Jewish leaders meet Biden in Thanksgiving week appeal for Pollard


Four drug dealers, a trafficker in stolen goods, a gambler and a turkey made President Obama’s Thanksgiving freedom list, but Israel’s best-known spy did not.

But advocates of releasing Jonathan Pollard aren’t giving up hope. Seven Jewish leaders who met Monday with Vice President Joe Biden said they were “encouraged” after more than an hour of back and forth.

A statement issued jointly by the seven groups noted that Biden had invited the group in response to their earlier request for a meeting. It described the meeting and exchange as “meaningful and productive.”

That was all any participant said, although Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, emphasized—as others did, off the record—that the phrase “meaningful and productive” was more than boilerplate.

Foxman says he has an Israeli staffer who asks him after every meeting,  “Haya kedai?”—“Was it worth it?”

“I told him it was worth it,” Foxman said.

One measure of the seriousness of the conversation was how long it lasted—more than an hour, in Biden’s White House office.

Another was the composition of the Jewish group, representing three major streams of Judaism and the spectrum of pro-Israel outlook.

In addition to Foxman, those in attendance included Michael Adler, vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish community’s public policy umbrella; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella; Simcha Katz, president of the Orthodox Union; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The day before, Pollard’s wife, Esther, said in a statement that her husband, who is said to suffer from an array of grave medical problems, may not survive another year in prison.

“In the last year, as Jonathan’s [medical] condition became worse, he was too weak to even sit through a one-hour visit. I feel he’s withering away in front of my very eyes,” Esther Pollard said in the statement.

She added that after “26 years, all his systems are feeble and we both know that the next emergency hospitalization or operation are just a matter a time, and that no one is promising us he’ll make it through.”

Pollard has been hospitalized four times this year.

Biden promised last month at a holiday reception at his home that he would meet with Jewish leaders on the Pollard case after telling a group of rabbis at a meeting in Florida that “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.’ “

The movement to free Pollard has gathered steam in recent months. Starting the ball rolling a year ago was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who spearheaded a letter from 39 members of the U.S. House of Representatives calling for clemency for Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.

Frank—and Pollard’s supporters—were frustrated that they were unable to sign on a single Republican to the effort. Within the national security community, opposition to Pollard’s release still runs strong.

Since then, however, a trickle of current Republican officeholders have joined the calls for clemency for Pollard, among them Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, and Tea Party-aligned Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

Additionally, an array of former Republican senators and former top officials of Republican administrations—some who played a role on Pollard’s incarceration—also have called for his release.

“We do not condone espionage, nor do we underestimate the gravity of Pollard’s crime,” says an Oct. 26 letter signed by 18 former senators. “But it is patently clear that Mr. Pollard’s sentence is severely disproportionate and (as several federal judges have noted) a gross miscarriage of justice.”

A number of the signatories had served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, including Sens. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and David Durenberger (R-Minn.)—a position that would have allowed them access to secret information that opponents of Pollard have alleged implicates him more seriously than the publicly known information he shared with Israel.

Biden’s meeting came the same day that Obama announced five pardons and a commutation for Thanksgiving. None of those pardoned are still serving time. The action clears their record, and frees them to participate in areas of public life previously denied them, such as voting. (As it happens, it was also the 26th anniversary of Pollard’s 1985 arrest.)

Presidents may pardon and commute at will—it is one power not subject to any oversight. Traditionally they issue pardons around holidays; expect another round before Christmas. Obama has been relatively parsimonious with his releases; he has issued 22 pardons and one commutation. Bill Clinton gave pardons or commutations to 456 people in eight years, while George W. Bush issued 200.

The meeting also came the week that the White House announced that the president would observe the decades-old tradition on Wednesday of pardoning a turkey headed for the Thanksgiving table.

Esther Pollard last week published an appeal to Obama in The Jerusalem Post that noted the tradition of pardoning turkeys.

“While the pardoning ceremony is light-hearted, the values it demonstrates are solemn and deeply cherished,” she wrote. “As the president of the United States, your granting clemency to a lowly barnyard bird demonstrates to the world the great respect that the American people have for the values of justice, compassion and mercy. It is in this light that I write to bring to your attention once again to the plight of my husband, Jonathan Pollard.”

Jonathan Pollard has “urgent” surgery


Convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard was taken to a civilian hospital to undergo surgery.

Pollard has been in poor health, including deterioration in his kidney problems. His wife, Esther, had come from Israel to North Carolina to visit him before what has been described as “urgent” surgery.

Pollard was removed from the prison Tuesday for the surgery, according to Israeli news sites. The federal prison in North Carolina would not confirm that Pollard had been taken to a hospital. 

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren visited Pollard in prison last week. Pollard called on Oren to seek his release from President Obama.

Pollard was not allowed to visit his father on his death bed or to attend his father’s funeral earlier this summer, despite appeals from Israeli officials and supporters.

Pollard was arrested in 1985 and is serving a life sentence.

McCain joins calls for Pollard release


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is urging the release of Jonathan Pollard, the first active Republican politician to do so.

McCain, the GOP presidential candidate in 2008, spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday, according to a statement released by Netanyahu’s office and confirmed to JTA by McCain’s office.

Activists seeking the release of Pollard, convicted of espionage in 1987 and sentenced to life, have garnered dozens of leading Democrats, both sitting and retired, and Republican former officials in recent months to seek Pollard’s release.

Until McCain, however, they had failed to get the endorsement of a sitting Republican – considered critical to establishing broadbased support for clemency.

McCain’s voice is also significant, because of his storied career as a Navy pilot. Pollard was a Navy analyst when he was caught.

Pollard, who has been incarcerated since his 1985 arrest, is said to be ill.

Netanyahu has formerly asked President Obama to grant him clemency; so have 39 Democratic Congress members, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

White House confirms receipt of Pollard clemency letter


President Obama has received a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, requesting clemency for convicted spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

“I think it is important to underscore that Mr. Pollard was convicted of some of the most serious crimes that anybody can be charged (with),” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday

“We have received the letter and will review it,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Neither spokesman said how long the review process would take and what steps were involved.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also confirmed that the State Department had received the letter.

Netanyahu read his letter Tuesday evening to a Knesset plenum discussion.

“At the time of his arrest, Jonathan Pollard was acting as an agent of the Israeli government,” Netanyahu wrote in his letter, sent Tuesday. “Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the Government of Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse for these actions, and Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated.”

Netanyahu’s letter, Israel’s first formal request for Pollard’s release, came a day after similar urgings from more than 500 clergy in a letter to Obama.

On Wednesday, Obama also received a letter urging clemency for Pollard from Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree, director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard, who taught both Obama and his wife, Michelle. The president still considers him his mentor and friend, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Bibi sends Obama letter requesting Pollard release


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neyanyahu wrote President Obama urging clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

“At the time of his arrest, Jonathan Pollard was acting as an agent of the Israeli government,” Netanyahu wrote in his letter, sent Tuesday. “Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the Government of Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse for these actions, and Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated.”

Netanyahu read his letter Tuesday evening to a Knesset plenum discussion.  His letter, Israel’s first formal request for Pollard’s release, came a day after similar urgings from over 500 clergy in a letter to Obama.

“After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency—as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation—a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.”

The letters are the latest in a surge of pleas to free Pollard, a U.S. Navy analyst who spied for Israel and who has been in prison since 1985.

A raft of Democratic Congress members urged Obama to release Pollard late last year, and a number of officials who were involved in investigating the matter also have signed on to the effort.

Among the signatories of the clergy letter was Rabbi Donald Levy of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs, Colo., a former Navy cryptologist who participated in the damage assessment after Pollard’s arrest.

“There was nothing that we came across to indicate that Pollard gave information to any country but Israel,” said Levy said in a separate statement. “Further, the information he probably disclosed consisted primarily of daily operational intelligence summaries, information that is extremely perishable. It did not appear to me at the time that the information he gave Israel should have resulted in a life sentence.”

Also signing the letter were leaders of lay Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, B’nai B’rith International and the Zionist Organization of America.

Netanyahu in his letter, first obtained by Ha’aretz, cited reports of Pollard’s ill health.

“Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably,” he said. “I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful.”

Clergy, Bibi urge Pollard release


More than 500 clergy signed a letter to President Obama urging clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

The letter was delivered a day before Prime Minister Benjanim Netanyahu reportedly sent a letter to Obama issuing a formal clemency request. Netanyahu was scheduled to read his letter Tuesday evening to a Knesset plenum discussion. 

“After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency—as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation—a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.”

The letter is the latest in a surge of pleas to free Pollard, a U.S. Navy analyst who spied for Israel and who has been in prison since 1985.

A raft of Democratic Congress members urged Obama to release Pollard late last year, and a number of officials who were involved in investigating the matter also have signed on to the effort.

Among the signatories of the letter sent this week was Rabbi Donald Levy of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs, Colo., a former Navy cryptologist who participated in the damage assessment after Pollard’s arrest.

“There was nothing that we came across to indicate that Pollard gave information to any country but Israel,” said Levy said in a separate statement. “Further, the information he probably disclosed consisted primarily of daily operational intelligence summaries, information that is extremely perishable. It did not appear to me at the time that the information he gave Israel should have resulted in a life sentence.”

Also signing the letter were leaders of lay Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, B’nai B’rith International and the Zionist Organization of America.

Timing, noodging advance new push for Jonathan Pollard


A combination of timing, diplomatic considerations and, above all, good old-fashioned noodging has culminated in the biggest push in years to free Jonathan Pollard.

Insiders associated with the push, which resulted last week in a congressional letter to President Obama asking for clemency for the American Jew convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel, say the main factor was one man: David Nyer, an Orthodox activist from Monsey, N.Y.

Nyer, working under the auspices of the National Council of Young Israel and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, repeatedly called dozens of congressional offices and pressed Jewish groups asking for a leader to take on the case of Pollard, the former U.S. Navy analyst who has spent 25 years in prison as part of a life sentence—the longest sentence for spying for an ally.

Congressional staffers described Nyer as “relentless,” and he eventually struck gold: Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives Banking Committee, agreed to sign on. That prompted a total of 39 signatures—all from Democrats—to the letter sent to Obama.

Getting Frank was a coup, one congressional insider said, not only because he has a leadership position, but because his pronounced liberalism in other arenas adds credibility to an effort that has been identified in recent years with the Israeli and pro-Israel right.

Frank took up the cause because he long has believed that Pollard’s life sentence was disproportionate to the crime, his spokesman said.

“It is something he feels strongly about,” Harry Gural told JTA.

Launching the initiative at a Capitol Hill news conference Nov. 18, Frank listed two factors that made the matter timely: Pollard’s 25 years in prison as of Sundayand the parlous state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“The justification of this is the humanitarian one and the notion that the American justice system should be a fair one,” Frank said. “We believe that clemency after 25 years for the offenses of Jonathan Pollard would do that.

“My own hope is that if the president would do this, it would contribute to the political climate within the democracy of Israel and would enhance the peace process.”

Frank alluded to Obama’s low popularity in Israel where, fairly or not, the president has been saddled with a reputation as cool to Israeli interests.

“There are clearly people in Israel who are concerned about the nature of the American-Israeli relationship,” Frank said. “An affirmation of that relationship would go forward” to alleviating such concern.

Frank was joined at the news conference by Reps. Steve Rothman and and Bill Pascrell, both of New Jersey, and Anthony Weiner of New York. Pascrell met with Pollard in 1998 at Butner, the federal facility in North Carolina where he is imprisoned. Another initiator of the letter was Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York.

The letter’s emphasis is on what it says is the disproportionate length of Pollard’s sentence.

“We believe that there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served—or not served at all—by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations that, like Israel, are not adversarial to us,” the letter says. “It is indisputable in our view that the nearly twenty-five years that Mr. Pollard has served stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence.”

It also emphasizes that Pollard is guilty.

“Such an exercise of the clemency power would not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted,” the letter says.

The absence of Republicans on the letter was striking.

Frank said he had reached out to Republicans and had delayed sending the letter until after the elections in order not to make it a political issue. Speaking on background, Jewish organizational officials—some of them allied with the most conservative groups—confirmed that was the case. Pro-Israel figures in some cases called the Republicans and said not signing would stain otherwise spotless pro-Israel records, but it didn’t help.

Two congressional Republicans known to have been on Nyer’s call list did not return calls from JTA seeking comment.

Nyer said he had secured the endorsement of conservative figures known for their closeness to the party, including Gary Bauer, the president of American Values, and John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel. Hagee had reached out to Republicans, Nyer said, but to no avail.

Among the Jewish groups backing the effort were the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the National Council of Young Israel, B’nai B’rith International, the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, the Zionist Organization of America, Agudath Israel of America and the Rabbinical Council of America. Other mainstream groups stayed out—a signal of how sensitive the matter of a Jew spying for Israel remains.

One official at a pro-Israel organization said the multitude of groups backing the initiative shows how much the American Jewish community has moved on from the anxieties that beset its reactions to the revelations in 1985 that Israel had run a spy in Washington. Now, the official said, Pollard’s proponents are more vocal and more numerous.

Pollard’s backers in Israel are aware of the change and are encouraging activists like Nyer to mount an active offense.

Nyer, at Frank’s news conference, sounded nonplussed by his own achievement.

“I came across scores of ordinary Americans in the country, as well as prominent figures, who have joined the calls for Jonathan’s release,” he said.

Beyond the congressional letter, the 25th anniversary of Pollard’s incarceration has spawned a number of Op-Eds calling for Pollard’s release, including one in The Washington Post over the weekend by his father, Morris Pollard.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Religious Action Center, said Frank weighted the matter properly: The justice of the matter was key, but the timing of the peace process helped.

“It is always the right time to do the just thing in the face of the disproportionate sentence,” Saperstein said. “If it has an ancillary benefit, if this is the way to move the process along, I’m all in favor of it—but it should be done on its own merits.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has favored such a release since he first proposed it during his first term, at the Wye River negotiations in 1998. President Clinton reportedly was ready to agree but was rebuffed by top intelligence officials. The CIA director at the time, George Tenet, said he would quit if Clinton agreed, and the president backed down.

Netanyahu is again prime minister, and negotiations again are fraught. Netanyahu is negotiating with the White House over concessions for freezing settlement building as a means to draw Palestinians back to direct talks.

Meanwhile, the reasons for the U.S. intelligence community’s strong stance against Pollard remain unknown.

“Anyone who knows isn’t talking, and anyone who is talking doesn’t know,” Weiner said.

But two figures involved in the prosecution now have come forward to say Pollard has served enough time.

Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense in 1987, said in a letter that his boss, the late Caspar Weinberger, had a “visceral dislike for Israel” and that played a role in his pressing the judge to ignore the plea bargain Pollard had worked out with prosecutors.

The other Reagan administration official recommending clemency is Abraham Sofaer, who helped investigate the breadth of the secrets Pollard stole for the Israelis.

VIDEO: Joe Biden tells ShalomTV ‘I am a Zionist’


In an April 2007 interview, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) declares “I am a Zionist’ and discusses his support for Israel.

Justice for Jonathan Pollard


Imagine that it is 1940, and Great Britain is fighting Hitler’s Nazi Germany almost alone. Imagine, further, that an American who loves both America and England and hates the Nazis works in American intelligence and has access to secret files concerning Germany that, for whatever reason, the United States has not shared with Great Britain. This American gives the secrets to England and is caught.

This spy has, of course, violated both American law and the trust that its intelligence agencies had placed in him. Now, the question is what should be done to him? Specifically, should we regard him morally or legally as the same as an American who spied for Germany?

The answer is so obvious that only in a morally confused age such as ours would the question even be entertained. Yet this is precisely the question to be asked with regard to Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel.

Let us review the parallels to the imaginary situation outlined earlier. Israel has been at perpetual war for its survival (a threat England never faced against Germany, which wanted to vanquish, not end, its existence). An American who loved both America and Israel used his access to American intelligence on those Arab regimes and passed it on to Israel. He spied on behalf of America’s most loyal allies, not on behalf of any of America’s enemies, and he gave away secrets about Arab regimes devoted to Israel’s destruction not, to the best of our knowledge, about America. And, unlike spies whose espionage cost the lives of American and pro-American foreign agents, we know of no American and pro-American foreigner who lost his life because of Pollard.

Yet Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence in prison — more punishment than some Americans who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and certainly more punishment than nearly all the murderers in America; and he has now languished in prison, often in solitary confinement, for 12 years.

The argument that Pollard was a spy, and that is all that matters, may be legally valid, but it is not morally valid. The argument that “spying is spying” is no more moral than “killing is killing.” Circumstances always determine the morality of an act. Just as most of us distinguish morally between terrorists killing innocents and anti-terrorists killing terrorists, most of us morally distinguish between spying on a democratic ally, especially one fighting for its existence, and spying for an anti-democratic enemy such as the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the United States spies on Israel and probably on most of its other allies. Last year, for example, Germany expelled an American for spying on Germany.

None of this is meant to defend what Jonathan Pollard did. Unless he actually saved Israel from something as awful as an Iraqi biological or nuclear attack, what he did is unjustifiable. As Rabbi Irving Greenberg recently wrote, “Pollard’s good intentions paved the way to political hell.” I am writing only to morally evaluate what he did in light of the suffering he has endured, and to compare his punishments with those given to other American spies and to violent criminals.

He is largely a broken man who suffers alone and who, for reasons that are not our business but that compel our compassion, has also suffered family crises. His continued suffering serves no good purpose. Again, as Rabbi Greenberg, one of the most credible voices in American Jewry and someone who, in his own words, “was not one of those who expressed sympathy for him when the case first broke,” wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that enough is enough…. It is time to extend mercy to Jonathan Pollard…. [There has been a] relentless parade of parallel cases in which far more damaging and dangerous spies received milder sentences.”

We quickly learn of the damage done to America by those who have spied on behalf of America’s enemies, and no damage has been revealed in Jonathan Pollard’s case. It makes one wonder why former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger so vociferously sought to keep Pollard in prison. Two reasons suggest themselves. One is that, for whatever reason, Weinberger has a particular loathing for Pollard; the other is that he may fear that if Pollard is released, Pollard will reveal how much sensitive data about Israel’s enemies the Weinberger Defense Department kept from Israel. I have no proof for either claim — I hope they are untrue. But neither Weinberger nor anyone else, including the entire American media, has offered any data that argue for the treatment Pollard has received.

Enough is enough. As I watch America release thousands of murderers and child molesters after a few years in prison, and give a spy for Saudi Arabia no prison term at all, I get progressively more disturbed as to why Jonathan Pollard is still in prison.

To contact Justice for Jonathan Pollard, call (416) 781-3571; fax (416) 781-3166; or e-mail pollard@cpol.com. The web site is http://www.interlog.com/.