32 Prominent Figures Back Pollard Drive for New Trial

Northern California Jewish Bulletin - June 14, 1991 - Ira Rifkin - Baltimore Jewish Times

BALTIMORE (JTA) - The campaign to set aside Jonathan Pollard's guilty plea received another boost this week with the release of a broad-based list of 32 prominent legal experts and religious leaders - Jewish and non-Jewish - who have joined the effort to gain a new trial for the jailed spy for Israel.

The names were listed as part of the amicus curiae, or friends-of-the-court legal brief, prepared on Pollard's behalf in connection with his September appeals court hearing concerning a new trial. The brief is intended to demonstrate broad community support for Pollard's legal position.

Baltimore law professor Kenneth Lasson, who coordinated preparation of the amicus brief, said about 50 individuals and organizations asked to sign the brief. However, not all were included so as to keep the list manageable and to accentuate the prominence of the signers, he said.

The list includes American Jewish leaders on both ends of the liberal-conservative spectrum. One of them, Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel, said the range of signers was indicative of the increasing Jewish community support for Pollard.

"I think the Jewish community is finally waking up to his suffering," Wiesel said in an interview. "Previously, people were quiet because they feared being accused of dual loyalty. Now, more are seeing it's time for a little rachmonis [compassion] for him."

Pollard, who in 1986 pleaded guilty to passing secret U.S. papers about Arab military might to Israeli officials, is serving a life term at the federal prison in Marion, Ill. His attorneys maintain he was coerced into pleading guilty and that the U.S. government failed to live up to its part of the plea bargain agreement when it pressed, through a secret memorandum from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, for a life term.

Pollard, and ex-Navy intelligence officer who claims he was motivated by concerns for Israel's safety, admits he broke the law, and some signers of the amicus brief remain highly critical of his actions.

"What he did was outrageous and represented, at best, a high degree of moral confusion," said Michael Berenbaum, a Georgetown University theology professor and a project director of the U.S. Holocaust memorial Museum in Washington.

Nevertheless, Berenbaum said he added his name to the list because "I've become convinced that the punishment, a life term, is excessive in view of the nature of the crime" and because of Weinberger's still-secret memo to the sentencing judge.

The Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a prominent Roman catholic writer who teaches at Georgetown University Law School, said he signed the list because "I found this Pollard affair perverse from the beginning. A spy for Israel? Israel is our ally. I can't fathom why the U.S. went after him so hard."

Hamilton Fox, a Washington attorney, who along with Alan Dershowitz, is handling the primary legal work for Pollard, said the appeals court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 10, which this year is the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Despite the conflict, Fox said the Pollard defense team will not ask for a postponement because "to do that would mean waiting another four or five months, and we do not want Pollard rotting in jail for one day longer than he has to."

Among the others who signed the amicus brief are: Rabbi David R. Blumenthal, Judaic studies professor at Atlanta's Emory University; Leonard Garment, onetime attorney for ex-President Richard M. Nixon; Alfred Gottschalk, dean of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati; Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, former president of the American Jewish Congress; and the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame.

Also signing were Laurence Katz, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law and a former Baltimore Jewish Council president; Philip M. Klutznick, former president of the World Jewish Congress; Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University; the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore Jr., the retired Episcopal bishop of New York; Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, chancellor of Bar Ilan University in Israel; Seymour Reich, past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary; and Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik of Chicago.

Organizations signing the brief were Agudath Israel of America, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the World Jewish Congress/American Section.