Editorial: Making the Case for Pollard
Reach for That Phone

Hamodia [Front Page] - January 12, 2011

The job of press secretary to the President of the United States is challenging. It includes deflecting questions that have no easy answer, defending positions that are unpopular, and trying to make the president - and the country - look good, all at the same time.

Press secretaries usually don't last very long, and Robert Gibbs announced last week that he is stepping down from the job.

That same day, Gibbs was asked about the letter that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent to President Obama pleading for clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

"Look, I think the - obviously the State Department answered this a little bit yesterday in saying that they received the request; they'll take a look at it," Gibbs replied. He should have stopped right there. Unfortunately he didn't, and instead made a deeply disturbing, false and outrageous statement.

"I think it is important to underscore that Mr. Pollard was convicted of some of the most serious crimes that anybody can be charged with."

There is no doubt that the single charge that Jonathan Pollard was indicted for and pleaded guilty to, passing classified information to an ally - without intent to harm the United States - is a serious one.

But there are far more serous crimes one can think of, including terrorism and treason - spying for an enemy state in time of war.

According to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, Israel was actually legally entitled to the information that Mr. Pollard passed to the Israeli government.

In a response to Gibbs's remarks, the Justice for Jonathan Pollard group declared:
"The 'seriousness of the crimes committed' was never an issue and is not in dispute. The issue is the gross disproportionality of the sentence... Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years of actual jail time. He is now serving his 26th year of a life sentence."

While Gibbs's off-the-cuff response is disturbing, it should not be misinterpreted as a rejection of Netanyahu's historic letter.

Twenty-six years after Jonathan Pollard sought refuge in the Israeli embassy in Washington and Israel took the unforgivable step of throwing him out (and then refusing for years to acknowledge that he was in fact an agent of Israeli intelligence), an Israeli prime minister has at long last made a public request for Jonathan's release. In his letter, Mr. Netanyahu - like Pollard himself on numerous occasions - expressed deep remorse for what occurred, and vowed that it would not happen again.

This letter comes amid a flurry of new developments in the case.

Hundreds of members of the clergy and leaders of major organizations have written to the president in recent days asking for clemency for Pollard, as has Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, a man Obama considers a mentor and friend.

In light of the recent developments, the National Council of Young Israel, long at the forefront of the effort to gain freedom for Pollard, has launched a new "Call for Clemency Campaign" intended to remind the White House of Jonathan Pollard's plight and to push for a commutation of his prison sentence.

Across the United States, everyone is encouraged to call the White House on a daily basis to say that 26 years in prison is more than enough, and to request the release of Jonathan Pollard.

You can contact the White House between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. EST by phone at 202-456-1414, or by fax at 202-456-2461.

The mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim obligates each one us to do everything we can on behalf of Yehonoson ben Malka, whose health is deteriorating as he languishes in a prison cell. In addition to davening on his behalf, we urge our readers to join this effort and call the White House every day.

Every call and every fax counts. We owe it to Jonathan and to ourselves to ensure that every possible avenue of hishtadlus has been explored at this pivotal moment.

In his letter to Obama , Netanyahu states: "I know that the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful."

So would we.