Passover And Pollard: An Open Letter To Bush, Olmert

Kenneth Lasson - The Baltimore Jewish Times - April 25, 2008

Dear Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister,

I am very proud to be an American, to be Jewish, and to be a supporter of Israel.

That pride is borne of the great national character reflected by both countries an ingrained commitment to freedom, democracy, and humanitarian values which in turn nourish our charitable impulses, our natural heritage, our melting-pot psyche.

But it is also a requirement of good citizens everywhere to reflect upon their nations' failures, never to cease trying to correct them and always to understand the consequences of silence toward them.

Thus must we acknowledge that the American system of justice, so genuinely principled in concept and gently noble in purpose and generally fair in practice, has failed badly in the case of Jonathan Pollard. While the former Navy intelligence officer acted wrongly in violating the law by passing classified information, the average punishment for that kind of activity is four years' imprisonment. Mr. Pollard's life sentence is so

grossly disproportionate Were they asked their opinion, the majority of Americans would likely agree with the sentiments expressed by a federal judge in one of Mr. Pollard's appeals (all of which turned on technical procedural issues and not on substance), that the handling of his case was "a fundamental miscarriage of justice."

And the government of Israel, which in the past has offered refuge to millions of people oppressed by genocidal regimes and rescued hundreds of thousands of children starved by Third World famine and sought to save other nations' victims of natural disasters, appears to have totally abandoned one of its acknowledged agents and not because it is unaware of his whereabouts.

Pollard has been imprisoned for the past 23 years; he resides in a jail cell in North Carolina. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens would strongly support an honest effort by their government to bring about his release, their leaders blindly ignore his plight. Even a virtually unanimous resolution by the Knesset to act on Mr. Pollard's behalf brings nothing but disingenuous platitudes. Israel has had many opportunities to press the issue with the United States to request, for example, that Mr. Pollard be returned to Israel in reciprocity for the many gestures made by the Jewish State at the behest of the U.S. in pursuit of its peace initiatives and by all accounts has failed genuinely to do so.

While some might argue that for a simple citizen to tell his President or the Prime Minister of Israel the right thing to do is an act of chutzpah, those same governments have an obligation to respond to the voices of their people.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert, with all due respect, your silence has been deafening.

In this season of redemption, it is wholly appropriate once again to make one simple entreaty: Let Jonathan Pollard go.

At this, the time to celebrate freedom, the opportunity is upon you.

On this Passover, do not pass over the chance to act.

With this small gesture of leadership, please act now.

Kenneth Lasson

Kenneth Lasson is a law professor at the University of Baltimore specializing in civil liberties and international human rights.