Hoenlein: "Pollard's Sentence Unduly Harsh"
Rick Kardonne - The Tribune - June 12, 1997
TORONTO - Jonathan Pollard, the American Jewish Prisoner of Conscience, "should be released just on humanitarian grounds." So said Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who spoke at a UJA Federation breakfast at Beth Tzedec on Yom Yerushalayim.
(In 1989, Pollard, who worked for U.S. naval intelligence, was sentenced to life without parole, despite a plea bargain, for passing on American classified information to Israel after he felt that such information posed a threat to Israel's existence.) Hoenlein admitted that Pollard's sentence was unduly harsh. He conceded that "President Clinton's position on Pollard is hardening, not softening. His rationale is inexplicable." However, when asked by The Tribune whether or not there should be a mass Jewish march on the White House to press for Pollard's release, on the pattern of mass demonstrations on behalf of Natan Sharansky when he was jailed on spy charges by the Soviet Union; Hoenlein said no.
"Pollard was a spy. He committed a crime," said Hoenlein. When informed about the circumstances of his case regarding Israel's security, which Pollard's actions might very well have greatly benefited (together with the case's questionable legal details); Hoenlein replied: "That doesn't matter, " even though he admitted that "I would have done the same thing." He requested that there be a mass letter-writing campaign to President Clinton on Pollard's behalf, instead of the bolder and probably more effective tactic of a mass Jewish march.
In his main speech, Hoenlein, in regards to the conversion bill pending Knesset passage, did state that ground rules regarding conversions to Judaism were necessary. Otherwise millions of people around the world could claim to be Jews and demand the right to live in Israel. But he emphasized that this issue should be settled by "a process of education." He praised Prime Minister Netanyahu for being "very sensitive to this issue," by engaging in behind-the-scenes "constant consultation with U.S. Jewish leaders."
By all means, "the rhetoric" on both sides of this issue "must remain civil," warned Hoenlein. "The UJA campaign cannot become subject to divisions over the conversion bill. To the outside world we must remain a united nation," he vowed, warning that today there are far more important "life and death issues for the Jewish people," which demand Jewish unity for the very sake of Jewish survival.
Stating that "in fifty years since the Holocaust the world hasn't changed much," Hoenlein, in what was the most informative part of his stirringly-spoken address, surveyed the disturbing rise of worldwide hateful Islamic fundamentalism and of its woeful implications for Israel. Open Arab Jew-hatred persists. "PLO official pamphlets say that Israel injects the AIDS virus into Palestinian children. 90% of Egypt's (largely American-subsidized_ budget goes to its army which is largely aimed against Israel."
And "Iran is no longer a local power. There are sleeper Iranian agents with chemical and biological weapons in North America." He stated that cash-starved Russian scientists are currently in Iran aiding the ayatollah-ruled regime's nuclear arms buildup. "Everything is for sale in Russia."
He indirectly castigated the Clinton administration for tacitly supporting the Bosnian Muslim contingency, which he depicted as "an Islamic fundamentalist outpost in the heart of Europe." And he criticized liberal American and Canadian immigration policies for allowing Hamas terrorists and other ideologically-related Muslim fanatics such as the blind sheikh and the Saudi bomber of the U.S. base to use the U.S. and Canadian as "an outpost" of operations.
He specifically attacked both the New York Times and the Washington Post for printing, for weeks on end, "mega-lies; false stories claiming that Israel was spying on the U.S." In response to this and other press lies, Israel and world Jewry must remain strong and united. He firmly defended the continued construction of the Har Homa housing project in south Jerusalem, reminding the audience that (in contrast to the general press claiming it to be in what it calls "Arab east Jerusalem"), this land was initially purchased by Lithuanian Jews in 1927.
Remaining inherently optimistic, Malcolm Hoenlein concluded: "We are the generation not of stores but of miracles. But don't take the miracles for granted. The Jewish bridge needs two strong anchors. We (The Diaspora) are one. Our grandchildren will judge us" as to how strong we remain.
Equal Justice for all American Citizens is the issue that Hoenlein sweeps under the rug in order to evade responsibility.
Jonathan Pollard, completing his 12th year of a life sentence, has now served more than twice as long as any person in America ever convicted of a similar offence. Indeed his sentence is much harsher than those convicted of much more serious offences.
For example, HAROLD NICHOLSON, who spied for an enemy state and whose work endangered the lives of American agents recently received a 23 year sentence. Pollard, received Life (with no parole) for the much lesser offence of passing classified information to an ally.
Clearly Pollard's sentence speaks volumes about the nation he spied for, Israel; and the community he is identified with, the American Jewish community. But Mr. Hoenlein and colleagues would rather not address this. If they did, they might actually find themselves obliged to do something a little more effective than telling private citizens to write to the President.
Mr. Hoenlein ought to heed his own admonition that future generations will judge this generation's lack of resolution and failure to stand strong for what is right.