Kenneth Lasson - The Baltimore Jewish Times - October 22, 2010
A new momentum is building on behalf of clemency for Jonathan J. Pollard, who is now serving his in a federal prison for having passed classified information to Israel.
The current initiative was generated by a small group of Pollard activists, working quietly but intensively behind the scenes, garnering support from members of Congress, large religious and communal organizations, and grass-roots American citizens.
Among the more tireless volunteers has been Dovid Nyer, a 25-year-old from Monsey, N.Y., who has spent countless hours during the past four months contacting congressional representatives around the country. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has been the most sympathetic - agreeing to take the lead in soliciting his colleagues for their signatures on a carefully crafted letter to be sent to President Obama.
It says that Pollard did wrong, but that his life sentence was grossly disproportionate - much greater than that of "many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations adversarial to us, unlike Israel." (The average penalty for the offense is two to four years.)
To date almost two dozen U.S. representatives have signed on.
Last week Mr. Pollard's lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, filed a formal petition for clemency with the White House following revelations of apparent government malfeasance made public by senior officials with first-hand involvement in the case. They include Lawrence J. Korb, former U.S. assistant secretary of Defense under the late Caspar Weinberger at the time of Pollard's arrest. Mr. Korb wrote a letter to Mr. Obama two weeks ago in which he said that the harsh sentence meted out to Pollard was not because of his offense, but the result of Weinberger's "visceral dislike" of Israel. (Weinberger later conceded that the Pollard case was a "minor matter" that had been "made much more important than it was.")
In addition, former CIA director James Woolsey and former Senate Intelligence Committee head Dennis DeConcini have called for Pollard's release, as has the Rev. John Hagee, a lead Evangelical Zionist. So have the major religious organizations across the Jewish spectrum, from the Orthodox Union and National Council of Young Israel to the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center, as well as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
Meanwhile, former Israeli minister Rafi Eitan revealed that Washington had violated an oral agreement with Israel to release Pollard after 10 years. On Israel Radio, Mr. Eitan also accused the United States of refusing to rectify a clear miscarriage of justice when it discovered that secret charges laid against Pollard, blaming him for the crimes of a Russian mole within American intelligence, were actually the work of Aldrich Ames, who was exposed, arrested and convicted in 1994. (Pollard was not informed of these charges and not allowed to challenge them in a court of law.)
Noted Israeli law professor Kenneth Mann, who investigated the legal aspects of the Pollard case for the government, said in a television interview last week that the result was unfair - and would have been different "had the [matter] been handled the way it should have been handled."
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, head of the National Council of Young Israel, said he hopes "that the president will take this opportunity to restore honor to the American system of justice by releasing Jonathan J. Pollard now, and sending him home to Jerusalem to his wife, Esther, and to his people." He urged American citizens of all backgrounds to ask their congressional representatives to sign the letter being circulated by Mr. Frank.
There has been much speculation that at least part of the high-level discussions currently taking place between Washington and Jerusalem involve the possibility of trading Pollard for an extension of the settlement freeze in Israel. The feeling is that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is above all a pragmatist, and that his Cabinet would endorse an extension of the freeze in order to bring the Pollard case to what would be a highly popular closure.
Americans should likewise be interested in correcting an egregious failure of our justice system. Its treatment of Pollard was an aberration that has stained our noble standards of equality under the law. When our democratic decency has been damaged, repairing it is our obligation to all Americans.
Jonathan J. Pollard should be granted clemency, most of all, because it is the right thing to do.
The author, Kenneth Lasson, is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
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