Mr. Rich's Roster

The Forward - Editorial - February 16, 2001

A glance at the extraordinary list of Israeli and American Jewish leaders who lined up to support the pardon of fugitive billionaire Marc Rich must raise a host of complex and deeply troubling questions in the mind of even the most casual observer. Mr. Rich's endorsers included leading lights from both sides of Israel's political establishment, a pantheon of Israel's academic, cultural and religious leaders and a brace of the most thoughtful leaders in American Jewish communal life.

The scope of Mr. Rich's roster allows only two possible conclusions. One possibility, commonly heard in Washington and around the country, is that the individuals involved were simply willing shills who helped the accused tax cheat escape justice in exchange for a share of his charitable largess. The other possibility is that Mr. Rich's back-channel involvement in Israeli intelligence, through his business dealings in Iran, Sudan and other trouble spots, ran deeper than has been disclosed, and that his pardon was a matter of genuine foreign-policy interest for Israel and the United States.

If the first is true, it represents a breathtaking indictment of the top ranks of Israeli and Jewish leadership, who must stand accused of selling their credibility and honor in a pathetic pursuit of cash. If the second is true, then we are witness to a frightening rush to judgment by Washington's political and media establishment.

Sadly, both possibilities are all too believable. Few objective observers can disagree that Jewish charitable fund-raising has become a juggernaut in the last generation. The bottom-line in fund-raising campaigns has turned into an absolute that trumps most other considerations in Jewish community decision-making, from the qualities of leadership to moral considerations of how donors earned their dollars. If Mr. Rich's multimillion-dollar Jewish charitable giving were the only reason for his endorsers to line up, it would only be an escalation in a trend that already exists. That said, it would be an escalation of devastating proportions, suggesting that an entire generation of Jewish leadership had utterly lost its moral compass.

The case for the second explanation a Washington media stampede is at least as plausible, if not more so. America, it seems, is incapable of resisting the dazzle of Clinton scandals. The Rich case offers all the elements of the best of them: cronyism, payoffs, abuse of office, Hollywood connections and the inevitable photographs of cheesy women with big hair and tasteless gowns. Nothing in the circus now sweeping Washington differs from the Clinton scandals of the past eight years, save the addition of Democrats lining up with Mr. Clinton's accusers, free at last to voice the rage they feel at his relentless penchant for dragging himself and his party into the mire.

It may be that Mr. Clinton's accusers are correct, and that nothing in the record justifies the pardoning of Marc Rich. He violated the income-tax code. He fled the country rather than face justice. Most troubling, he endangered American security by trading illegally with the Iranian terror-state. And everyone knows the proper punishment for that. They name an airport after you.

See Also:
  • The Clemency Page
  • Israel's Role in Pardon Sparks Capital Feuding
  • Friends in High Places: Marc Rich's Jewish Fans