Yoffie: Jewish Leaders Bought' On Rich Pardon

Reform head lashes out at leaders for silence

Eric J. Greenberg - Jewish Week (NY) -February 16, 2001

Reform Judaism head Rabbi Eric Yoffie is charging that major world Jewish religious and political figures supported a presidential pardon for American fugitive Marc Rich because they were "bought" by the billionaires' huge charitable contributions to Israel and Jewish causes.

Denouncing ex-President Bill Clinton's last-minute pardon of Rich as "outrageous," Rabbi Yoffie, in an op-ed in this week's Jewish Week, lashed out at Jewish leaders who supported Rich. They include U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council Chairman Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg, Israeli ex-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, as well as the numerous Jewish leaders "who have remained silent."

Wondering aloud why Jewish leaders would support Rich, who "appears to have traded illegally not only with Iran but with Iraq and Libya, rouge states devoted to Israel's destruction," Rabbi Yoffie offered his own answer:

"The answer is simple. They were bought. Rich contributed generously to Jewish causes and charities around the world and then in a carefully orchestrated campaign called in favors to put pressure on the president."

Rabbi Yoffie's remarks come as a congressional committee is investigating the pardon of the financier Rich and his ex-partner, former Brooklyn resident Pinchas Green.

One focus of the probe is whether Rich's ex-wife, New York songwriter-socialite Denise Rich, who has contributed huge sums of money to Clinton and the Democratic Party, traded contributions for the pardon.

Several news reports also claim that Rich was a spy for Israel during his 20 years in Switzerland, after fleeing the U.S. to avoid facing charges of tax evasion and violating U.S. trading embargoes with Iran during the 1979 American hostage crisis, as well as Iraq and Libya.

Rabbi Yoffie said Rich can do charitable work but is not entitled to "kovod," Hebrew for honor, or a quid pro quo, "until the legal process has run its course."

Rabbi Yoffie said Rabbi Greenberg made "an exceedingly serious error" for writing a letter on behalf of Rich on Holocaust council stationery.

In a recent meeting of the Holocaust council, Rabbi Greenberg admitted that it was mistake to have written the letter on council stationery.

Rabbi Greenberg, according to sources, wrote the letter because of Rich's multimillion dollar contribution to Birthright Israel, a program that provides free Israel trips to college students and young adults.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, also wrote a letter on Rich's behalf. A spokeswoman could not say if Rich contributed to the ADL.

"Abe Foxman sent a letter to the president on behalf of Marc Rich asking for executive clemency on humanitarian grounds," the spokeswoman said.

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel was a primary target of Rich's lawyers, according to published reports, but denied that he had participated in the effort to win a pardon.

Rabbi Yoffie also denounced Clinton's commutation of the sentences of four New Square chasidim, convicted of stealing tens of millions of dollars in federal social service funds.

Rabbi Yoffie said the result of the failure of the Jewish community to speak out against the New Square and Rich and Green pardons is that "we have undermined our community's moral fabric, jeopardized our political standing, disillusioned our youth and compromised the sacred values of our tradition."

  • See Also: The Clemency Page