Jewish groups keeping quiet as battle over Pollard intensifies
January 12, 1999 - Daniel Kurtzman - JTA
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (JTA) -- As President Clinton nears a decision on
whether to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard, opponents of the convicted spy
are coming out of the woodwork in a concerted, unyielding effort to ensure that
he remains locked up for
Pollard's supporters in the Jewish community, by contrast, have opted for a
more low-key approach to winning his freedom, recognizing it as a losing public
campaign and instead hoping to quietly persuade Clinton with the force of their
Clinton received recommendations on Pollard's case this week from his senior
national security aides, nearly three months after pledging a review at the
signing of the Wye peace accords.
All remain adamantly opposed to releasing the former U.S. navy analyst, who is
serving a life sentence for handing over thousands of top-secret documents to
Israel in 1984 and 1985.
The two top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have also weighed
in, urging fellow senators to demand that Pollard remain jailed, as have seven
former U.S. defense secretaries.
At the same time, senior members of the U.S. intelligence community are now
saying that Pollard did more damage to national security than the public has
Intelligence sources, breaking their long silence on the issue, released new
information to The New Yorker magazine this week detailing four major U.S.
intelligence systems they say Pollard betrayed. These allegations appear
intended to undercut arguments that Pollard's admitted acts of espionage did no
real damage to American national security.
Pollard told one of his supporters this week the new charges are "garbage."
The New Yorker said its sources had gone public because they feared Clinton
"is about to give in to Israeli pressure to release Pollard."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded Pollard's release during
Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in October at the Wye Plantation in
A proposed deal for Pollard's release fell apart after the director of the Central
Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, threatened to resign if Clinton agreed to the
Clinton has twice denied clemency to Pollard -- in 1993 and 1996.
In the face of the hostile and highly public anti-Pollard campaign, the Jewish
community has remained comparatively quiet. A small cadre of supporters has
been actively pressing the issue, while most of the organized Jewish community
has remained on the sidelines.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, B'nai
B'rith and the National Council of Young Israel have all sent letters to Clinton
and to White House counsel Charles Ruff asking for leniency and for an
opportunity to discuss the Pollard issue.
And three of the nation's most prominent Jews have asked for a meeting with
Clinton to discuss the case.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman
and Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, all of whom have close
ties to the president, were preparing a letter this week asking Clinton to delay
any decision until they have a chance to state the case for releasing him
"The crimes of Jonathan Pollard were contemptible, and we reject any effort to
justify or rationalize them," a draft of their letter states.
"At the same time, in light of his many years of incarceration and his repeated
statements of contrition, we would wish to address to you our hope that as
president you could consider the redeeming quality of mercy by invoking
compassion at the human level."
Outside those efforts, there has been little public clamor in recent weeks among
Pollard's supporters for his release -- and certainly nothing to match the vitriol
of the opponents. According to some Jewish leaders, however, their reticence
results from both practical realities and tactics.
The issue of clemency has long been a source of division in the Jewish
community. Over the years, several Jewish groups have waged various
campaigns to win Pollard's freedom, but most efforts became bogged down by
While a consensus has formed in the community in recent years that Pollard
should be released on humanitarian grounds, "for many it's not a pressing
issue," said Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents
who serves as co-chairman of the group's Pollard committee.
"There are some people for whom Pollard's fate is a matter of intense concern,"
but it would be "hard to say that it's a major priority for the organized Jewish
community," said Lawrence Rubin, executive vice chairman of the Jewish
Council for Public Affairs.
The council, an umbrella body of local and national Jewish organizations,
supports Pollard's release but has elected not to lobby publicly on the convicted
The issue also presents something of a Catch-22. Each time Pollard's supporters
in the Jewish community have drawn public attention to his case, the opposition
has only grown louder. For that reason, advocates say they have opted to press
the issue behind the scenes.
"The more drama that's associated with this, the worse it turns out to be for
Pollard," said Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress.
"There have to be patient, persistent efforts, not highly dramatized and
celebrated," said Baum, who co-chairs the Pollard committee of the Conference
"This is an issue that needs to be done quietly," said Abraham Foxman, national
director of the Anti-Defamation League, which has taken no official position on
Pollard. A flood of letters or newspaper ads would serve no purpose at this
point, he added, because "the administration knows well where the community
At the same time, Pollard and many of his closest supporters have expressed
their frustration in recent weeks that the Jewish community is not doing more on
His wife, Esther, said in an interview that nobody is asking Jewish
organizational leaders to "march a brass band down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Nothing could be more counterproductive than public grandstanding at this
But she added: "Given the threat to due process to Jews in America, given the
blatant disregard of justice, one would have expected a far more vigorous
response from every sector of the American Jewish community and Israel.''
While the specific recommendations Clinton received this week from the
departments of State, Defense and Justice, as well as the CIA, remain under
wraps, they are certain to make clear the extent of opposition Clinton will have
to overcome within his administration if he opts for leniency.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, for her part, told Clinton she believes
there are no compelling foreign policy considerations to justify releasing
White House officials have said they will make sure the full array of opinions
are heard before the president makes a decision, but it remains unclear whether
Jewish advocates will have an opportunity to make the case for Pollard's release
It is also unclear when Clinton will arrive at a conclusion, although some
administration officials have said they believe he may wait weeks or even
months before deciding.