Time To Let Pollard Go

Hamodia - December 29, 2000 - Editorial

As the clock winds down on the Clinton presidency, Jews around the world hold their breath as Israelis and Palestinians scramble to respond to American "bridging proposals" that may, God forbid, lead to the surrender of Jewish sovereignty over Har Habayis and the division of Jerusalem.

A lame-duck president, an Israeli premier facing elections in six weeks and a Palestinian leader whose signature on agreements means less than nothing, are racing to wrap up a deal on such intractable issues as Jerusalem, borders and Palestinian refugees. This is truly a perilous moment for the Jewish people, a moment to beseech the Almighty for assistance and protection.

At the same time, there is another issue that has Jews riveted to the White House. This one doesn't involve war and peace in the Middle East. It involves one Jew - an entire world, our sages teach us - and an injustice that cries out to the heavens.

Jonathan Pollard has languished in federal prison for the past 15 years for spying for Israel. He is in solitary confinement, in difficult conditions, and his health is deteriorating.

For many years, some Jewish organizations in the United States avoided him like the plague. Leaders of these organizations felt he was an embarrassment, and that taking up his cause would bring guilt by association. But in recent years, they - and Israel - began acting on his behalf.

What became obvious to anyone who studied the case was that Pollard's punishment - life imprisonment - was disproportionate to his crime and was far in excess of sentences meted out to others for similar, or worse, offenses.

There was something obsessive about the way certain American officials hounded Pollard, demanding a harsh sentence despite the fact that it contravened the letter and spirit of a plea-bargain agreement. Caspar Weinberger, defense secretary at the time of Pollard's sentencing, sent the judge the infamous presentencing memorandum that sealed Pollard's fact. As David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government affairs for Agudath Israel of America, notes in a letter to Clinton, the courts later termed that memorandum "rank hyperbole."

The obsession continued with the reported threat of CIA director George Tenet to resign if Pollard was pardoned, and warnings from Richard Shelby, chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, that a Pollard pardon would do irreparable harm to U.S. national security.

But national security isn't the issue. No one really believes that an ailing Jew who's been locked up for 15 years constitutes a threat to national security. The entire handling of this affair smacks of anti-semitic sentiments.

Pollard has acknowledged that what he did in passing information to Israel was "grievously wrong," and he has paid the price for it. Now, it's time to do the right thing and let him go.

Pollard is in jail today because the government double-crossed him in a plea-bargain agreement and his legal representation was too inept to appeal. He is trying another appeal in the courts, but a presidential pardon would be the quickest way to gain his freedom.

This is the moment for Jews, indeed for all Americans with a sense of fair play, to inundate the White House with letters and calls on Pollard's behalf.

If Clinton doesn't take this step in the coming days, it is highly plausible that the new administration will not do so either in the immediate future.

As for Clinton, this is his last chance to honor a pledge he made to at least two successive Israeli prime ministers, Binyamin Netanyahyu and Barak, to pardon Pollard. It's his chance to go down in history as the president who had the courage to free a man who was wronged by the system and who has paid his debt to society.