Rabbis Ask Bush to Free Pollard

J4JP and JTA Release - September 29, 2003

A delegation of rabbis representing various unrelated Jewish organizations met with President Bush in the White House on Monday, immediately following Rosh Ha'Shana, the Jewish New Year. Two of the participants made appeals to the President on behalf of the Jewish community to free Jonathan Pollard.

During a question and answer session, Rabbi Ilan Feldman, rabbi of the Beth Jacob Congregation of Atlanta Ga., addressed the President and expressed the concern of the Jewish community for the plight of Jonathan Pollard. He pointed out that Jonathan is serving the longest harshest sentence of any person in the United States convicted of a similar offense. Feldman said that for Jews the world over this time of year is one of introspection and contrition, a time that we all pray for Heavenly mercy and forgiveness. He asked that the President show similar consideration to the Jewish Community by releasing Jonathan Pollard now and sending him home to Israel. The President appeared to be listening carefully, but made no commitment.

Minutes after Rabbi Feldman made this appeal, Rabbi Steven Pruzanski, rabbi of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck NJ, was recognized to speak. He thanked the President and then went on to say that he would like to echo the words of his colleague, Rabbi Feldman, in expressing the concern of the Jewish community for Jonathan Pollard and the sincere hope of all that the President will release Jonathan in time to spend the remainder of the holidays at home in Israel with his wife.

Justice4JP has learned that Rabbi Feldman's principled remarks to the President about Jonathan Pollard are all the more admirable in face of opposition to raising the issue that existed within the rabbinic delegation itself prior to the meeting. At least one prominent colleague from another orthodox organization lobbied hard before the meeting to prevent the group from raising the Pollard issue at all. He repeated the behind-the-scenes posture of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and insisted that "bringing up Pollard is wasting the opportunity; the President is not going to do anything for Pollard, so let's not even mention him".

Rabbi Feldman's plan to raise the Pollard issue was unanimously accepted when he asked his colleagues: "When the day comes that I have to face Esther Pollard, and she asks me what could possibly have been more important to raise with the President, than the fate of her husband, what should I tell her? His question was met with dead silence, and his plan to raise the issue with the President was adopted. Rabbi Pruzanski was not a part of this exchange. His personal initiative to get up and strengthen of Rabbi Feldman's comments to the President was deeply appreciated by all.

Below is the JTA's account of the meeting.

Bush Meets Rabbis - JTA - September 29, 2003

President Bush told U.S. rabbis that a "simple formula" exists for judging the new Palestinian leadership. Speaking to 15 rabbis in the White House on Monday, 09/28/03. Bush said that the United States would deal with new Palestinian leaders if they dismantle terrorist groups and fight terrorism. Until then, he said, "everything's on hold," according to Rabbi Steven Pruzanski of Teaneck, N.J., and others who attended the meeting. Bush said he supported Israel's security fence along the border with the West Bank, as long as its route does not preclude later territorial negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bush said he would look into the plight of Jonathan Pollard, but made no comments about the chances of a pardon for the former Navy intelligence officer serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. Pruzanski said Bush twice became emotional during the hour-long meeting - once while discussing his recent trip to the site of the Auschwitz death camp and once when he acknowledged that people pray for him.