Jewish Leaders Urge Pollard Release

January 2, 1997 - Michael Shapiro - Washington Jewish Week

In an attempt to revive stalled efforts to win the release of Jonathan Pollard, two prominent Jewish leaders visited the convicted spy last week, in the federal penitentiary in North Carolina where he is serving a

life sentence

for espionage against the United States on behalf of Israel.

After visiting with the former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst, Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, immediate past president of the Reform movement's Union of Hebrew Congregations, and Israel Singer, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, called for the commutation of Pollard's life sentence.

"His crime of spying on the United States, a nation that has been so good to the Jewish people and to Israel, cannot be justified on any grounds; it has rightly earned the condemnation of the vast majority of the Jewish community," the two leaders said in a joint statement. "

But enough is enough

... After more than a decade of imprisonment, Mr. Pollard, who is now eligible for parole,

deserves to have his sentence commuted


The visit by Schindler and Singer coincide with Pollard's own attempt to recruit Israeli ambassador to the United States, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, to help reinvigorate efforts to win his freedom. Pollard asked Ben Elissar to visit him so that Ben-Elissar could convey a message of remorse on Pollard's behalf directly to President Clinton, who denied Pollard's most recent request for clemency in July.

It is unclear whether or not the ambassador has or will honor Pollard's request; the Israeli Embassy and prison officials would not comment.

Pollard's supporters, led by his wife Esther, have been critical of U.S. Jewish leaders for not pressing the Clinton administration hard enough on behalf of Pollard. Pollard plead guilty in 1986 to spying on the United States as part of a plea bargain with the government.

Although prosecutors promised not to seek a life sentence, the judge imposed a life term

after receiving a secret memorandum from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger reportedly claimed he "could not conceive of greater harm" to American security than that allegedly caused by Pollard.

Some who back Pollard's release have speculated that U.S. intelligence agencies blamed him for American failures in the Soviet Union, later found to have been caused by Aldridge Ames, a Kremlin spy in the CIA.

Anne Henderson Pollard, Jonathan's first wife, served time as an accomplice before being freed and moving to Israel.

The two Jewish leaders met with Pollard because "we wanted to make our feelings known ... that we wanted his release based on clemency from the president," Singer told WJW after the Dec. 26 meeting.

"It was a self-directed meeting in a sense, to revive the community's seemingly fledgling voice on this," Schindler told WJW. Schindler said his meeting with Pollard shows that Jews who are associated with the political center and left support Pollard's release on humanitarian grounds as much as those on the right.

Although Pollard was remorseful, Schindler described him as "dispirited," like a "rudderless boat" with no central plan to gain his freedom.

The two leaders are planning to meet with Pollard's supporters to determine what needs to be done to get his case on the "front burner," Singer said.

Schindler, however, stressed that Pollard's ultimate fate is in the hands of the American and Israeli governments. "The American Jewish community is just a cheering section on one side or the other," Schindler said. "It is up to the governments of Israel and America to work out the situation."