Enough is Enough: A new look at the Jonathan Pollard case

May 8, 1997 - Alexander M. Schindler - MetroWest Jewish news

Israel's decision to withdraw its request for the extradition of Hamas militant Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, now being held in the United States, made it possible for the suspected Palestinian leader to go free.

In recent days, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also released hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned for a variety of criminal activities against Israelis.

These two developments cannot help but underscore the sharp contrast between the treatment of the Palestinian prisoners and the ultra-harsh punishment that continues to be meted out to Jonathan Pollard, the former civilian naval aide who has been incarcerated in a federal prison for 12 years for passing unauthorized U.S. government information to Israel.

Pollard's continued imprisonment under a life sentence is unwarranted. He has endured enough. It is high time that justice be tempered with mercy and that he too be released.

I hold no brief for Pollard's transgressions. He has betrayed the trust of a country that has been hospitable to the Jewish people and exceedingly good to Israel. His was a grievous wrong, which he now recognizes with remorse, and for which he was condemned by the overwhelming majority of America's Jews.

But by now, the punishment has equaled, if not exceeded, the offense. Pollard is eligible for parole. He deserves to have his sentence commuted.

Mine is essentially a plea for clemency, for a measure of human compassion, especially because there are aspects of the Pollard case that trouble me deeply and lead me to wonder whether justice was fairly applied.

The life sentence he received seems excessive. In recent years, those who were convicted of spying for friendly states -- and even a majority of those who spied for America's enemies -- were given far less severe terms.

The argument that Pollard remains a security risk holds no water. It is absurd to maintain that information that was confidential in 1986 and available to Pollard then has not been fundamentally changed in the 10 years since.

More troubling still is that before his trial, the federal prosecutor promised Pollard leniency if he agreed to forgo a jury trial. He accepted the offer. But the sentencing judge rescinded it after Pollard pleaded guilty. Was the government's breaching of the plea agreement a true rendering of justice, or its miscarriage?

The unilateral scrapping of a plea agreement by a judge is exceptionally rare. In this instance, it was occasioned by an unusual and arguably improper ex parte memorandum from the then defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger. That memorandum, which continues to stand as a key obstacle to Mr. Pollard's release, has never been made public. It is about time to bring it into the open. The bitter irony is that secretary Weinberger himself subsequently received a presidential pardon, even before trial, on the criminal charge that he had concealed vital evidence in the Iran-contra scandal.

Judaism is a faith that condemns the crime even as it affirms the redemptive capacity of every living being. It is in this spirit that I feel that Jonathan Pollard, who has more than paid for his transgression, deserves to be released from prison.

Alexander M. Schindler is the president of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture; the immediate past president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America; and a past chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.