Rev. Al to Fight for Pollard?

Karen Hunter - NY Daily News - November 27, 2001

The Rev. Al Sharpton may have a new cause: Trying to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. At least that's what one of Pollard's advisers is hoping.

Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy who admitted passing U.S. secrets to Israel, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1985. Many leaders in the Jewish community — and Mayor Giuliani — have called Pollard's sentencing harsh and a violation of his civil liberties. They've been fighting for his release or a reduction in sentence for years.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, known for writing his "Kosher Sex" guide for married couples and for his friendship with singer Michael Jackson, has been among those saying that Pollard has paid for his crimes. Boteach feels that Sharpton's work in fighting for civil rights could be helpful to Pollard.

"The civil rights movement was not a black issue, it was about human rights. This is not a Jewish issue, it's about human rights. I think Rev. Sharpton can help in this cause. He's a man who is a voice for many who have no voice."

Boteach shared his feelings with Pollard and suggested he contact Sharpton. In a letter delivered Thanksgiving Day, Pollard invited Sharpton to visit him in his North Carolina prison.

"I am aware that in the past you have gone on public record stating that the life sentence that I am serving is too harsh, calling for equal justice in my case, and advocating for my release," Pollard wrote. "Your participation in this case is welcome and I look forward to exploring with you the ways in which your enhanced involvement might be most effective."

Sharpton said yesterday he has not decided whether to meet with Pollard. But either way, two things are clear: Pollard, desperate to get some steam behind the flagging movement to get him released, feels that Sharpton can help. And Sharpton's checkered relationship with the Jewish community is getting more and more interesting. Boteach is a key player in that drama.

Dissent Lingers

Last month, Sharpton made a headline-grabbing visit to Israel, where he met with Israeli leaders, victims of terror and Yasser Arafat. Many of the same people who helped Sharpton make the trip were angered and disappointed by his visit with Arafat — including Boteach.

"There are several areas where Rev. Sharpton and I do not see eye to eye," Boteach told me. "And his meeting with Arafat was one of them. I felt it would overshadow his purpose for going to Israel, which was to meet with victims of terror in Israel. And it did overshadow all of the wonderful meetings and warm feelings he shared with terror victims."

Sharpton has also been called an anti-Semite for his use in the past of words like "diamond merchants" and "white interloper" during incidents involving Jews in Crown Heights and Harlem.

"Even his worst critics could only accuse Sharpton of inciteful and inflammatory rhetoric," Boteach said, contending that Sharpton subsequently showed "extra sensitivity and courage in saying he overlooked the suffering of Jews in the past."

Spying Led to U.S. Deaths

There are risks involved if Sharpton takes on the Pollard cause. If a prison visit turns into a mere publicity stunt — one where Sharpton seems to be up to his old self-promoting tricks — Pollard will get nothing. And Sharpton will be accused, once again, of putting himself ahead of a cause.

"I did not ask Jonathan Pollard to write me," Sharpton said. "I did not go after him for a meeting. But I do think it is a very interesting request, one I would have to weigh heavily in this time when the country is under siege by terrorism."

Yes, America is under siege. We are all on high alert and awaiting the next terrorist attack. So is now the time to fight for the release of a convicted spy who couldn't get a pardon from even former President Bill Clinton — who gave clemency to 16 Puerto Rican separatists involved in bombings that killed six people and who pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich?

It's widely assumed that Clinton, despite lots of pressure to free Pollard, refused because key members of the U.S. intelligence community charged that Pollard's betrayal led to the deaths of American spies.

In his letter, Pollard identified the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta as a sponsor for Sharpton's proposed prison visit. Phone calls to the office of Consul General Ilan Segev were not returned.

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