US Jewry Slams Clinton for Blaming Rich Pardon on Jews

Elli Wohlgelernter - Jerusalem Post - February 19, 2001

JERUSALEM - American Jewish leaders vigorously condemned former US president Bill Clinton for shifting the blame for his pardon of financier Marc Rich onto Jews and Israelis.

In an opinion column in The New York Times, Clinton listed eight reasons for pardoning Rich, the first seven dealing only with the legal and technical merits of the case.

No. 8 read: "Finally, and importantly, many present and former high-ranking Israeli officials of both major political parties, and leaders of Jewish communities in America and Europe, urged the pardon of Mr. Rich."

"I think he should not use the Jews as scapegoats," said Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose members arrived here yesterday for their annual leadership mission. "This was done for reasons that should be just based on the merits of the case; and by bringing Israel into this, it's unfair to Israel."

A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office, however, said Prime Minister Ehud Barak's inner circle does not feel that Clinton is trying blame Israel or the Jews for the Rich


"He spelled out eight reasons for the pardon, and the last one had to do with Israel," the official said. "So what?"

But Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the conference, said Clinton's comments were "very unfortunate and inappropriate."

Hoenlein said that while one can raise the issue over the appropriateness of Israeli intervention, "clearly the president's motivations listed in the first seven reasons - which were based on legal considerations and other considerations - were really dominant."

"I think it would be very unfortunate for the onus to be placed on Israel and Israeli officials, in a matter that is purely an American domestic legal issue."

Harvey Blitz, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said it was "inappropriate for the president to hide behind the Jewish community in trying to justify this action that he took. It was his job to evaluate the context in which these pardons were granted, and in the context of a fugitive from justice, whatever the foreign policy considerations were. It was for him to judge, and not to later comment that he was doing it in support of the Jews."

A couple of organizational leaders pointed out that while Clinton blames Jewish pressure for the Rich pardon, it was not a factor in the issue of pardoning Jonathan Pollard.

"It is deplorable that Bill Clinton would state that that was the principle reason for his pardoning Marc Rich, when of course he had the same pressures from the same community in both Israel and America demanding Pollard's release, and that meant nothing to him," said Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Presidents Conference, said, "If he wanted to please the Jewish community and the State of Israel, he could just as easily have pardoned Pollard, and he would have found that he would have had support from a broad segment of the community."

See Also:
  • Clinton Pardon Statement Questioned
  • Mr. Clinton's Explanation