Pollard's Passover

The Jerusalem Post - April 19, 1992

This is the seventh Passover Jonathan Pollard is spending in jail. Last month, his appeal to withdraw his guilty plea was rejected by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals. The vote was 2-to-1; the single non-Jewish judge on the panel cast the vote in favor of reopening the case. When if ever, Pollard will be able to celebrate the feast of deliverance in freedom is anyone's guess.

There is no disputing that Pollard committed a very serious crime by passing American intelligence secrets to Israel. But it is difficult to accept the official American assessment of the damage Pollard did to the US intelligence network. Ignoring some of the most mind-boggling penetrations of the American defense establishment by American Soviet spies, then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger stated in a March 1987 affidavit: "It is difficult for me ... to conceive a greater harm to national security than that caused by Pollard."

Pollard's defenders vehemently disagree. They claim that had the US adhered to its intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel, virtually all the information he transmitted would have passed through regular government channels. Most of the information, they maintain was regional and tactical - about Iraqi and Pakistani nuclear capabilities and PLO bases, for example - hardly the kind which could compromise American security. As one of them put it, Pollard spied in the US, not against the US.

According to an advocate, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Pollard entered into a plea bargain according to which in n return for an implicit promise that he would be treated with relative lenience, he agreed to plead guilty. The government was thus spared a messy trial in which it would have had to reveal secret evidence and sources and defend its withholding information from Israel. Opening the case could have turned it into another Irangate, with mud sticking everywhere.

But the judge, disregarding the deal, passed a life sentence. No spy for a friendly power has ever been sentenced to life imprisonment in the US. In peace time, it is a penalty imposed only rarely, and only on those caught spying for America's primary enemies.

Pollard has been languishing for more than six years in solitary confinement in Marion, Illinois, site of one of America's harshest prisons. This is how A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times described it: "Men are not sent to Marion for crimes committed on the outside, but for crimes committed in other prisons: The mission is not to rehabilitate but to secure and control the prisoners. Meals are delivered through the bars ....If inmates have to be moved anywhere they walk guarded and handcuffed through emptied corridors."

After visiting him recently, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said, "Cruelty knows no boundaries." Pollard's friends believe he is not only a victim of grave injustice, but that he has been abandoned by those who should be supporting him, or at the least looking much more closely at his case. Many of the most prominent Jewish organizations in the US have remained stonily silent throughout Pollard's ordeal.

The constituent members of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, a major umbrella organization, recently decided not to become involved "because of the absence of anti-Semitism or anti-Israel bias" in the Pollard case. They would not join in calls for a presidential clemency.

But some of the members have wondered why outright anti-Semitism must be present for Jewish organizations to act. They point to a full page advertisement placed by the Anti Defamation League of B'nai Brith in the New York Times proclaiming: "Who cares about the Kurds? We do!" - hardly an issue of anti-Semitism.

Pollard himself recently expressed bitter disappointment at his abandonment, not only by American Jews but by Israel. For obvious reasons, it is difficult for Israel openly to plead in his behalf. But it is a pity American Jews do not support a man who acted for what he perceived to be Israel's benefit and with no intent to harm the US. The issue is not whether or not he deserved punishment for his crime, but whether the punishment is grossly and unjustifiably excessive.

Some of Pollard's prosecutors clearly pursued him with disproportionate zeal. Weinberger told reporters Pollard 'deserved to be hanged.' The government stands accused of having reneged on its deal with Pollard, and at lease one Court of Appeals judge seems to agree. Yet American Jewish organizations are remaining silent in the face of the very real possibility that a Jew has been the victim of grave injustice because he is a Jew, and because it was Israel that he helped.