Rabbi Lerner: We Can't Give Up on Pollard

Avraham Weissman - Hamodia - April 18, 2012

NEW YORK - Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, whose organization has been at the forefront of efforts to secure the release of Jonathan Pollard, is urging that with Pollard's health deteriorating and unprecedented calls for his release coming from across the political spectrum, this is a time to redouble efforts on his behalf.

Lerner, who communicates regularly with Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Esther, and whom Jonathan considers his clergy, told Hamodia yesterday that when he saw Jonathan last month at the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, outside Raleigh-Durham, it was evident that he was ill.

"It was obvious; he couldn't hide it. Jonathan holds his pain well, but it was clear that he was in pain."

On the Sunday before Pesach, his health deteriorated further.

As his attorneys wrote letters to prison officials, Rabbi Lerner contacted the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C., stressing that Pollard was ill and that he needed serious medical attention.

On Friday, Erev Pesach, Pollard was taken to an off-site hospital.

"There is a medical facility on premises," Rabbi Lerner pointed out. "The fact that they took him off site is indicative that his condition was serious."

Pollard suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney and respiratory problems, and myriad other conditions.

But his latest hospitalization was caused by a new illness.

According to Lerner, he was treated for his symptoms but sent back to prison before the underlying cause was discovered.

"The problem is that they don't know what the problem is," Lerner said. "Without serious medical attention, delving into the root of the issue, and a plan of action of how to treat it, it's like putting a Band-Aid on it."

Lerner also offered his thoughts on the failure of the White House to respond to the letter sent to President Obama by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

"President Obama announced, unsolicited, at the AIPAC conference that he is going to be giving the medal of freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, to Shimon Peres. He must like Shimon Peres and think he is an important guy. Shimon Peres comes back to Israel - and the community at large, not the right wing but the left-wing community, starts saying, 'How can you take the medal of freedom when our man Jonathan Pollard isn't free?'

"Tens of thousands of Israelis, including Gilad Shalit, signed an online petition and the issue became front-page headlines, the first item on the morning news, on radio talk shows and other media outlets. The concern that was shown by the Israeli public reached the president of Israel. On Sunday, the first day of Chol Hamoed, President Shimon Peres invited Mrs. Esther Pollard for a visit, and after Mrs. Pollard requested of President Peres to send a personal letter to President Obama, Peres did make a personal appeal to Obama.

"This is no longer a Shimon Peres issue; this is about the people of Israel, who have requested, through their president, a favor for humanitarian reasons. To a certain extent, this is being viewed as an insult to the people of Israel - you want to give Peres a medal of freedom and you don't even answer his letter?"

Some Israeli media pundits have urged Peres not to travel to Washington to accept the medal if Pollard isn't released, stressing that it's "only a piece of metal."

In their official statement supporting Peres's call, the National Council of Young Israel pointed out, "Jonathan's medical condition has worsened considerably, and absent White House intervention on humanitarian grounds, he faces a frightening and uncertain future.

"When one considers the disproportionate nature of Jonathan Pollard's sentence, his continued expressions of remorse, and the multiple calls for his release from respected members of the national intelligence community, his ongoing incarceration defies logic and is a glaring miscarriage of justice," continued Rabbi Lerner. "Every day that passes that Jonathan Pollard remains in prison is a terrible injustice and an absolute tragedy."

Lerner urged members of the Jewish community to join the ongoing efforts on behalf of Pollard.

"Daven for Yehonasan ben Malkah, call the White House, call your senator and congressperson, call upon other organizations to join in support of Israeli President Peres's call for Pollard's freedom," Lerner pleaded.