Organized Support For Pollard

Presidents' Conference and NJCRAC come out for parole; also, rumors of spy swap with Russia, Israel, U.S.

Adam Dickter - The Jewish Week [New York] - April 21, 1995

With recent statements by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory council and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations supporting parole for Jonathan Pollard, the organized Jewish community is inching closer to unanimity in calling for the convicted spy's release.

But Pollard activists are skeptical that he will be freed without action from President Bill Clinton.

Pollard, who was convicted of passing U.S. intelligence data to Israel, has served nearly a decade of his life sentence and will be eligible for parole later this year.

A March letter from NJCRAC, an umbrella for 13 national and 117 local Jewish groups, calls on the United States Parole Commission "to act favorably on Mr. Pollard's parole application." The letter, written by NJCRAC's executive director, Lawrence Rubin, and chair, Lynn Lyss, to regional parole commissioner John Simpson does not explain the organization's position or comment further on the case.

The Presidents' Conference letter, signed by chairman Lester Pollack and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, is more emphatic.

"During our prison visit with Mr. Pollard last year, he expressed remorse for his actions and said it was never his intent to harm the United States," they wrote. "While there is no justification for his misguided actions, we believe he has already paid a heavy price for his crime. We urge your support on humanitarian grounds for this matter."

Unlike the letter from NJCRAC, the Conference of Presidents letter - the group's first statement on the topic - was sent to President Clinton as well as the parole commission.

Both Pollard's sister, Carol, and wife, Esther Zeitz, who do not speak to each other, agreed in separate interviews that the long-awaited NJCRAC letter represented a breakthrough in the Jewish community's stance.

"There are now no longer any excuses," said Esther, who lives in Toronto. "There is a solid wall of support of the American Jewish community and a declared desire on the part of the American Jewish leadership" to work toward Jonathan's release. "This document essentially represents a sealing of the blanket of American support."

Carol's response was more reserved. She said it had become easier for the Jewish community to support parole, which is the right of every eligible prisoner, as distinct from commutation, which calls for special treatment, and which was denied Pollard by President Clinton last year.

"Everything along these lines is helpful," she said of the NJCRAC letter. "Especially when it's from a group which before hadn't done anything for Jonathan."

The Pollard issue had been the subject of heated debate at NJCRAC plenaries, and the diverse body had hitherto failed to reach a consensus on the issue. Indeed, three of NJCRAC's national agencies - the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish War Veterans of America - did not sign onto the letter.

According to David Harris, executive director of AJCommittee, the organization's 32 chapters had not voted on the parole matter in time for the NJCRAC letter. "As soon as we have their responses, the national board of governors will address the issue later this spring," or before if necessary, Harris told the Jewish Week. In the past, AJCommittee has sent letters to Presidents Bush and Clinton calling for a review of the Pollard case.

The ADL's spokeswoman, Myrna Shinbaum, said it was "longstanding ADL policy" not to get involved in the Pollard case because it had found no evidence of anti-Semitism. But ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, and chairman, Melvin Salberg, wrote President Clinton privately last year in support of commuting Pollard's sentence.

The harshest stand on Pollard seems to come from the Jewish War Veterans, which opposes commutation or parole. A February 1994 statement from JWV's policy committee, while supporting a review of the sentencing, points out that Pollard, "as a government employee, requested and received cash payments (J4JP:Not true! See the Facts Page) from a foreign government, albeit Israel, for his deliberate violation of the laws of the United States, endangering this nation's security.

"It really doesn't change the nature of his crime that it may have been for 'an ally.' Would the cries of support for Pollard's actions be the same had the 'ally' been Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or El Salvador?" **[ See J4JP Comments below on JWV Position]

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the President's Conference who has since become an influential Pollard activist, called the Conference statement "historic." But Teich said he doubted Pollard would be freed if the matter was left to a parole board which, he said, would not override the longstanding opposition of the U.S. intelligence community.

"Notwithstanding the expression of Jewish supportthe only way I see Pollard getting his freedom is presidential action," said Reich, now president of the American Zionist Movement. "The problem is that it's not clear that the White house understands that Pollard is an important issue for the community.

"Unless the White House intercedes, Jonathan Pollard will grow old in Butner, North Carolina," the federal penitentiary where he is incarcerated

Associate press reported last week that Israel had proposed a three-way spy swap with the United States and Russia, which would include Pollard. Quoting an unnamed Israeli official, the report said Israel offered to free Israeli Marcus Kingsburg, who was convicted in 1983 of spying for the Soviet Union, in return for unnamed American agents to be released by Russia, and Pollard's release in he United States. Both Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and President Clinton denied knowledge of such a deal.

"I wouldn't put any faith in that," Carol Pollard said of the report.

But Reich said the swap would be "an appropriate outcome [and] an easy way for the president to release Pollard. It happens all the time in diplomatic circles. Clearly, if it's going to happen, it will happen without the glare of publicity."

Elyakim Rubinstein, who heads Israel's negotiating team with Jordan, visited Washington last week and held meetings with administration officials and legislators concerning Pollard, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported Monday. The meetings were discussed in a April 12 address to the Conference of Presidents, which released its pro-Pollard statement the following day.

**J4JP Comments on JWV Position:

The JWV obviously never considered the following facts:

  1. Jonathan honored his plea agreement while the government blatantly violated it;
  2. the prosecutor explicitly acknowledged that Jonathan never intended to harm the U.S.;
  3. 13 years after Jonathan's arrest no one has been able to describe exactly what damage - if any, he may have caused;
  4. Israel had been the victim of an undeclared intelligence embargo which seriously jeopardized her national security
  5. Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi spies have been treated so leniently (Schwartz wasn't even prosecuted!) that a double standard of justice is clearly apparent; and
  6. Syria is not "ally" of ours!

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