Mr. President: Don't Make Pollard a Bad Example

Peter Gimpel - Orange County Jewish Heritage - June 9, 1995

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you as a Jewish American citizen, with the respectful but urgent request that you reconsider granting a presidential pardon to Jonathan Pollard.

I will not address the issues raised in Judge Stephen F. Williams' noble dissent in United States v. Pollard, 959 F.2d 1011 (D.C, circuit 1992), although they cannot by any means be ignored or forgotten. I limit myself to a consideration of the moral essence of Pollard's deed, of the principle of correlation between crime and punishment, and of the ramifications of this affair on public opinion and freedom of speech.

With regard to Jonathan Pollard's acts and motives, there are of course no public "findings of fact." However, according to various published accounts which cannot responsibly be discounted, Mr. Pollard, an American Jew, risked his life and lost his freedom to warn Israel, his Jewish homeland, of certain distinct threats to its security - among them, the danger of a chemical attack by Iraq.

Apparently, Mr. Pollard gleaned this and other information vital to the survival of the Jewish state and its people from certain classified files which the United States ought to have shared with Israel, but which were instead withheld in violation of various agreements and understandings.

The reasons for the withholding of such information from Israel have not been, and might never be, clarified. The most benign interpretation s that the United States, hoping to prevent a universal Mid-Eastern conflict, sought to avert a preemptive attack by Israel on Iraqi chemical plants. The least benign interpretation - and that unfortunately most consistent with Jewish history - is that the United States, or at least a certain clique within its government, was willing to assume to risk - in order to further its own policy objectives - of the gassing of Jewish populations by an avowed enemy of Israel.

Under the circumstances in which Jonathan Pollard found himself, he had compelling moral reasons to choose the course of action he chose. Certainly, under Mosaic as well as natural law, he had a clear and immediate duty to protect the lives of his fellow Jews and the security of the Jewish homeland from the infamous intentions of an enemy devoted to its annihilation. Moreover, by coming to the aid of his brothers in Israel, Jonathan Pollard neither sought nor accomplished any harm to his fellow citizens in the United States.

This is not to say that Jonathan Pollard's act did not violate the sanctity of certain American governmental institutions, and if punishment is necessary in order to protect that sanctity, then by all means it was necessary to punish him. But as the sanctity of those institutions derives from the sacred moral foundations on which they are claimed to stand, Jonathan Pollard's punishment should have been tempered by due consideration of the moral essence of his act. Clearly, this was not done.

It has been noted, rather cynically by some, that Jewish Americans as a group may have contributed to Jonathan Pollard's ordeal by not raising enough of an outcry against the travesty of his excessive sentence. If this were true, it would be fully understandable in light of the terrible stigma of ingratitude and disloyalty to which, inevitably, we expose ourselves by expressing sympathy and support for one who has been branded (albeit falsely) as a "traitor" to the United States.

Moreover, when the president of the United States, expressly recognizing the unusual harshness of the sentence imposed on Jonathan Pollard, justifies that harshness as a "necessary example to others who might contemplate harming the security of the United States" (the words are quoted as I remember them), the message is not lost on the Jewish American population that Jewish loyalty to Israel and to Jewish lives might be construed by the present administration as inconsistent with loyalty to the United States, and as something to be deterred.

With the memory still fresh in our minds of a regime which sent thousands of Jews to Siberia for essentially that same brand of "disloyalty," no Jew anywhere in the Diaspora can fail to wonder how far his or her government might go in order to "deter" it.

One cannot underestimate the chilling effect these and other tragic considerations may have had on Jewish expression of support for Jonathan Pollard, on the official positions of our political representatives or on the perception of public opinion in general in regard to these matters.

Mr. President, many Jewish Americans, and I among them, persist in trusting and hoping that you are a just and reasonable man and a gifted and humane leader. We trust and hope that you will once again review Jonathan Pollard's case with a view not only to correcting an appalling injustice, but to removing the sinister ambiguity which has arisen concerning the true attitude of the United States toward Israel and the Jewish people.

Jonathan Pollard's sentence is not just "harsh" but vindictive, arrogant and hateful. It is, in essence, a libel upon him, upon the Jews and upon all persons of true loyalty - that loyalty which transcends the outward conventions of politics, power and proto9col, and upon which the greatness of nations and humanity ultimately depends.

This theme of moral conventional loyalty was fully treated by Sophocles in his tragedy Antigone, with which you are no doubt familiar, and thee is no need to belabor the point.

Jonathan Pollard's sentence, severe as it is, will never deter persons of true loyalty, persons motivated by a desire to protect innocent lives, by a longing to do the right thing, though the voices confronting them may by narrow and impossibly hard. To that extent, Jonathan Pollard's sentence is clearly futile. And insofar as it is futile, it is wanton and inhumane.

In fact, it is a reversion to the paranoid mentality of tyranny, which regards as treason all loyalties but that despicable fealty (condemned for all time at Nuremberg) which consists of the abject surrender of all moral responsibility by the individual. It is the first step in a distorted process of reasoning which, if carried to its logical conclusions, can only end, G-d forbid, in national tragedy, shame and disgrace.

Mr. President, justice holds up scales, not examples. For who knows what meaning the examples would ultimately convey to the public for which they were intended?

I urge you, I respectfully urge you and the good and dedicated people who work for you and with you; Please do not allow Jonathan Pollard to be made an example of any longer. Because it is the wrong example, and one which has been made far too often in the past, always with tragic and ineradicable consequences.

Peter Gimpel

Bio Note: Peter Gimpel is a Los Angeles-based poet and novelist.