Jonathan Pollard - A Moral Thorn Deep in Our Side

November 5, 1998, 1998 - Anne Roiphe - Hadassah Magazine

Earl Pitts was sentenced to 27 years in prison for selling secrets to Moscow. He did it for money. His excuse? He found New York City, where he was working for the F.B.I., "very expensive, dirty and congested." On good behavior, Pitts will be out in less time than the 13 years Jonathan Pollard has already served.

C.I.A. agent Harold Nicholson spied for the Soviets and was sentenced to 23 years.

Marine Sgt. Clayton Lonetree got 25 years for selling secrets in Moscow, but was released after only nine years. Navy Lieut. Comdr. Michael Schwartz delivered secret defense information to Saudi Arabia. He pleaded guilty to espionage and was given an other-than-honorable discharge - no fine, no imprisonment.

As everyone in the Jewish community knows, Jonathan Pollard, while in the service of United States Navy intelligence, provided classified information to Israel. He admits it and he has publicly and privately expressed remorse more times than can be counted. And as everyone now also knows, Pollard was vengefully, irrationally and cruelly sentenced to life imprisonment.

So what is going on here? Why has this man, a Jew, been punished so much more ferociously than any other peacetime spy in our history? Why is he the only person ever given life for spying for an ally - an offense which normally carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a median of two to four? Why doesn't the President issue a pardon when so clearly one is in order, for fairness sake, for justice's sake?

At the time of his indictment, Pollard thought he had a plea bargain. Citing his cooperation, prosecutors said they would not ask Judge Aubrey Robinson for the maximum. But amid much jockeying between the White House, State, Defense and Justice Departments, Robinson delayed sentencing. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who advocated the stiffest possible sentence, sent a classified memorandum to Robinson and the life sentence was sealed.

After losing what he thought was a deal, Pollard was ready to appeal his sentence. But, he says, he was told that his then-wife who was charged with unauthorized possession of classified documents and given a lighter sentence would not be paroled if he appealed. He waited until she was released, at which time he was informed he had missed the deadline. Judge Stephen F. Williams labeled the Justice Department's actions at Pollard's sentencing a 'flagrant violation' of the intent of the plea bargain, but Williams was outvoted 2-1 on the appellate panel.

Too bad - not just for Pollard but for American justice. He remains in jail feeling -with a great amount of justification - twice tricked. While it's surely legal it cannot be moral.

Pollard gave secrets to Israel about Iraq's chemical and nuclear plans. It wasn't right, but all of us in the Jewish community have to wonder why our government wasn't sharing this information. A lot of people just want to forget about Pollard. Though the tide has moved somewhat in recent years, many American Jews and some of our leaders still fear accusations of dual loyalty. They do not want to put the good reputation of American Jews on the line for one sinner.

Israel, after initial hesitation, acknowledged that Pollard had worked for a branch of its intelligence service. They, too, didn't want to use up any chips over one man, although over the years we have watched the spectacle of busloads of terrorists released from Israeli jails.

The Jewish community and Israel have many pressing issues. We always have. We always will. Pollard is just one man and some among us think that is reason enough to ignore his plight. But it doesn't work that way. We are who we are because of how we respond to those of our own who need our help. We do not ignore the hungry or the desperate because they are powerless. So, too, we cannot ignore Pollard sitting in jail, listening to the steel bars slamming shut again and again.

President Clinton has not been willing to issue a pardon without the full approval and accompanying pressure from the major Jewish organizations. He will not act until he thinks the Jewish vote requires it. The job of Jewish leaders is to advance all our interests, and I understand the reluctance to throw the dice for Pollard. But we have to ask: Isn't fairness important? What kind of a community are we if we leave one of our own at the mercy of the unmerciful?

We're not talking about a Dreyfus case. Dreyfus was innocent and Pollard is guilty. But when the stink of unequal justice hangs over a Jew's head we all are implicated. There may in fact be no rank anti-Semitism in this rough justice, but there is certainly the appearance of it, enough to make us anxious. If we act like cowards over the dual-loyalty issue, we will one day meet the fate of cowards.

Pollard is now a moral thorn deep in the Jewish community's side, and there are many Jewish leaders who accept the duty of working for his release. Rabbi Avi Weiss called the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to a beit din (Jewish court) for its inaction. Rabbi Irving Greenberg, issuing a strong statement in Pollard's defense, asserted that "enough is enough." Elie Wiesel has asked, "Is it not the time for human compassion?" Law professor Alan Dershowitz; Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg; Rabbi Ismar Schorch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and many others have expressed concern at Pollard's long imprisonment. The list is growing, and all over the Jewish community there is a rising sentiment that something must be done. In the corridors of the major Jewish organizations, ordinary professionals are feeling uncomfortable with the issue that will not go away.

But if the mood has shifted, the outcry from inside the organized Jewish community is not as loud as it needs to be. Some organizations, like the Anti-Defamation League, are still outside the emerging consensus, and others that once loudly avoided Pollard's defense now stand quietly, mouselike, behind statements of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs advocating his release.

In America, thousands of murderers and child molesters are released after a few years in prison, but a man who was both conflicted and passionate in his loyalty, who did what he thought was right for a country he loved, who admits his guilt, is still behind bars without hope.

I have spoken often to Jonathan Pollard on the phone. Yes, he is frantic; yes, he is disappointed; and, yes, he sometimes alienates supporters and gets angry when he shouldn't, but I wonder what I would be like in similar circumstances. The man wants to join his wife and have a child in Israel. He wants a second chance to have the simple things that freedom provides. He calls and wishes Shana Tova to my family and the wistful, sweet and decent tone in his voice cuts deep and stings.

Remember the forgiveness we asked for at Yom Kippur? I would ask the muted leaders of American Jewish organizations to spare a little for a man who did not spy, rumors aside, for money, or because he is crazy, but because he thought he had to for Israel and has apologized to his God, to his people and to the President of the United States far more often than the President has apologized to us. The President, who now understands about asking forgiveness of those he has harmed, should indeed extend his forgiveness to this one prisoner who, no matter how you may wish to squirm away, is one of us.

Anne Roiphe is author of the forthcoming memoir 1185 Park Avenue, to be published in May 1999 by The Free Press.