Deep Dismay and Surprise Over Biden's Remarks On Pollard
Avraham Weissman - Hamodia - October 3, 2011
NEW YORK - During a meeting last week with Jewish clergyman in Boca Raton, Florida, Vice President Joseph Biden was in the middle of answering a question about an unrelated topic, when he brought up the fate of Jonathan Pollard. His remarks shocked and dismayed members of the Jewish community.
"You probably want to know about Pollard, so let me tell you, President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life,'" Biden told them.
When some of the participantschallenged Biden over the fact that the median sentence for the offense Pollard committed - one count of passing classified information to an ally - is two to four years Biden was unmoved in his position.
Biden's remarks were in sharp contrast with a response he gave an interviewer in 2007, when he expressed support for the release of Jonathan Pollard via commutation of his sentence to time served.
Jonathan's wife Esther, who is currently visiting her husband in North Carolina, said in an email to Hamodia that the remarks "are as puzzling as they are troubling. The Vice President's declaration that he told the President he would rather die than see Jonathan freed is incomprehensible - especially in light of the numerous official requests by senior American officials that Jonathan be released as a matter of simple justice because his sentence is 'severely disproportionate.' Unlike those officials calling for Jonathan's release, Mr. Biden offered no explanation at all for his passionate call to keep Jonathan in prison for the rest of his life," she wrote.
"Fortunately, President Biden is not the one who will decide whether or not to commute Jonathan's sentence to time served. Only the President can make that decision. More importantly, Mr. Biden's remarks do not represent an official response to the many official requests that the President has received that he grant clemency to Jonathan and set him free," Mrs. Pollard added in her email.
The New York Times, which first broke the news of Biden's comments, wrote that as part of the Obama campaign's concerted effort to shore up support within the Jewish community in America in advance of the 2012 election, Biden was taking "a punch meant for his boss," President Obama.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, the Senior Rabbi at the Boca Raton Synagogue, who was present at the meeting, recalled in a conversation with Hamodia that Biden appeared eager to share his views on the matter.
"It seems to me he knew coming in he wanted to share his position on Pollard," he said. "It is hard to read minds and I think it is unhealthy to project, but it does seem to me that Vice President Biden, who has a longstanding positive record on Israel, was eager to have us understand that the lack of responsiveness on Pollard was his doing and not the President's."
Rabbi Goldberg continued by saying that he was dismayed by the statement.
"I was and remain deeply troubled by his quick dismissal of any chance of clemency for Pollard. After all, a tremendously diverse group of high-ranking politicians from both parties, including former Congressman Robert Wexler whom many consider closest with this Administration, have called for Pollard's release."
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, who has advocated tirelessly for Pollard for many years, told Hamodia, "There is much here that demands explanation."
"Firstly, [for the Vice President] to insinuate that he controls the President, secondly to ignore his previous comments. Which Biden are we to believe? The one of today? The one of tomorrow? Or the one of a few years ago?" Rabbi Lerner asked.
"In addition, the Jewish community and the American people deserve an explanation," Rabbi Lerner continued, "after former U.S. Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, Former CIA Director James Woolsey, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Lawrence Korb, who served as Deputy Defense Secretary under Caspar Weinberger, and so many others who had access to the information and who were involved 27 years ago, who have all said enough is enough.
"Why is Pollard being singled out without rhyme or reason? If there is something there - let us know. If there is nothing there, please explain," Rabbi Lerner demanded.
Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Israeli Knesset, wrote a letter to Biden yesterday urging him to rethink his stance.
"Pollard paid a heavy price for his deeds. He was imprisoned for many years and is carrying a punishment that is heavy under any standards, much beyond the accepted norms even in the U.S. judicial system.
"We are sure justice has been served and that it is time to show clemency and release [Pollard] immediately," Rivlin said, adding that while there are "differences between us and the Americans, there are issues, such as Pollard, that have reached an absurd level, under any universal standard, human or legal."
Rabbi Lerner urged for continues efforts and tefillos.
"In these Aseres Yemei Teshuvah we have to redouble our efforts and our tefillos on behalf of Yehonason ben Malkah."
While clearly deeply hurt by Biden's comments, Esther Pollard remained hopeful. In her email to Hamodia, she continued:
"After a lot of tears and prayers, Jonathan and I hope that there is a silver lining in this dark cloud. We are hopeful that Mr. Biden's remarks, which have been generating news headlines around the world, will elicit a swift response and clarification from the President," it read.
"We pray that Mr. Biden's remarks will prompt the President to respond now, once and for all, to the official requests for Jonathan's release - many of which have been pending for a year or more.
"We are hurting but hopeful that President Obama will do the right thing now, for Jonathan, for the Jews, and for the American People - as a matter of simple justice," she concluded.
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