Editorial: Thy Brother's Blood

Hamodia - November 23, 2011

This week we marked a grim and painful anniversary, as Jonathan Pollard began his 27th year behind bars.

Though the average sentence for the crime to which he pleaded guilty - one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States - is two to four years, Pollard has already spent twenty-six years in an American prison. In a tragic saga filled with false hopes and shattered expectations, he has suffered through 9,497 days of crushing anguish.

As these words are being written, there is mounting concern over Pollard's health.

"It has been widely reported in the media lately that I am afraid that Jonathan won't survive another year in prison. The truth is, I'm terrified that he won't survive another day," said his wife, Mrs. Esther Pollard. "Every single day that he does survive, in a violent, raucous, filthy, anti-Semitic atmosphere, his health so deteriorated that it defies description, without proper nutrition and with inadequate, inappropriate medical attention, is a complete and utter miracle. How long can we go on relying on daily miracles?

"Jonathan is literally fighting for his life, every minute, every hour, every day that he remains in that Gehinnom," she continues. "Those who feel no urgency to act immediately to save his life lack a Jewish heart. I am at my wits' end trying to make people understand that time ran out for Jonathan long ago - the fact that he remains alive is a miracle, and we cannot go on this way"

There is no doubt that Pollard erred when he passed classified information to Israel. He has repeatedly expressed remorse for doing so, saying he had no excuse for breaking the law.

Yet, as so many government officials have stated, Pollard's sentence is shockingly disproportionate to the crime he committed, and to the sentences imposed on others who committed such crimes.

In the past two years, we have witnessed an unprecedented number of high-ranking former and current government officials from both major political parties calling for the president to commute Pollard's sentence to time served. Included in this list are former Secretaries of State, a CIA Director, a U.S. Attorney General, a former vice-president of the United States, and numerous senators and members of Congress.

One of the most convincing statements comes in a letter written by Lawrence Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense at the time of Pollard's arrest. After pointing out that Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally, he writes as follows:

"Based on my first-hand knowledge, I can say with confidence that the severity of Pollard's sentence is a result of an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupied in our foreign policy on the part of my boss at the time, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger."

Because Richard Hibey, the lawyer whom Israel paid to represent Pollard at the time of his sentencing, failed to file a one-page request for an appeal within the required 10 days, Pollard is not permitted ever to appeal his unjust and unprecedented sentence.

Despite an exemplary prison record, applying for parole is also not an option for Pollard because of a severe impediment unilaterally imposed by the U.S. Justice Department. It prevents his pro bono attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, from seeing key documents that were submitted to the judge before he was sentenced in 1987.

That leaves executive clemency as the only way to acquire Pollard's freedom. It is a year now since the latest clemency request was filed by Pollard's lawyers, yet there is still only silence from the White House.

"The difficult plight of Jonathan Pollard is well known. He is suffering an unusually severe and painful punishment. It is a mitzvah for each and every Jew to make efforts to free him from his imprisonment by sending letters to the government and interceding on his behalf." This call was signed by Gedolim from across the spectrum of Torah Jewry, Asheknazic and Sephardic, yeshivish and Chassidic.

As Yehonasan ben Malka begins his 27th year in prison, it is time for each and every one of us to ask ourselves: Have we heeded this call? Are we doing our part to try to help free this captive?

Have we made a concrete effort to let the White House know how important this is to us? Have we reached out to our elected officials to inquire what they are doing to end this travesty? Have we approached the leaders of the Jewish organizations that represent us in Washington for an update on their activities for Pollard?

It is important that all prominent Jewish organizations hear frequently from their members, and other caring Jews, on this issue. This will not only help motivate them to give priority to this mission, but also empower them to show the politicians and government officials they interact with just how much this issue means to our community.

The halachah in the Shulchan Aruch is clear:

There is no mitzvah as great as redeeming captives. Every moment that one delays the redeeming of captives when it is possible to do so earlier, it is as if he one is shedding blood (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252).

Some notable people have devoted themselves to his cause, and this is a great kiddush Hashem. But we will all be judged - as individuals and as a community - over how hard we really tried to obtain his release. As long as Jonathan is incarcerated, our brother's blood is on our hands.