Leading Jewish figures to ask Clinton to free spy

January 8, 1999 - Arthur Spiegelman - Reuters

LOS ANGELES - Three of the nation's leading Jewish figures will ask President Bill Clinton to delay any decision on clemency for the spy Jonathan Pollard until they can personally state the case for releasing him, a Jewish leader said on Friday.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman and Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz are preparing a letter to the White House asking for a meeting, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said.

Pollard pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison in 1986 for passing secret U.S. documents to Israel while working as a U.S. Naval Intelligence analyst.

Pollard said the material he gave the Israelis had been improperly denied to the U.S. ally. U.S. officials say he caused immense harm.

The issue of clemency for Pollard has severely split the U.S. Jewish community, where Pollard has been condemned for treason.

"What Jonathan Pollard did was utterly contemptible, but this delegation will appeal for his release on strictly humanitarian grounds, essentially asking only for mercy," Steinberg said.

He added: "A consensus has emerged in the organised Jewish community of absolute condemnation of Pollard's crimes while asking for his release on strictly humanitarian grounds following more than a dozen years of imprisonment.

"I think everyone will agree that nearly 15 years of being jailed, including solitary confinement, constitutes deterrence."

Clinton promised to review Pollard's case in October during the closing negotiations at the Wye Plantation in Maryland for a U.S.-brokered interim peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The promise came after a surprise demand by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Pollard's release be included in the deal.

Clinton in December asked the heads of the Justice, State and Defence departments and the CIA to report to him on the case.

But the idea of freeing Pollard has drawn strenuous opposition from U.S. security professionals, including CIA Director George Tenet, and congressional Republicans, who say his release would encourage the United States' enemies.

Over the years, several Jewish groups have launched campaigns to free Pollard, who is being held in a maximum-security prison in Butner, North Carolina. But the campaigns became mired in controversy .

Steinberg said Dershowitz, Wiesel and Bronfman were hoping Clinton would delay his consideration of clemency for Pollard until the "turbulent situation" in Washington was clarified.

This was a reference to the impeachment trial of Clinton going on in the Senate.

"Our hope is that the president, more than anyone else, knows the value of mercy," Steinberg said.