Plea for Mercy
Miscarriage of justice against Pollard begs for commuted sentence
Emanuel Rackman - The Jewish Week - April 30, 1992
(Posted to Web: May 9, 1999)
IT IS NOT EASY writing about Jonathan Pollard and his case without
becoming emotional. I spent almost five hours with him in a federal
maximum security prison, and find it difficult to subdue my anger that
such a gifted man should be kept inert. Five days after that visit, his
appeal for a new trial was denied by two federal judges, while one
dissented, saying Pollard had suffered a "miscarriage of justice."
Nonetheless, he has no relief while the character of his incarceration
evokes indescribable sympathy and even moments of horror. Yet both
Israel and the Jewish establishment in the United States are blind to
his plight and deaf to his plea.
These thoughts I must repress because I know that my anger will get him
nowhere. Instead I must exercise all the influence and persuasion that I
can to get the groups hostile to his cause to join in a respectful
request for the commutation of his sentence to the time already served.
If a federal appellate judge described what has happened until now as a
"miscarriage of justice," who can possibly deny a modest plea for mercy
without reopening, reviewing or erasing the past?
Several months ago I appealed in this column to those involved in the
matter to respect the feelings of what I held to be the overwhelming
majority of the world's Jews that there was anti-Semitism in the
conviction and sentence of Pollard. For the purpose of this new plea I
will assume for the sake of argument, and notwithstanding the mischief
of Caspar Weinberger, that there was no such anti-Semitism. No one has
argued that position more effectively than did Judge Abraham Sofaer in a
debate with Alan Dershowitz, and he confirmed the Anti-Defamation League
decision to avoid involvement in the matter.
Nonetheless, even Judge Sofaer, who argued that there was guilt and a
basis for the unbelievably severe sentence supported a call for
rachmones, compassion. In his own words: "If you want to call for
rachmones, how am I going to say no? How should anyone say no?
Compassion? Find an appropriate basis for it and express it in
appropriate terms after appropriately condemning this man, after
appropriately condemning what the government of Israel did, and I have
no difficulty with compassion . " (The outstanding federal appellate
judge David Bazelon was wont to call this a A writ of rachmones.")
In Judge Sofaer's argument he faults Israel more than the accused. If he
is correct, then Israel's cabinet should take an active part in getting
Pollard out of jail. The prisoner himself deserves compassion not only
for having already been subjected to six years of the most harrowing
prison experience, but also for his great contribution to humanity in
having prevented a disaster during the Persian Gulf war. One dreads to
imagine what might have happened if Israel had not had the information
from Pollard's unlawful but over- whelmngly benign and heroic act.
In great measure, Judge Sofaer's presentation to the Anti- Defamation
League influenced that organization as it did other groups similarly
minded, to leave to the courts to decide whether an injustice is being
committed. Fine. The court has now decided. Must Pollard try against
odds for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to get the dissent
upheld? [*NOTE: the Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear an appeal
on the Pollard Case] Has not one federal judge already provided the
"basis" for the commutation of Pollard's sentence to time seved?
True, two judges disagreed. But why should it take a unanimous jury to
convict an offender, while the opinion of one judge that there has been
a "miscarriage of justice" is inconsequential to get a convicted felon
out of jail after he had served for six years, most of them in solitary
My earlier plea to the Jewish establishment was to no avail. But now my
plea is not for a new trial but only for the commutation of sentence.
And if to that Judge Sofaer says, "How should anyone say no," why should
there not be a unanimous Jewish community joining in a plea for a result
that can please all?
If the strong words of the dissenting judge are not enough of a basis
for commuting Pollard's sentence, let me offer two others that are found
in the reasoning of the two judges who denied the appeal.
Why did they do so? For technical reasons. Do such reasons justify
leaving a man in solitary confinement when many acknowledge his case has
These two judges declined to offer an opinion on the life sentence. Yet
it was the sentence that has aroused the ire of many. Must one be denied
justice because of consideration for the honor of a fellow judge and a
government official in high places? The second excuse is unbelievable -
it is alleged the case should have been brought sooner. Must one
languish in jail because he was too poor to appeal with haste?
"God of Abraham!" I must scream. Why did our sages use this phrase when
they felt outraged? I now know why. Because it was Abraham who screamed
even at God, saying, "Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?"
To judges of the earth I make my appeal. God yielded to Abraham's
challenge. I pray that President Bush will yield to yours and ours no
matter how he feels about Jews not voting for him.
Pollard stands convicted. He admits his guilt. He has expressed his
remorse. He has suffered an unusual punishment. No organization need
admit that it did wrong. They can all unite on one prayer - the
commutation of the sentence to time spent. And an anguished Jewish
community can put to rest at least one cause for internal strife.
Rabbi Emanuel Rackman is the Chancellor of Bar-Ilan University, Israel.