemency, Clinton campaign manager Bill de Blasio said, "Hillary has spoken about her concerns on the Pollard issue previously and she is still looking at the issue and hearing the views of community leaders."

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Hikind, a former lieutenant to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane in the Jewish Defense League, disagree on a host of issues, from school vouchers to gay rights. An endorsement from the right wing of the Jewish community could be just what her campaign needs to push its numbers up in the polls, analysts are saying. Mrs. Clinton has languished at around 54% of the Jewish vote for months, and common wisdom holds that a Democratic candidate needs at least 60% to carry the state.

Mr. Hikind said he talked about "very specific things" with the first lady at the meeting, including her statements in support of Palestinian statehood and her embrace of Suha Arafat after an event during which the Palestinian leader's wife accused Israel of using poison gas against Palestinians. "I was there to tell her, maybe like no one else has told her up until now, what is going on out there in the streets, to the point that I've never seen a Democratic candidate generate such anger," Mr. Hikind said. "I explained why in my neighborhood some people were upset that I was even going to meet with her."

While one source close to the campaign said that the Clinton camp considered a Hikind endorsement "a longshot," other signs indicated that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Hikind were seriously discussing a deal.

At one point last week, Mr. Hikind seemed to deny that a deal was in the offing. "I think after she listened to me she realized that asking me for an endorsement doesn't make sense," Mr. Hikind said.

Informed of Mr. Hikind's remarks, Mr. Silver sounded surprised. "I think he meant at this point, coming out of the meeting," Mr. Silver said. "Did he say that he wanted to see her take certain positions with things he discussed? I think that he understood that it wasn't worth asking during the meeting."

"I never said to her that I could never endorse her," Mr. Hikind clarified, stating that he would endorse a candidate in September.

"Like any other leader, he made clear what was of concern to him and the kind of issues he based an endorsement on. I wouldn't call them conditions per se," Mr. de Blasio said.

The Clinton campaign said it had no time frame for when Mrs. Clinton might speak out on the Pollard case. "She'll make whatever statement she makes whenever she finds it appropriate," Mr. de Blasio said.

Granting Pollard clemency would put Mrs. Clinton at odds with the president, the Gore campaign and the national security community. The vice president has not made any independent statements on the case, citing that it is under review by the president. His running mate, Senator Lieberman, has long been opposed to clemency. A spokesman for Mr. Lieberman, Dan Gerstein, said that the senator had no plans to change his position. Senator Moynihan has also opposed granting Pollard clemency.[ed. not true] Senator Schumer supports clemency.

Yet, even if Mrs. Clinton does come out in favor of granting Pollard clemency, her words would carry little actual weight. "The reality is, she can say whatever she wants but she doesn't have the power to commute, so this would be a symbolic gesture at best, but an important one for a lot of people on the right," Mr. Sheinkopf said.

Although a Democrat, Mr. Hikind has endorsed a number of Republicans in the past, including Senator D'Amato, Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani. Mr. Hikind has contacted the campaign of Mrs. Clinton's opponent, Rep. Rick Lazio, to ask for a meeting, said Michael Marr, a Lazio campaign spokesman.

"We're not opposed to meeting with him," Mr. Marr said. He said the campaign had no plans to do so at this time.

Mr. Hikind has not been particularly supportive of Mr. Lazio. Declining to join Lazio at a campaign appearance in his district recently, he said Mr. Lazio should not get "a free ride" in the Jewish community "just because he's not Hillary Clinton." Mr. Hikind has also criticized Mr. Lazio's stance on the Pollard case. Mr. Lazio has said that he will ask the next president to review the Pollard case "on humanitarian grounds" and make a decision on whether he should remain in jail. If Pollard is not granted clemency, Mr. Lazio would call on the next president "to make the reasoning behind that decision as public as possible," Mr. Marr said.

Another reason Mr. Hikind might be wary of backing Mr. Lazio, insiders say, is that Bruce Teitelbaum, who managed Mr. Giuliani's abortive Senate campaign and with whom Mr. Hikind has a longstanding feud, is said to be raising money for Mr. Lazio.

Some doubted whether Mrs. Clinton would be well served by a Hikind endorsement. In 1998, Mr. Hikind vocally backed Senator D'Amato over Mr. Schumer, accusing the latter of lacking a commitment to a strong Israel, a move that Mr. Schumer said paradoxically earned him more Jewish votes.

"For every one vote I lost in Boro Park, I picked up three in Westchester," Mr. Schumer said in an interview in Tikkun last year.

Observers pointed out that Mayor Giuliani had a stronger showing in Boro Park in 1997 with the assemblyman's endorsement, than in 1993 without it.

See Also:
  • Hillary & Hikind
  • Is Lieberman in Contempt of Dina d'Malchuta Dina?
  • Where Does Rick Lazio Stand On Due Process and Equal Justice?
  • Dov States His Case To Hillary
  • The Senate Race page
  • The Lieberman page