The Jewish Pardon Scandal Heard 'Round The World
Writers ask, what did the 'Free Rich' efforts say about our values?

Jonathan Mark - The Jewish Week (NY) - March 9, 2001

There is a Jewish proverb comparing the telling of an unpleasant tale to releasing a sack of feathers into the wind; the feathers are carried to the four corners, impossible to fully retrieve. So it has been with the pardons for Marc Rich and the four New Square chasidim. From Carolina hamlets to the Dakotas, from London to Lebanon, hundreds of millions of readers and viewers have learned that the presidential pardons were purchased by Jewish influence, money or votes.

It's a story heard 'round the world. The Times of London went beyond Rich (Feb. 17) to "Hasidic Backers Join Clintons' Pardoner's Tale" (Feb. 24). Cairo's Al-Ahram (March 7), publicized not only Rich's work with the Mossad (whose former director, Shabbtai Shavit wrote a letter on Rich's behalf) but how New Square strangely voted for Hillary Clinton when "Two neighboring Hasidic communities went to her Republican opponent, making a direct link between the pardons and the voting pattern seem obvious."

The Jordan Times (Feb. 28) focused on the Jewish role in the pardon for Jews. James Zogby, an advisor to the Gore-Lieberman campaign, writing in the Lebanon Daily Star (Feb. 21), was perhaps the only columnist appearing in the Arab world not to use the word "Jew" in a pardon story.

The New York Times (Feb.11) asks if any laws were violated. Leon Wieseltier, in The New Republic (March 5) goes one better: halacha was violated. Supposing Rich did give his dirty money to charity. "A good deed," says Wieseltier, "does not make a good man. And it is moral solipsism to conclude that a good man is a man who has helped me. For such reckonings, we need to know more. It is certainly an axiom of the Jewish universe that a mitzvah ha-ba'ah b'aveyrah, a commandment that is fulfilled by sinful means, is forbidden."

Wieseltier says too many Jews "seem more and more to believe that no Jew sits in a jail justly."

For all of the millions that Rich gave to Jews, how many billions in bad Jewish publicity was generated? The proverbial barn door is now being shut by the very ones who left it open. The Jerusalem Post (March 2) reports Michael Steinhardt is among the Jewish philanthropists establishing "a privately funded organization aimed at enhancing Israel's image." Haaretz (March 5) reports that one PR center will be run by Itamar Rabinovich, former ambassador to Washington.

The Jerusalem Post adds that the PR campaign has been advised by the ADL's national director Abe Foxman.

Of course, Steinhardt, Rabinovich and Foxman are among the many Jewish leaders and Israeli elected officials whose pardon testimonials for Rich are on display, complete with original stationary, at the Washington Post Web site: or via the site index, go to "On Politics, The Issues, Special Reports/Clinton Accused/Pardons and Gifts." The Marc Rich File: Letters To Bill Clinton will run alongside the daily story.

Zev Chafets, in the New York Daily News (Feb. 15) says our Jewish leaders "prostituted themselves and their organizations for a rich criminal," and themselves are "guilty of a terrible abuse of trust."

Yes, the "squalid" story "Reignites Jewish Stereotypes," headlined the Los Angeles Times (Feb. 25) over an op-ed by Walter Reich, former director of the national Holocaust Museum. Reich notes, "the obvious coupling of Jews and money, Jews and international maneuverings and Jews and contempt for the law to which all others are subject - are major plot lines in this wretched melodrama. All of this plays into the oldest and most damaging stereotypes." The ADL, says Reich, is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not provide fodder for it."

Jim Hoagland, writing in The Washington Post (Feb. 25), says Prime Minister Ehud Barak "and other Israeli leaders seem not to have seriously considered the risks they were taking" in toying with the U.S.-Israel bond. "Everybody loses in this case, except Marc Rich."

Bob McManus in the New York Post (March 1) concludes, "Rich has purchased enough influence in Israel to corrupt that nation's special relationship with the United States..."

Joseph Alpher, in Haaretz (Feb. 26), says Israeli leaders ought to have been more cognizant of how their pardon request would play out: "When Israel is perceived to be thumbing its nose at American values in the fields of morality, jurisprudence and justice. ... Israel has directly undermined these common values."

The Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell (March 5) points out that the Jewish testimonials were, ironically, "totally unnecessary. Each of the pleaders requested that the White House give Rich a fair hearing - at a time when Rich's go-between, his ex-wife Denise, had reportedly visited the White House a hundred times and made herself useful to the finances of both Clinton and his party. Nor did the letters have any effect. By the time Foxman was writing on December 7... Clinton had been hearing that song and dance for weeks from Rich's lawyer... and others who were considerably closer to Rich than Foxman was. So why even bother with the letters? What was the point of them? The point ... was that they could be kept in reserve for exactly the use to which Clinton is now putting them. They were gathered to provide plausible deniability," to have the Jews deflect the heat from Clinton's other reasons.

Caldwell says the Jews were not only made to look like influence peddlers, but now they look "like a sucker."

At least most of the letter writers are flying below radar lately but not Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who appeared on Larry King Live (CNN, Feb. 28).

Despite all the revelations of the past month - that Rich traded with Libya, Iran, Iraq, the old Soviet Union, the South Africa of apartheid, that Rich had ties to Russian organized crime and even overcharged Israel on various deals - Rabbi Riskin wanted to tell the world, via CNN, that he was proud to be Rich's friend.

It was a friendship, said Rabbi Riskin, based on their deep "theology" conversations, a point Rabbi Riskin made four times. Rabbi Riskin described the "tragedy" of Rich skipping his daughter's funeral.

KING: "Of course, he could have come back, though.... He could have just - he could have come back, faced the charges and have been there."

RISKIN: "Yeah. That could very well be. I don't know about that actually, but I - from his point of view, he couldn't come back."

This was in line with Rabbi Riskin's letter to Clinton in which he strangely says Rich was "exiled" from the United States, instead of being a "Most Wanted" fugitive.

Rabbi Riskin told King that he wrote his pardon request "on personal stationary, it was a personal letter," but according to the Washington Post, Rabbi Riskin's stationary identified him as "chancellor and dean, Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs."

Perhaps the worst part of Rabbi Riskin's appearance is that he was oddly smiling through so much of it, lacking remorse or gravity. He admitted on CNN that he couldn't count the numerous people who advised him not to go on. They were right. But Rabbi Riskin's entitled to one bad night. We'll give him a pardon. (I like his "theology.")

Not everyone who took Rich's money felt they had to demean themselves.

The Associated Press (March 5) reports that in the Swiss state of Zug, Rich is the "biggest taxpayer and benefactor." Yet, Zug's mayor and vice-mayor wrote only curt, barely polite letters for him. According to the AP, one Swiss critic of Rich said, "For 20 years, Marc Rich was one of the biggest political bones of contention here. They knew if they wrote Clinton a pardon letter, then all hell would have broken loose."

Apparently, Jewish leaders wrote their letters with no such fear.

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