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Clemency for Jonathan Pollard, Now is the Time

on Friday, May 18 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Just a few years ago, the topic of Jonathan Pollard was taboo and highly politically charged.  Just invoking Pollard’s name would elicit strong feelings on both sides and would likely generate a great debate about dual loyalty, Jonathan’s true motivations, if he is remorseful and whether or not we should be fighting on his behalf.  Times have radically changed and today, there is extraordinary bi-partisan and cross denominational support for clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

On March 4, 1987, despite a plea agreement, Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life in prison on one count of espionage, namely passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.    Pollard acted for ideological reasons, not financial ones, as Israel itself acknowledged when in 1998 they recognized Pollard as an official Israeli agent.  He felt that Israel was being denied vital security information including intelligence regarding Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities.

What Pollard did was unequivocally wrong.  He has apologized and expressed remorse on numerous documented occasions including a letter that was delivered to President Clinton by then Prime Minister Shimon Peres.  He is not asking for and does not deserve a pardon.  However, after looking at this issue carefully, it is clear to me and more significantly, to the dozens of high ranking world leaders who have advocated on his behalf, that Pollard does deserve clemency immediately on humanitarian grounds.

Pollard is the only American citizen convicted of such a crime to be sentenced to more than 14 years in prison. Currently, the punishment for such a crime is set at a maximum of 10 years. Now, in his 27th year of incarceration, Jonathan’s health is rapidly deteriorating and if he remains in the difficult conditions he has endured heretofore, he likely will not have long to live.

Many prominent figures have been outspoken in asking President Obama to offer clemency to Jonathan including former secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former CIA director James Woolsey and a bi-partisan representation in Congress.  Leadership from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements have recently gone on record asking for clemency for Pollard.

Some have suggested that there is classified information that we don’t know that is precluding President Obama like his predecessors from releasing Pollard.   However, that is simply not true.  Former CIA director James Woolsey has said publicly that he is intimately familiar with Pollard’s entire file and though he opposed releasing Pollard in the past, the time has come to let him go and there is absolutely no reason not to.  Similarly, Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, wrote a compelling article in the LA Times on 10/28/10 explaining why he and many others in the intelligence community who had previously been opposed to Pollard’s release have now changed their minds.  I encourage you google it and read it.

Five Prime Ministers and three Presidents of Israel have requested Jonathan Pollard’s release. There is a very important window to advocate for Pollard at this time. President Shimon Peres will come to the United States on June 13th to get the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. One month ago he already sent a special letter to the President asking him to commute Jonathan’s sentence to time served on humanitarian grounds and announced that he is going to bring this request as his top issue in his meeting with President Obama next month.

This coming Wednesday, I will be meeting with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to share with her a letter signed by over 100 Rabbis and Pastors in South Florida asking President Obama to provide clemency to Pollard immediately.  A small group of Rabbis and Pastors will join me as we ask her to hand deliver the letter to the President as soon as possible.

As we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim this Sunday, I ask you to remember the words Jonathan Pollard wrote to the Israeli people in honor of Yom Yerushalayim 2006 after 21 years in captivity:  “I cry out to you from the depths of my soul: Zion, halo tish’alee eht shelom assiraych? Zion, won’t you seek the welfare of your captives!”

Please join me in advocating for Pollard’s release. Write a letter, making a phone call, and/or say some tehillim.  Please do something, before it is too late.


Shabbat Shalom,

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