Time To Speak Out For Pollard

April 7, 1995 - Nosson Scherman - The New York Jewish Week

Many years ago, when men and women and borough presidents exercised real power, the Williamsburg community demonstrated outside City Hall. Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton addressed the demonstrators and said, "We have heard your voice and we understand your pain. We will consider your grievance carefully and sympathetically. You can go home now."

The crowd applauded, packed its megaphones and dispersed, and Sutton went into City Hall chuckling, "Middle class protesters." Demonstration over. Case closed. Issue forgotten.

The sad plight and fading hopes of Jonathan Pollard evoke memories of those unsuccessful middle class tumlers.

The glaring injustice of the sentence and treatment

meted out to Pollard in prison should have ignited the indignities of the American Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International, and certainly of the Jewish community. It didn't.

True, Pollard's father and sister never rested - but they are only "relatives," hardly objective observers. There is Rabbi Avi Weiss, of course, but he is a "maverick," the type who makes establishmentarians squirm and change the subject.

Yes, over the years more than 250 organizations have spoken up on Pollard's behalf and petitioned President Clinton for commutation or pardon, but for the most part

his proponents have shown a glaring lack of passion


Indicative is a letter from the president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism that ends, "We recognize that only someone in authority, who has access to the entire record of the case, can make such a determination." If only the hand-wringing letter-writer had been present in the Oval Office, he would have received a pat on the head and a forlorn wish that Speaker Gingrich would have that much confidence in the man from Hope.

On the other side of the fence, Jewish super-patriots have been passionate indeed. Talk show hosts Barry Gray and Ed Koch, who pride themselves on reasonableness and fairness, bristle with anger when a caller says that Pollard has suffered enough. "Treason," they shout, though Pollard was never even accused of treason. "Throw away the key. The death penalty would have been too good." Jewish veterans of their generation have not lost their old-fashioned American patriotism. Nor have they forgotten their mother's exhortations not to give the goyim cause to criticize Jews; consciously or subconsciously,

the insecurity in their mother's chicken soup is still there


A bit of dispassionate discussion is in order.

The government did not honor its plea bargain with Pollard.

The court that rejected his appeal did not dispute that; it found against him on

mostly technical grounds

. Nor did it address the unchallenged argument that

his sentence was out of proportion

to those of spies convicted of more serious charges of espionage.

Only two avenues are left to Pollard: Presidential mercy and parole.

Neither offers much hope unless the Jewish community - indeed, anyone who still cares about elementary justice in this country - is vociferous on his behalf.

A major culprit in the Pollard sentence was Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who wrote to the sentencing Judge C. Aubrey Robinson that the confessed spy was guilty of the worst breach of security in American history. Ludicrous though it was, such a statement carries weight.

Let us consider a hypothetical question. What should be done to a high public official who was involved in a conspiracy to deceive congress, break the law and whose misadventures made the United States the laughing stock of the world and irretrievably tarnished the administration of his very popular president? That miscreant, of course, is the same Caspar Weinberger - but no one will ever know how long he would have hung by the thumbs because he received a president pardon before he came to trial.

Great judge of patriotism, Caspar Weinberger.

According to many journalistic accounts, Jonathan Pollard was framed by Aldridge Ames as the one responsible for the death of many American spies in the Soviet Union. Ames fingered and caused the execution of at least 10 and possibly as many as 34 American agents during the Cold War. But when Ames was finally caught, he bargained and won his wife's freedom. Mrs. Ames was her husband's active accomplice for years; Mrs. Pollard was not, but

she was jailed and left without treatment

for a very painful and debilitating abdominal ailment for two years. Justice at work?

There was a chilling report in The Jewish Week recently. Jonathan Pollard will be eligible for parole this year, but the present Mrs. Pollard says that, "Unless there is some strong, unequivocal activity on the part of American Jewish organizations in conjuction with a strong initiative on the part of the Israeli government, Jonathan stands absolutely no chance of parole."

Timing is everything. Whatever pressure was exerted on President Clinton reached it peak early in his administration. Now we know that the president is loath to take unpopular stands, especially now when the Ames fiasco and the torture and killing of American agent in Guatemala by a CIA hired hand have inflamed public opinion against betrayers of intelligence. Can the Jewish community and the tired and embattled prime minister of Israel rise to the fray again? If the answer turns out to be no,

it will be a sorry indictment of our community.

Nosson Scherman is a general editor of Mesorah Publications.