A Meeting with Jonathan Pollard

David Kirschenbaum Esq. - The Jerusalem Post - February 28, 1992

"It is easy to protest the blatant anti-Semitism of a David Duke. It takes courage to protest the more subtle kind in the Pollard case."

The drive from St. Louis airport to the Federal Prison in Marion, Illinois, to visit Jonathan Pollard is filled with anticipation. You hope to bring some much needed and friendly human contact to someone who should no longer be imprisoned, yet remains incarcerated in the US's most notorious prison. He is now beginning the seventh year of a life sentence.

The return trip is filled with feelings of sadness and anger from seeing first-hand how terrible the consequences can be when justice is perverted.

Having visited Jonathan last year, I was less jarred this time by the fortress-like structure at Marion, with its frightening watchtowers and its series of iron gates and doors.

Jonathan is incarcerated underground in an eight-cell ward known as the K-Unit, the most tightly guarded unit in Marion prison. Newsweek described the unit as "a collection of prisoners who are there for symbolic reasons, to show what the Federal Government can do if it really gets angry." According to the magazine, Jonathan is the most well-guarded prisoner in the unit.

The activity that landed him in the K-Unit was transmitting to Israel classified US documents concerning the weapon systems and military capabilities of various Arab states, including information about Iraqi efforts to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He was given a life sentence and sent to the K-Unit even though he was never even charged with acting to injure the US.

Seeing Jonathan in that underground meeting room was a bitter-sweet moment. Very glad to meet him again, I was momentarily overcome by the enormity of his tragedy.

Unlike my first visit, which was monitored by a member of US Naval Intelligence, this meeting was allowed to take place without any overt government presence. I sat down with Jonathan at about 10 o'clock a.m.; we talked about a range of matters until I was required to leave after 3 p.m.

Jonathan had plenty he wanted to talk about. He showed me the prayerbook presented to him by Israel's chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu, who visited Jonathan last October. It contained a very moving handwritten inscription, and it was clear that Jonathan was profoundly touched by the chief rabbi's visit. Jonathan hopes it will send a message to those Jewish leaders who have failed to extend any type of assistance to him all these years.

He hopes that just as his case has united virtually the entire Knesset, regardless of party affiliation, over the fact that he should be released from prison, so too the American Jewish community might be able to unite on the fundamental principle of pidyon shvuyim- the redemption of captives.

Jonathan spends a significant amount of time studying desalination and alternative energy, areas of great concern to Israel in which he hopes to contribute in the future. He took great pleasure in explaining some practical applications of his research.

Although his academic and professional background is in the area of political science, it is clear that he is one of those brilliant people who are able to excel in any chosen area. It is equally clear that Jonathan has inherited at least some of his scientific acumen from his father, Dr. Morris Pollard, a renowned professor of microbiology at Notre Dame University.

Jonathan also spends much of his day reading and corresponding about his case. He is, however, not always at liberty or in the position to respond to everything said or written about him-and, unfortunately, there have been a tremendous number of false statements and outright lies. The restrictions and limitations placed on his freedom to get his message across and to respond to falsehoods and misinformation is, obviously, a source of tremendous frustration for him.

Jonathan has thrown himself fully into his legal case and into his pursuit of solutions to Israel's water and energy problems, sleeping only two to four hours a night. He acknowledges that this virtually constant mental activity is in part a defense mechanism against the depression be experiences when his thoughts are not distracted from the tragedy of his situation.

As for physical activity, he is confined to his cell 23 hours a day and allowed out for only one hour of recreation. This takes place either indoors, or outside in an area surrounded by high concrete walls on all sides. It's been years since he saw the sky or the sun.

Jonathan's appeal of his life sentence is now pending before the Federal Circuit of Appeals in Washington, DC. It is important to note one thing, however. The specific legal issues raised in the appeal-whether the sentencing judge failed to ensure that his plea of guilty resulted from undue coercion and whether the government breached any or all three promises it made to Jonathan in return for his agreement to waive his right to a trial and plead guilty to the charge against him-are not the same as the issues before the Jewish community.

The Pollard case should be significant to the Israeli government and to the American Jewish community because a Jew has been singled out to receive a totally unprecedented draconian punishment. After six years of incarceration in one of the harshest prisons in the US, the time for his release is long overdue.

No other American who spied for an allied country ever received more than five years in prison, and the overwhelming number of Americans who spied for enemies of the US received sentences substantially less than life imprisonment.

Much as we might feel better denying or ignoring it, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what really seems to have damned Jonathan Pollard was the fact that he is a Jew and that the country on whose behalf he was spying was Israel.

A victim of anti-Semitism deserves the assistance of the Israeli government and the American Jewish leadership no less because he is unpopular with the US government or has been victimized by respected US government personnel and institutions.

It is easy for Jewish leaders and organizations to protest the blatant anti-Semitism of a David Duke. It takes some courage, however to protest the more subtle, but nevertheless real, manifestations of anti-Semitism in the case of Jonathan Pollard.

If the status quo is not changed Jonathan Pollard will spend the rest of his life in jail. Those Jewish leaders and organizations, both in Israel and the US, who have thus far stayed on the sidelines and, in some cases, even undermined efforts to help Jonathan, must be prevailed upon to help change that status quo.

The writer is active in efforts to bring about Jonathan Pollard's release.