Money Talks

Steve Berman - The Atlanta Jewish Times - April 20, 2001

Reading a recent New York Times article about the involvement of the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Executive Director, Abe Foxman, in the Marc Rich case brought back a painful memory for me. In 1991 I went to Denver to meet with Foxman about the case of Jonathan Pollard, the American who had pled guilty to spying for Israel. Pollard was serving a life sentence in jail.

Pollard's case was, and still is, an anomaly within the American justice system. Pollard supporters had compiled an impressive list of comparable sentences for the crime Pollard had pled guilty to. The typical penalty ran from no jail time to rarely no more than two years incarceration. Yet, here was Pollard, in solitary confinement, serving a life sentence. One could only reasonably conclude that the crime of spying for Israel, by a Jew, carried with it a heavier burden than if one committed the same act for South Africa or Egypt.

I went to the meeting with Pollard's attorney, Ted Olson. We knew that if we could get the ADL off the fence, and involved in the case, we stood a very good chance of gaining the necessary political momentum Pollard needed to get a fair hearing by then-President George H. Bush on commuting Pollard's sentence to "time served."

The meeting started out very poorly. Both Foxman and then-ADL President Melvin Salberg immediately showed resistance to getting involved in the case at all. Foxman informed us that the ADL had studied the case in great detail and had found no signs of anti-Semitism. I responded that detecting such behavior was not as simple as counting the number of synagogues that had swastikas spray-painted on them.

My protestations aside, Foxman and Salberg showed no interest in either Pollard's case or anything Olson or I had to say that day. Foxman's attention to us bordered on outright indifference. At one point he excused himself from our conversation to take a phone call. Speaking for five minutes on a phone 10 feet away from us, I could hear him going over the more mundane aspects of the day's proceedings with his wife.

Olson and I left the meeting empty-handed. Foxman insisted that because ADL saw no signs of anti-Semitism in Pollard's case, they could not get involved on his behalf.

Nearly 10 years have passed, and Ted Olson has gone on to international fame by his strong representation of George W. Bush in the presidential election. I went on to grow my real estate business and work within the Atlanta Jewish community. Foxman stayed at the helm of the ADL, presiding over an organization that raises around $40 million a year.

Jonathan Pollard was eventually transferred from solitary confinement in Marion, Ill., to a medium-security facility in North Carolina, where he sits today 15 years into his life sentence. Both Presidents Bush and Clinton have declined to commute Pollard's sentence to "time served."

Foxman's words. "We see no sign of anti-Semitism here, therefore we cannot get involved," had more or less receded to the back of my mind only to be covered up by the gray hair of passing time. The anger I felt when I left Denver had mellowed.

But all these feelings lay under the surface, just waiting to be scratched by the article in the paper that reported that Abe Foxman not only lent his support to fugitive financier Marc Rich, but according to him, actually helped initiate efforts on Rich's behalf. Reading the article, I could feel the pulling at the wound, and I could hear Foxman's words all over again like it was yesterday.

I wanted to yell at the paper, "Hey Abe, where is the anti-Semitism here? The U.S. government must really be out to get that guy Rich because he was Jewish. Never mind that Rich owed it a mere $48 million dollars in taxes, illegally trafficked in trade with Iran and fled the arm of justice to live a life of privilege in Switzerland."

Where is the real leadership within the American Jewish community on matters as diverse as Pollard and Rich? Are we debating issues facing us based on their merit, or have we succumbed to the intoxication of money, just like our politicians?

With all the good work that the ADL has done over the years, especially Jay Kaiman's office here in Atlanta, isn't it time they apologize to Pollard and work to secure his release from prison? Shouldn't Abe Foxman, while laying himself at the feet of the American Jewish community, asking for forgiveness, be apologizing to Pollard as well?

How different would Jonathan Pollard's life have been if I went to my meeting in Denver and had been a big donor looking for some special attention? Would Foxman have said, "We see no signs of anti-Semitism here, but give us a few days and we'll come up with something and then we'll write a letter to President Bush about our discovery?

You be the judge.

Steve Berman is president of the Greenfield Hebrew Academy. He also serves on the boards of the New Atlanta Jewish Community High School, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Jewish Family and Career Services and the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

See Also:
  • Exposé: Using Pollard to Get Rich
  • The Clemency Page