Unfair Sentence

Seymour D. Reich - The Jerusalem Post - February 25, 1996

Adam Goldman (Jlem Post Letters, February 14) writes that he cannot understand why Israel and the American Jewish community feel a responsibility to seek Jonathan Pollard's release from prison. The short answer is that Judaism preaches justice, but that there can be no justice without fairness. In Pollard's case, the harsh life sentence imposed on him was not fair, as anyone acquainted with the facts in the case will understand. His effort to obtain his release deserves our support, even as we condemn his crime.

No one denies that Jonathan Pollard was guilty of the act for which he has been imprisoned for 10 years. But for those of us who believe that a decade of "hard time" (he has now served his minimum sentence and is eligible for parole) has been punishment enough. The issue is one of proportionality and fairness, particularly in view of the circumstances under which his life sentence was meted out.

Pollard was never actually tried in a court of law, as Mr. Goldman erroneously asserts. He pleaded guilty and expressed remorse during a plea-bargaining negotiation with the US Justice Department. The government, gratified that Pollard was saving it the embarrassment of a lengthy and expensive trial, in which it would be required to reveal sources of classified intelligence information, promised in return that it would not seek a life sentence. However, this agreement was ignored by the sentencing judge - a rare departure from the norm - largely in response to a highly improper ex parte memorandum to the court from then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who demanded a maximum life sentence. There is a special irony in the fact that Weinberger himself subsequently received a presidential pardon before trial on criminal charges that he concealed vital evidence in the Iran- Contra scandal.

While it is a commonly acknowledged practice for even friendly nations to spy on each other, Pollard's asserted motive of providing information pertinent to Israel's security that allegedly had been withheld by the US from its ally does not excuse his actions or render them permissible. But Judaism is a faith that emphasizes forgiveness and redemption. It is in that spirit that Israel and those of us in the American Jewish community who have worked for Jonathan Pollard's release feel that he has more than paid for his crime and deserves to be released from prison.

SEYMOUR D. REICH is President of the American Zionist Movement, New York.

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