Joining Forces For Pollard

Jewish groups pressing the case for commutation
October 20, 1995 - Eric Greenberg - The New York Jewish Week

Momentum appears to be gathering behind a unified effort to lobby President Bill Clinton to commute the life sentence of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and release him on the 10th anniversary of his imprisonment.

Commutation is seen as Pollard's last, best chance to get out of jail soon.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told The Jewish Week that he has asked the White House for a meeting within the next several weeks in which the organization will request that Clinton release Pollard. The former Naval intelligence analyst on November 21 will have served 10 years in federal prison for spying on behalf of Israel.

"It's time for some act of clemency. It's a matter of justice," said Hoenlein, who is waiting for the White House to confirm a date for the meeting.

His remarks come on the heels of a clarion call to major American Jewish Organizations by Seymour Reich, president of the American Zionist Movement, who insists the timing is crucial for them to act now, in unison, on Pollard's behalf.

"I'm suggesting that every organization that has taken a position let the White House know where they stand," Reich said. "It would be much better if they wrote in at the same time."

The catalyst for this renewed effort is apparently the personal request made by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to Clinton made two weeks ago asking for Pollard's release. Rabin mentioned that Israel was about to free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as part of the peace process. Rabin told The Jewish Week that Clinton did not answer one way or the other.

But other conflicting stories have surfaced in the news media following the Rabin-Clinton meeting, creating some confusion and excitement about what circumstances would be necessary to allow Clinton to fulfill Rabin's request.

Israeli U.S. Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich said that "the kind of music Clinton hears from the Jewish community would be of considerable import in his calculations and considerations."

Reich said because of Rabin's personal request, "a window of opportunity exists to demonstrate that we do care about the Pollard case."

He said his years of experience with the case has led him to believe that Clinton doesn't think the Jewish community cares enough about the issue.

"It is now the responsibility of Jewish leaders and the community to prove him wrong," Reich said.

Pollard's new attorney, Larry Dub of the Rhode Island firm of Dub and Grande, has formally asked Clinton to commute the sentence to time served.

In a letter to Clinton dated October 2, Dub requested that Clinton allow the 45-year-old Pollard to "join his wife Esther and emigrate to Israel."

Dub argued that such a gesture "can't but help the government of Israel to make an equally bold gesture by releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including many women prisoners convicted of murder who are now serving life sentences."

Reich, meanwhile, is challenging a contention by a White House spokesman that Clinton must wait for a recommendation from the U.S. Justice Department before he can commute the sentence.

Reich said that administration spokesman Michael McCurry was wrong when he said that until Pollard because eligible for parole, the president must wait for a Justice Department recommendation about Pollard's future.

McCurry made the remarks following the Clinton-Rabin meeting.

"There is no known statute requiring such a recommendation," said Reich, an attorney, in a letter to The New York Times. "Presidents have the option to act on their own when justice and compassion dictate." He cited President Abraham Lincoln's commuting the sentence of Union deserters from the Civil War.

McCurry did not return several phone calls.

Pollard is serving his life sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute in Butner, N.C. The Israeli government last month rejected Pollard's request for citizenship, a move that caused a storm of controversy among Pollard supporters who said he should not even have asked.

Pollard has also delayed requesting a hearing before a federal parole board, determining that if he is rejected, it will be harder for Clinton to commute his sentence. Most observers agree.

Reich noted how ironic it was that Pollard received the maximum sentence with the help of former Republican President Ronald Reagan's defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger.

"Mr. Weinberger himself subsequently received a presidential pardon before trial on criminal charges that he concealed vital evidence in the Iran-contra scandal. Needless to say, his pardon was given without benefit of a Justice Department recommendation," he said.

Meanwhile, Pollard's wife, Esther Zeitz-Pollard, has denounced the cover story in the latest issue of The Jerusalem Report about her husband's plight.

She said the story, which contends that a secret deal has ben struck with Clinton to commute Pollard's life sentence, is "riddled with distortions, errors and omissions."

Most serious, she said, is that Pollard has officially expressed remorse for his actions, which the article disputes.

The Jerusalem Report could not be reached for comment.