Op Ed: The Continuing Pollard Campaign
Hamodia - January 28, 2009 - May be Reprinted
Shlomo Z. Mostofsky, President, National Council of Young Israel
Everyone knows the story where Moshiach finally arrives. He goes from shul to shul telling the Jews that it's time to go home, to Eretz Yisrael, that the Galus is over. Wherever Moshiach goes he is rejected because of his dress, his yarmulka, his hat or his accent. Eventually, in frustration, he simply leaves.
Disunity has been a problem for the Jewish nation going back to at least the times of Moshe Rabbeniu. Even during periods of great tzoros, problems and challenges, people have reacted differently. Rarely have we spoken as one.
Over the last year though, there has been an incredible phenomenon. Jews of all stripes have joined together to pray, to write letters, sign petitions and call the White House in support of clemency for Jonathan Pollard. Wherever I went, knowing that the National Council of Young Israel has been at the forefront of the efforts to obtain Jonathan's release, people asked me for updates and told me what they were doing to help the effort. I entered a taxi in Israel and there was a "Free Jonathan Pollard" bumper sticker on the arm rest. People of all ages joined the effort. Chassidim, misnagdim, yeshivish, modern-Orthodox, regular Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, unaffiliated - every type of Jew joined together. It is rare that we have been able to look at ourselves in the mirror and actually view Goy Echad B'Aretz, a united nation.
There have been many heroes in this effort. First and foremost is perhaps, Jonathan. Yes, he committed a crime, he has admitted his guilt, he has expressed remorse, but he has served his time, he has been punished sufficiently. But to be able to endure in federal prisons, many years in solitary confinement, and remain optimistic and forward looking, is nothing less than heroic. The fact that he is a man of such strong faith, that to the best of his ability he is shomer Shabbos, maintains a kosher diet, has remained a man of integrity, that too is heroic. Of course, Jonathan's wife, Esther Pollard, devotes her entire being on behalf of her husband. Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel has dedicated thousands, if not tens of thousands, of hours to this cause, on a professional and personal level. Jonathan's attorneys, Elliot Lauer, Esq. and Jacques Semmelman, Esq. gave pro bono, their all, on behalf of Mr. Pollard. To them, also, the cause has become personal. HaRav Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, may he have a refuah shlaima, has adopted the Pollards as his own children, is their Rabbinic mentor and is always available for the Pollard cause.
The current and past Chief Rabbis of the State of Israel, as well as Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elayashuv, and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, Chasidic Rebbes, members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America, and hundreds, if not thousands, of Rabbinic and lay leaders gave their unqualified support. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations supported his release. Almost every Jewish organization, from right to left, has advocated for the release of Jonathan Pollard.
While I am sure to leave some people out, whether by accident or because they worked behind the scenes and will continue to do so, there are individuals who deserve special recognition. Natan Sharansky, one of our great Jewish heroes, personally lobbied President George Bush and others on Mr. Pollard's behalf. Mr. Sharansky knows what it is to be in jail and to receive a disproportionate sentence. Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York showed courage and integrity as he turned over every stone on behalf of Mr. Pollard. When Mr. Pollard was finally given a hearing in Federal Court, a few years back, it was astounding to hear attorneys describe how, each time they sought a document from the government and were refused on grounds of national security, Congressman Weiner managed to obtain the document; and Congressman Weiner was in the courtroom, when not even one representative of the Israeli government managed to come.
There were those who simply acted as true Americans and spoke out against what they believed to be a travesty of justice, such as Hon. Stephen Williams, the Federal appellate judge who dissented in the original appellate case involving Mr. Pollard's sentence. He called the District Court's rejection of Mr. Pollard's plea a "flagrant violation of the [plea] agreement's spirit." There is former Federal district court judge, Hon. George N. Leighton, who submitted a "Declaration," in support of Mr. Pollard, to the appellate court in which he described the failures of the justice and judicial system in the case and called for Mr. Pollard to receive an "evidentiary hearing." It took great courage for former CIA Director James Woolsey to openly support the release of Mr. Pollard on humanitarian grounds and state clearly that Pollard did not pose a present national security risk to the United States. And lastly, to all the tens of thousands of Jews, men and women, adults and children, who called and wrote the White House, often, and, of course, prayed.
There have been naysayers over the years who claimed that Mr. Pollard received a just sentence because he was a spy. That is false. Mr. Pollard, in a plea bargain supported by the Justice Department, pleaded guilty to one count of "passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States." Mr. Pollard is not the only person who "spied" on behalf of a U.S. ally. Others have spied for China, South Africa, Great Britain, the Philippines and South Korea. The longest sentence received was 14 years meted out to Steven Lalas who disclosed the names of CIA agents, placing them in jeopardy. The United States honored Mr. Lalas's plea agreement despite the fact that he violated the agreement several times. Most of those convicted of spying for enemies of the United States, received sentences that were equal to the time already served by Pollard. Marian Zacharski, a spy for Poland who received a life sentence, served only four years. It is obvious that the reason Mr. Pollard is still in jail is not because he was a "spy" or because he "endangered" the United States of America.
Each time I meet Jonathan Pollard I come away with the sense that despite all of the machinations to obtain his release he placed his hopes solely in the hands of HaShem. He states that he believes there is a purpose for his imprisonment and that when that purpose had been served, he will be released. Perhaps that purpose is to bring unity to Klal Yisrael and to indicate that, if we can come together in support of just one human being, we can come together and breach many of the senseless issues that seem to divide us.
When I realized this past week that Jonathan Pollard was denied clemency, it was difficult to hold back the tears. For a second, I thought all of our work was for naught. I realized, however, that for over 2,000 years, at the end of the Pesach Seder, and at the end of Yom Kippur, Jews of all persuasions say "L'Shana Haba B'Yerushalayim." - "Next year in Jerusalem." Although we are still waiting, we do not give up. The campaign to free Jonathan Pollard will continue. Let us not lose our momentum and let us not lose our unity.