Betar Advocates for Jonathan Pollard's Release
Arlene Fine - Cleveland Jewish News - December 1, 2007
J4JP Prefacing Comment
This past Shabbat, Parshat Vayishev, when we read about the sale of Joseph by his brothers, there was a nationwide campaign in Israel to increase awareness and public prayer for Jonathan Pollard. Numerous rabbis and their congregations dedicated their Shabbat speeches, parsha sheets, and learning to Jonathan Pollard, who they consider to be "Yosef shel dorainu" (the Joseph of our generation). J4JP plans to translate some of this material to English in the coming days, for the benefit of the English speaking public and to make it available on our website. In the meantime, particularly at this time, we find it very meaningful that at least some of American Jewry is awake and aware of Jewish history and of the moral and halachic imperative that devolves upon us as a People to participate in the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim (the redemption of a captive) for Jonathan Pollard. As our illustrious rabbis have indicated this week in their speeches about Jonathan, Heaven is testing us with the plight of Jonathan Pollard to see if we have learned our lesson from the sale of Joseph. The following article from the Cleveland Jewish News made us proud.
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Most of the Cleveland Betar members were not born when Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. navy intelligence analyst, was arrested as a spy on charges of passing classified material to Israel.
Yet, for the past two weeks, Betar members, wearing and selling "Free Jonathan Pollard" T-shirts and rubber bracelets, were again advocating for Pollard's release at synagogues, restaurants, Jewish day schools, and other Jewish institutions. With writing paper and envelopes in hand, they are asking community members to send a letter to President Bush requesting clemency for Pollard.
"I'm quoting Allan Dershowitz when I say the Pollard case is the greatest miscarriage of justice," says Dani Horwitz, the Betar shaliach (emissary), who has been instrumental in coordinating the campaign to release Pollard. "We are working tirelessly to free our betrayed brother. We don't hear rabbis from the pulpits pleading his case, most of the Jewish Federations do not feel his release is an important Jewish issue, and no politician has become his advocate. So it is up to a bunch of high-school kids from a Zionist youth group to try to make a difference."
Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of espionage charges in 1984. He served the first seven years of his sentence in maximum security at Marion Prison in Illinois, regarded as the roughest in the federal system. He has since been transferred to medium security at Butner Federal Correctional Institution in North Carolina. According to a position paper issued by the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland in 1997:
"It is clear that Jonathan Pollard received an extremely harsh and perhaps excessive sentence. While other Americans have received life sentences, they were also passing state secrets to the Soviets in the midst of the Cold War."
Over the years, Betar adviser Dennis Seaman has never given up the fight to release Pollard. "No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally," says Seaman. "The median sentence for this offense is two to four years. Pollard was indicted for only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. He was never charged with treason."
The fact that Pollard entered a plea bargain and still got life imprisonment infuriates Seaman, an attorney. "No one was his advocate," he says. "He tried to file an appeal, and the Court of Appeals refused it because his incompetent lawyers did not file it in time."
As Horwitz and the Betar members talk about the Pollard case to community members, they have gotten varied responses.
"The most frustrating response is when someone hears our story, says, 'That's a shame,' and then walks away without taking any action," says Horwitz.
He also has heard from some people who tell him to close up shop and go home. "They have said it is dangerous for the general community to be reminded that Pollard, a Jewish man, spied against America," says Horwitz. "They say, 'Why have you brought up something so terrible in public?'"
Yet, the Betar youth group refuses to stay silent. "Ever since Betar was created by Ze'ev Jabotinksy, our group believes in activism," says Horwitz. "Maybe all these letters will not do anything, but we cannot sit silently and let injustice happen."
Eric E. Bell, chair of the Jewish Community Federation's Community Relations Committee adds, "The CRC does not contest the legal process or Pollard's guilt, but rather seeks mercy for him. We are encouraging people to write or e-mail President Bush in support of Pollard's release. His sentence should be commuted to time served on humanitarian grounds."
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