WABC Special - Interview with Congressman Eliot Engel
Justice4JP Release - July 22, 2001
Originally aired on WABC Radio 77 NYC - June 23, 2001
The John Batchelor and Paul Alexander Show
John Batchelor: We just talked to Anthony Weiner from Brooklyn, and now we're going to
the Bronx for Congressman Eliot Engel. Congressman, are you there?
Eliot Engel: Yes. Yes I am.
John: This is terrific, because you were elected , as it happens, in November of '88, so your political "baptism of fire" was in the period when the Jonathan Pollard case went into the Justice Department system. And this is the 17th New York, folks; this is the Bronx and Westchester. Congressman - the Jonathan Pollard case - and the microphone is yours.
Engel: First of all, I visited Jonathan at the federal prison in North Carolina several years ago. I have felt very strongly about his case, and I continue to feel the same way.
Jonathan said to me in prison that he believes, in hindsight, what he did was wrong and was
something he should not have done - that he should have found a legal means to act upon his concerns for Israel - and I agree with that.
However, I think it's absolutely absurd that he continues to remain in prison while others who have done far worse have long since gotten out or have received only a slap on the wrist, and there's just no reason for it. In my estimation, Jonathan should have been released many years ago.
We talk about all these people being pardoned [by Clinton], and Jonathan was not part of that. I think it's an outrage!
Rabbi Potasnik: Congressman, this is Rabbi Potasnik. Thank you for all you're doing - but where is the outrage? We use the word "outrage": you, Congressman Weiner, some others. But it seems to me that there should have been a collective outcry condemning the unfairness to Jonathan Pollard. And I don't hear, what we call, a "geshrei" - a "crie du coeur", an outcry, that yelling, that screaming from the heart.
Engel: Well, Rabbi, I think you're right and I think, unfortunately, what's happened is people who should care deeply have lost interest in the case. Jonathan has been in prison for so long it's almost as if, in certain quarters, the parade has sort of passed him by. It's really wrong and those of us who feel strongly about it need to do a better job, myself included.
We need to show the inherent unfairness of what's going on and continues to go on. You were talking before about anti-Semitism - is it or isn't it? It's difficult to prove anti-Semitism, but I think the element of anti-Semitism is there and it's wrong to deny it. We have arabists in the
State Department; we have arabists in government, we have arabists all
John: I grew up in suburban Philadelphia and both my junior high school and high
school were 75% Jewish. And I learned a long time ago that the Jews in my life are the "canaries in the coal mine". Pay very close attention, folks. If you think it is anti-Semitism - it is. Congressman, is that fair for you?
Engel: Well, I think it's fair. You know, Caspar Weinberger is of partial Jewish origin, and there are people who think he was trying to prove something.
Paul Alexander: But Congressman, we're making the call "anti-Semitism" predicated on facts; we're not just using it as a kind of emotional statement. There are many facts that seem to indicate that Jonathan is being treated differently, certainly much more harshly than others who have committed similar wrongs. When you pierce that veil, what comes across is:
Jonathan, the Jew, is being treated differently.
John: Congressman Engel, I'd like to take you back to the Wye River Accord. Talk about the parade passing by: that was one last stop where he could have been freed. What happened there?
Engel: I don't think we know absolutely what happened there. We know that Jonathan's release was negotiated; we know that it was supposed to be part of the agreement - and then suddenly it wasn't. There are people who believe that perhaps the government backed down too easily when Clinton reneged, or didn't push for it hard enough. I know in my conversations with Jonathan, he believes that he hasn't been treated properly by various Israeli governments. We really don't know why Israel has not avocated more strenuously for his release but it's reached a point of ridiculousness.
Rabbi Potasnik: Why hasn't Senator Lieberman spoken out against this?
Engel: I don't know, you'll have to ask him. I can tell you that several years ago, when many of us were trying to make the case for Jonathan's release, the the Intelligence community was absolutely in a frenzy over this. I mean, they were foaming at the mouth, spreading lies about how Jonathan Pollard caused the deaths of many Americans and all kinds of baseless accusations. It was almost like - it was an irrationality. I mean, I've never quite seen anything like it
Paul: Help us a little bit: when did this happen and how were you privy to it? Were they talking directly to you?
Engel: Oh, yes. This was probably in the mid-nineties.
John: So it's the Clinton administration - Clinton one or Clinton two?
Engel: I would say Bush and Clinton one.
John: The reason I'm asking specifically is that Mrs. Pollard told us an awful anecdote earlier how Jonathan was humiliated when he got to Marion, Illinois. He was turned and ordered by the warden to look outside and was told, that's the last you'll ever see of it; you'll leave here in a box. Or some cruelty like that. So here we have a case that makes no sense in terms of national security risks over these many years, a case that has been passed from six administrations, that is six terms.
Congressman, you've been in Congress since 1988; you've got to be uncomfortable with this. Many members of the Jewish caucus on the Hill have to be uncomfortable with this. But, discomfort doesn't lead to action.
Are we any closer now to seeing Jonathan Pollard's released, in the 21st century, with George W. Bush in the White House, than we've been before? Any closer?
Engel: Well, I would say if you really want a gut assessment, I would say not only are we not any closer, I think we're farther away.
First of all, the only way this is going to happen is through some kind of presidential action. After the furor of the Clinton pardons, I think everyone's gun-shy from that point of view.
I think that there was a louder clamour in different quarters - including many Jewish quarters - years ago than there is now. It's almost as if this has become a routine thing, and people are not making the noise about it that we should.
Rabbi Potasnik: I question whether real noise was ever made, whether an honest effort to carry out effective lobbying was made. I think one of the reasons noise was not made by some Jews is that they wanted to demonstrate that they are so purely loyal to America - you know, that fear of the dual loyalty charge - and by not speaking out on behalf of Pollard, or speaking
against Pollard they felt were showing the American public: 'you see, we are "true"
Engel: I'm sure that might be true of some people. But I think that years ago, in synagogues and different organizations, you heard much, much more about Jonathan Pollard than we're hearing today.
Rabbi Potasnik: That is the point - if noise was being made then by the Jewish leaders for Pollard it was being made in synogogues and not on the Hill, where it would have counted.
Engel: I get constituents and people who aren't, coming up to me all the time, asking me about Jonathan Pollard; this is still in the minds of many, many people. But I think for some reason the momentum has sort of been lost. Maybe everyone anticipated that there would be a mid-East peace agreement and that Jonathan would be part of that agreement. And now that that seems to have absolutely collapsed, people are just not focussing on the case. I really don't know what it is...
Paul: Well Congressman, what can be done at this point to refocus public attention on this case?
Engel: Well, I think what you're doing tonight is very good and very helpful, because frankly I think it should not come only from the American Jewish community; I think it should come from all people who should be outraged over this.
It's been said time and time again - he did wrong, he admits he did wrong. I believe you punish someone for what they did, but at some point it becomes overkill. In my estimation, this was overkill ten years ago, it's certainly overkill now.
So I think what you're doing helps many of us, including myself, refocus on the case. I don't think this should just be a Jewish-American concern. I think it should be a concern of all Americans because our courts are supposed to be fair; our justice system is supposed to be fair, our government is supposed to be fair. And if it's
obviously not, then everyone should be outraged about it.
John: And is there anything that can be done in Congress now?
Engel: Well I think the only thing that could possibly be done in Congress is passing some kind of resolution which, you know, doesn't have teeth; it's just a sense of Congress. But quite frankly, I don't know whether that would even pass and I think that we need to be careful because the last thing we would want is to put something up that would fail...
Rabbi Potasnik: That is ironic,Congressman. On the one hand you speak of the great injustice in this case, and on the other you are not even sure that Congress would care enough to pass a resolution condemning the injustice...
I turned to John and Paul knowing full well that they are devout Christians because I felt we need that alliance at this time. You're right - this can not simply be an American Jewish cause. This
is a human cause, an issue of equal justice, that requires a response from those who truly care. We have spoken out against the injustice perpetrated against others. We need others to stand with us now for Jonathan.
Engel: I agree. I think you're absolutely right, and I couldn't have put it any better.
John: Congressman, we thank you very much for joining us tonight. We're going to do a follow-up on this, and we'll be in touch with you. You know Mrs. Pollard has been listening in Canada, and you'll be in contact with her, as you have in the past.
Engel: Tell her she can be in contact with me at any time.
John: Congressman, thank you very much. Goodnight. This is John - and Paul
- and Rabbi Joe - and we'll be back..