500 Americans ask for clemency for Jonathan Pollard

Jennifer Rubin - The Washington Post - January 4, 2011

"Obama now has all the cover he could need (including the support of former national security officials), should he decide to make a gesture both to the American pro-Israel community and the Israeli people..."

A letter signed by 500 rabbis and other prominent Jewish and non-Jewish religious leaders has been sent to the president urging release of Jonathan Pollard. The letter reads as follows:

We, the undersigned over five hundred religious and communal leaders representative of the broad spectrum of the American faith community - wish to add our voices in support of clemency for Jonathan Pollard. We are united in the fundamental belief that "Justice, only justice, shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20), which rests at the core of our moral principles and system of justice.

Mr. Pollard is currently serving his 26th year of a life sentence, having been indicted on one count of passing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the United States. We certainly do not condone his crime, nor do we underestimate the gravity of the offense. But it is patently clear that the sentence was and remains terribly disproportionate - the average punishment is a 2-4 year prison term - and (as several federal judges have noted) constitutes a gross miscarriage of justice.

As you know, prominent figures from across the spectrum have publicly stated their support for Mr. Pollard's release. They include Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Senators Charles Schumer and Arlen Specter, Harvard Law Professors Charles Ogletree and Alan Dershowitz, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame, Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP, former federal Judge George Leighton, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olsen, Pastor John Hagee, and Gary Bauer. Furthermore, thirty-nine members of Congress have recently submitted to you a "Dear Colleague" letter led by Congressman Barney Frank in support of commuting Mr. Pollard's sentence. Perhaps most noteworthy, similar support has come from those who have seen the classified information of the actual damage caused including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, Congressman Anthony Weiner, and former Senator and Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dennis DeConcini.

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard's health is declining. He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency - as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation - a sign of hope much needed in today's world of tension and turmoil.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

The letter was put together by Orthodox activist Daivd Nyer, whom I spoke to by phone this morning. He explained that he "started about a year ago. I read about him and talked to people who were close to the Pollards. There had been a lot of talk for many years, but I decided to do something about it." He was instrumental in organizing a letter signed by 39 members of Congress urging a pardon. He says, "I work as a inidvidual, not for any organization but I work in collaboration with organizations so I can bring left and right together for a good cause." He adds, "It is refreshing to see the extreme Orthodox and the Reform leftwing" come together.

A press release accompanying the letter states, in part:

The signatories on the letter include prominent religious and communal leaders from a wide array of Christian and Jewish communities, including representatives of Alliance for Jewish Renewal, American Values, Amit, Association of Reform Zionists of America, B'nai B'rith International, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Christians United for Israel, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, EMUNAH of America, Florida Council of Churches, Hebrew Union College, Hillel, JCC's of North America, Jewish Women International, National Council of Young Israel, New York Board of Rabbis, ORT America, Inc., Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Religious Zionists of America-Mizrachi, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Union for Reform Judaism, Yeshiva University, and the Zionist Organization of America.

Nyer is correct that the letter is noteworthy, in part, because of the diverse political affiliation of the signatories, ranging from conservative Morton Klein of the ZOA to such leftwing figures as Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, head of the Union of Reform Judaism. In the past, the intensity for Pollard's pardon has been primarily on the right, but this broad-based plea suggests this is no longer a rightwing issue. As the press release notes, some well known liberal individuals and groups have adopted the cause:

"I have written president Obama seeking a pardon for Jonathan Pollard," said Professor Charles J. Ogletree, the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and the Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. "I hope the President grants the wishes of many who have supported a pardon for Mr. Pollard." Professor Ogletree, who was President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama's law professor at Harvard and remains friends with them today, recently sent his own letter to the President concerning Jonathan Pollard. . . .

"It appears that Mr. Pollard is in prison not because of the crime he committed but due to geopolitics," said Carlos M. Salinas, former Acting Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA. "No human being should ever be a chit in such a game."

Will this broad-based appeal make a difference? On one hand, few votes will change based on a decision to pardon Pollard, so one could argue there is no "upside" for Obama to pardon Pollard. Nevertheless, Obama now has all the cover he could need (including the support of former national security officials, should he decide to make a gesture both to the American pro-Israel community and the Israeli people, who remain suspicious if not downright hostile toward the American president. Expectations are low that Obama will grant the pardon; but perhaps, as with other moves since the midterm elections, the president will confound his critics.

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  • See Also: Original Copy of Letter to Obama signed by Over 500 Jewish Religious & Communal Leaders to release Jonathan Pollard