Justice for Jonathan Pollard

Rabbi Van Lanckton - Raval's Ruminations Blog - January 9, 2011

This sermon was delivered at Temple B'nai Shalom in Braintree, MA, on January 8, 2011.

Justice for Jonathan Pollard
Rabbi Van Lanckton - Temple B'nai Shalom, Braintree
January 8, 2011 - 3 Shevat 5771

Jonathan Pollard has been locked up in jail by our government for 25 years. He is serving a life sentence without parole.

He went to jail when he was 31 years old. Now he is 56.

This week the Patriot Ledger printed an editorial opposing Pollard's release. The paper claimed that the editorial was from another source and "may or may not" reflect the editorial view of the Patriot Ledger.

Thank you to Arline Goodman for your email to all of us about this editorial. You inspired me to think more deeply about the role of Jews in America, in relation both to our government and to our media. What should we do to require our government to act fairly? How can we get our media to check the facts and report honestly?

Here is what I believe to be true about Jonathan Pollard.

He is Jewish. He is an American civilian. In 1983 he was working in Washington, DC, as a civilian intelligence analyst for our Navy.

Pollard discovered that some people in our national security establishment were deliberately withholding from Israel information that he believed was vital to Israel's security.

The information included nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Iran. The information indicated that those countries were developing those weapons for use against Israel. The information even included plans for ballistic missile development by these countries and plans for eventual terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

Pollard asked his superiors about the suppression of this information. They told him to "mind his own business." One said, "Jews get nervous talking about poison gas; they don't need to know."

He learned that one motive for hiding this information from Israel was to limit Israel's ability to act independently in defense of her own interests.

Pollard tried to persuade the agency to stop this covert policy and to permit the legal flow of this information to Israel. When he failed, he began to give the information to Israel directly.

The US government discovered Pollard's actions in 1985. The FBI arrested him and questioned him.

Pollard admitted what he had been doing. He signed a plea agreement. He agreed to cooperate fully with the government. That agreement spared both the American and Israeli government a long, difficult, expensive and potentially embarrassing trial.

Jonathan Pollard fulfilled his end of the plea agreement, cooperating fully with the prosecution. Nevertheless, Pollard received a life sentence. The judge recommended that he never be paroled. He was sent to a maximum security prison. He has been there ever since, for the last 25 years.

Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States. He was not charged with compromising codes, agents, or war plans. The prosecution never claimed that he had committed treason. He was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. The typical sentence for that offense is two to four years in jail.

Before Pollard was sentenced, however, Caspar Weinberger, who was then the Secretary of Defense, delivered a 46-page classified memorandum to the sentencing judge. Pollard and his attorneys have never been allowed access to the memo. They didn't see it then, and they haven't seen it since. They have never had a chance to challenge the charges in it. But the judge saw it.

Not only that. The day before sentencing, Weinberger delivered a four-page memo to the judge. Pollard was able to see it only briefly. In that memo, Weinberger falsely accused Pollard of treason. Weinberger advocated a life sentence.

The judge accepted that recommendation. Pollard is still serving that sentence after 25 years. Many efforts have been made to free him, both in the courts and by appealing to president after president to release him by commuting his sentence or pardoning him. All those efforts have failed.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tried before, and is trying again, to free Jonathan Pollard. Many others have joined that effort, including. just this week, President Obama's teacher and mentor from Harvard Law School, Charles Ogletree. No success yet.

Now the Patriot Ledger publishes an editorial that opposes Pollard's release. The editorial makes false charges about Pollard that have already been discredited.

The editorial says that most of the U.S. military and intelligence communities oppose Pollard's release. Not so.

It says that George Tenet, then the head of the CIA, threatened to resign if President Clinton released Pollard. Not true.

The editorial says that we will never know what Pollard passed to Israel if he is released. Ridiculous! Pollard provided all that information to the authorities 25 years ago. Keeping him in jail will not lead to any new information.

So what do we do about this? We write to the Patriot Ledger to complain about the editorial and to set the record straight. I will work with anyone who wants to join me in writing such a letter.

And we use this occasion to join with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Professor Ogletree and all of Jonathan Pollard's many supporters to demand that President Obama finally commute his sentence to time served and release him to put an end to this injustice.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to live in a country where we have the rights to argue with the media and to make demands upon our government to correct injustice. That is not so elsewhere, as we were dramatically reminded by two stories in the news during the last weeks of 2010.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo [shau-bo] of China. The committee made that award to honor Liu's "long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

Liu is a Chinese literary critic, writer and human rights activist. He advocated for political reforms, the end of communist one-party rule in China, and free markets. He argued that the government must be accountable for its wrongdoings.

The Chinese Communist party considers his writing to be subversive. His publications have been banned in China. Just over one year ago, he was sentenced to prison for eleven years. This is his fourth prison term. The government is punishing him because he is criticizing the government and he refuses to stop.

In 2010 we also watched as justice was perverted in Russia by the extended imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He was a highly successful Russian businessman. Six years ago, he was the wealthiest man in Russia. He headed a huge Russian company established during the privatization of businesses in Russia. He is not being punished for any illegal conduct. Rather, he was convicted in 2005 after he had begun arguing in public for greater democracy in Russia, a direct challenge to the regime of President Vladimir Putin.

After he went to jail, Khodorkovsky began to advocate for human rights even more openly. As a result, and in order to silence him, the Russian government brought baseless new charges against him just months before he was to become eligible for parole. These charges also have no basis. They are simply a way to keep Khodorkovsky sidelined from the political process and held in jail.

Here in America, in contrast to China and Russia, we enjoy the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution.

Here in America, we have the right to speak freely.

Here in America, we have the right to petition the government to undo injustice.

Here in America, the government is subject to the rule of law and can be called to account by the citizens when it departs from that standard.

The requirement that the government must follow the law is a very ancient Jewish idea. We find it in Chapter 17 of Deuteronomy. The Torah says that, if the Israelites wish to have a king, then that king must follow certain legal requirements. Among these are the commands that the king write his own personal copy of the Torah, keep it with him, and study it daily, in order to remind himself that he is not above the law.

When the Israelites no longer had their own king, first because of banishment to Babylon, and later after coming under Roman rule following the destruction of the Temple, it became our practice to pray for the welfare of the government. The basic idea was that even a despotic government under the rule of a monarch or emperor provided some order and security. Ruthless government was better than anarchy.

As Rabbi Chanina said in Mishnah Pirkei Avot, "Pray for the welfare of the government. If it were not for the fear of the government, men would eat each other alive."

We in America also pray for the welfare of our government. But we have a different idea of government. We are not subject to the Babylonians or the Romans. We, the citizens, are responsible for what happens in our democracy.

Here is our prayer; we recited it just a short while ago:

We ask Your blessings for our country, for its government, for its leader and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights of your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly.

Our Constitution limits the freedom of our government to do as it wishes. Yes, there are times when our government acts unjustly. Many of these are times of national security concerns. Think of the Americans of Japanese descent that our own government locked up in concentration camps here in our own country during World War II. Think of the claims by the government that it could arrest anyone the president labels an enemy combatant, and detain that person indefinitely without trial and without review.

But our system also includes correctives for those injustices.

The government acknowledged that it had wronged the World War II prisoners and paid reparations to them.

Our Supreme Court repeatedly rejected the arguments of the previous administration that it had virtually unlimited authority to lock people up without review. The Court reversed the government's actions, requiring them to provide due process and a judicial review to the Guantanamo prisoners.

What can we do to bring justice to Jonathan Pollard? We can take seriously the prayer for our country. When we pray, the essence of what we are doing is reflecting on the subject of the prayer and deciding what we ourselves are going to do about it.

The Hebrew word for prayer is hitpallel. The root in Hebrew means to judge or clarify. Hitpallel is a reflexive form of that verb. It means to judge ourselves, to obtain clarity for ourselves.

The only way for God to work in this world is for us, fashioned in the image of God, to carry out the objectives set forth in our prayers. If we pray that the hungry may be fed, then we must feed them. If we pray that the naked may be clothed, then we must clothe them.

If we pray that God will teach our leaders and advisors insights from the Torah so that they may administer all affairs of state fairly and exercise just and rightful authority, then it is up to us to teach those insights.

Justice, justice shall you pursue. That means not only obtaining a just result, but doing so fairly.

The result for Jonathan Pollard has not been just. And the government did not obtain that result fairly.

So it is not enough for us to say the words of the prayer for our country. We must carry out by our own actions what the prayer asks God to do.

We help to achieve justice for Jonathan Pollard by joining with his supporters to demand his freedom. We can do so very easily by going to the website that has been set up for that purpose and taking action.

We help to achieve justice for Jonathan Pollard by joining our voices in the calls for justice addressed to President Obama. He has the power to commute Pollard's sentence. We must ask him to do that, and then ask again if he does not.

We help to achieve justice for Jonathan Pollard by objecting to false and misleading newspaper reports and editorials and demanding that the papers admit their errors and print the truth.

The precious rights guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights are nothing more than words on paper if we fail to exercise them. It is not just the words in our constitution, but the actions of the citizens, that make those rights into a reality. We the people are in charge of the government. But only if we take charge.

To help us do that, after services I hope you will take home this list I prepared. It includes the contact information for officials at all levels of government. It includes also information on how to contact newspaper editors, and the address of the Free Jonathan Pollard website. Please use this list to contact our government officials and the press and advocate for justice.

As Rabbi Tarfon said in Pirkei Avot: "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the task. But neither are you free to desist from it!"

And in the words of Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself alone, what am I? And, if not now, when?

Shabbat Shalom.

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