An Issue Lying in Wait in the Senate Race

The New York Times - October 5, 1999 - Clyde Haberman

Hillary Rodham Clinton is visiting Warsaw on Tuesday (the one in Poland, not the town that she surely knows from her acute listening is in upstate New York).

The First Lady is scheduled to speak at a conference on democracy in post-Communist Eastern Europe, but she also plans to stop by a Jewish school. Want to bet that by tomorrow someone will attack her for pandering to Jewish voters in her nascent campaign for United States Senator? And for all anyone knows, the accuser may be right.

It isn't as if Mrs. Clinton has been conspicuously adroit in navigating the shoals of New York ethnic politics. Witness her handling of the clemency that her husband extended to jailed Puerto Rican nationalists from the F.A.L.N. group that was responsible for terrorist acts two decades ago.

Lying ahead is another ethnic obstacle that may prove even more dangerous politically. Should she add her voice to the Democratic politicians and Jewish groups here demanding that the President free Jonathan Pollard, the American serving a life sentence for spying for Israel?

Mrs. Clinton's instinct is to keep her head down. "She understands the importance of the issue, but there's no statement at this time," said Howard Wolfson, her campaign spokesman. But how long can she can keep ducking? Given the emotions involved in the Pollard case, the F.A.L.N. clemency may yet look to her like a piece of cake.

Time was, going back to Pollard's arrest in 1985, that his main champions were Jews on the political right, not the sort likely to vote for Mrs. Clinton anyway. Some charged anti-Semitism. They argued that Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy, had merely passed along material that Washington should have given Israel in the first place. *[For accurate information, see the Facts Page.]

His supporters prefer not to mention a few inconvenient facts, chief among them that military and intelligence officials call Pollard one of the most damaging spies in recent American history. Among other things, they say, he jeopardized agents working inside the Soviet Union. *[Jonathan Pollard was never charged with harming U.S. agents, codes or war plans. There is no evidence to support any such charges in a court of law, so they are always only made in the media. Aldrich Ames was the CIA mole responsible for the deaths of American agents in the USSR, but even after he was exposed and arrested, Pollard continued to be publicly blamed for Ames'crimes.] And if keeping him in prison qualifies as an anti-Semitic plot, the conspiracy includes the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence, all of whom say it is still too dangerous to free him. *[Not a single one will say specifically why. All claim that they are relying on secret evidence, which Pollard is not allowed to see and he has never been allowed to challenge in a court of law - in complete vilolation of his constitutional right to due process.]

Nonetheless, the chorus calling for Pollard's release is growing. It now includes liberals and mainstream Jewish groups in New York that used to run from this case faster than you would from a mosquito carrying the West Nile virus. He has done enough time, they say, and freeing him is the humanitarian thing to do.

There is, too, Mrs. Clinton's likely Republican opponent, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who says that Pollard's life sentence is "disproportionate to other people who had served time for precisely the same crime."

The Mayor sees nothing inconsistent in supporting freedom for an archspy said to have greatly undermined national security *[Again, this charge was only made in the media, never in court. There is no hard evidence to support it.] while opposing clemency for the F.A.L.N. crew, who were not convicted of direct involvement in violence.

But that is separate from the question of how long Mrs.Clinton can bob and weave on this one. Certainly, she will continue beyond this week, which will also find her visiting Iceland. That should be a refreshing stopover. Icelanders are one ethnic group New York politicians rarely need worry about...

Justice for JP Notes:

  1. The call for Jonathan Pollard's release is not based on ethnicity, political considerations, nor on the fact that he spied for Israel, a close ally of the United States. Rather, it rests firmly upon the concept of judicial equity and the simple righting of blatant injustice.

    For more information on the numerous irregularities and judicial unfairness in this case see the Facts Page and all of its sub pages

  2. Notes in square brackets inserted into the NY TIMES text are supplied by Justice for Jonathan Pollard.

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