My Visit with Jonathan Pollard 09185-016

Shlomo Z. Mostofsky, President, National Council of Young Israel
Hamodia News - March 1, 2003

We all know the story. Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst. When he discovered that the United States was withholding information from Israel about Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities from the information that the U.S. had agreed to provide Israel - Pollard gave the information to Israel. Pollard was caught, arrested and indicted on one charge of passing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the U.S. After he agreed to a plea agreement, Caspar Weinberger prepared a secret four page classified memorandum for the sentencing judge. As a result of Weinberger's duplicity the judge ignored the plea agreement and sentenced Pollard to life imprisonment.

Over the past 18 years, I have heard the story of Jonathan Pollard time and time again. The Jewish community was hopeful that he would be released by President Clinton during his term, but we were disappointed. Pollard didn't have the "machers" (leaders) behind him like Marc Rich did. *(see J4JP Note # 2 below.)

It was therefore with a sense of the unknown that on February 5, 2003, I joined Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of National Council of Young Israel (who is in constant contact with Pollard), Rabbi Kenneth Auman of the Young Israel of Flatbush, NY, and Rabbi Yosef Viener of the Agudah of Flatbush, NY, on a journey to the Federal Correctional Facility in Butner, North Carolina to visit with Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard is currently serving time in a medium to maximum security federal prison. When entering the prison we had to leave our wallets, keys, palm pilots and cell phones at the door. The prison facility was mostly hidden from view and was located on a sprawling property. There was more barbed wire on the fences than I will probably ever see otherwise in my lifetime.

We were met at the prison by Esther Pollard, Jonathan's wife and main supporter. After we entered a visiting room which was well lit and spacious*(see note J4JP Note #3 below), Jonathan Pollard was brought in to meet with us.

Immediately, I was struck by the fact that Jonathan is a sensitive and intelligent human being. I was soon to learn that he has as much "emunah" as anyone I have ever known.

Pollard understands that he broke the laws of the United States. He also understands that he spied for an ally of the United States. He explained to us that the usual sentence for such a crime would be 4 -10 years in prison (J4JP: the median sentence for this offense is 2 to 4 years, with many receiving much less time, and in some cases no jail time at all.) He is serving an unprecedented life sentence.

Upon my return home, I checked on Pollard's website for a comparison between his sentence and the sentences of those who committed more serious crimes by spying against the United States on behalf of her enemies.

  • James Wood - Soviet Union: 2 years
  • Samuel Richardson - Soviet Union: 10 years
  • Richard Miller - Soviet Union: 20 years (freed after 5 years)
  • Michael Walker - Soviet Union: 25 years (freed after 15 years)
Only Aldrich Ames (Soviet Union), Richard Haanson (Soviet Union), and Marion Zacharski (Poland) received life sentences. Zacharski was freed after serving only 4 years in prison. Of those who spied for such non-enemies of the United States as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the like, none were sentenced to more than 14 years in prison.

Clearly, Pollard was blamed by the U.S. government for the acts of others. Aldrich Ames, as head of the Eastern European counter-intelligence for the CIA, wrote the damage assessment for Pollard's case. Of course, it was eventually determined that Ames was one of the Soviet Union's most effective and damaging agents. When Senator Dennis DeConcini (Arizona), who was originally against Pollard's release, heard of Ames' involvement in the damage assessment of Pollard's case, he reversed his position and advocated for Pollard's release.

From the time he was sentenced, and to this day, neither Pollard nor any of his cleared attorneys have been able to access the secret document presented by Caspar Weinberger to challenge it in a court of law. This, despite the fact that Pollard's current attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jaques Semmelman, have top secret U.S. security clearance.

Pollard recounted to us some of the barbaric horrors he has been subject to since his incarceration. For a year and a half he was kept naked and without his glasses in a Terminal AIDS Dementia Ward in a prison hospital facility. He was not a patient. For the entire period he was unable to bathe out of fear of contracting AIDS. (J4JP: He was able to wash, and did so frequently.) He related to us how each month government agents would visit him from Washington, D.C., throw a blanket over him and sit him at a table. The government representative would slide to Pollard a list of names of American Jewish leaders and a pencil. Pollard was told that if he put a check mark next to those who were Israeli spies he would be placed in the regular prison population. Jonathan of course, refused to comply. He told us this stiffened his resolve not to compromise and to serve G-d by unrelenting adherence to the truth.

Pollard described his life in prison. He compared his life to that of the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt in ancient times. "In Egypt, " he recounted, " there were good and bad taskmasters. " He said that prison system, much like the system the Jewish slaves faced in Egypt, is designed "to grind down an individual's hope for redemption". Prison is a place of "moral degradation" designed to perpetuate "hell". He also described prison as a place where there exists a "cacophony" of noise 24 hours each day. He told us he stays alive by planning the future, "building new factories" and thinking of his wife.

Pollard, who is an observant Jew in a federal lock-up, cannot practice his religion as do those who are free, or even in a limited way as is possible in state prisons. He is strictly kosher. For food he is offered what is known as "common fare" which is often inedible and, often, not too kosher. He relies on friends who send money to his canteen account. This permits him to purchase tuna, sardines and other kosher foods at highly inflated prices. Jonathan, who wears a yarmulkah in prison, cannot daven with a minyan, wear a talis and tefillin or have access to Hebrew texts.

Jonathan has a close personal relationship with Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the former Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel. Rabbi Eliyahu has told Jonathan that in his case the possuk (verse) in Tehillim (Psalms) of "Gam ki elech begay tzalmaves HaShem lo eerah ra ki ata imadi" (English: "Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for Thou are with me") must be read with a period before the word "ra" (evil). Thus the verse reads: " What is Evil is that You are with me" - or in other words that the Shechina (the Presence of G-d Himself) is suffering with Pollard in jail. Rav Eliyahu explained that it is bad enough that the Jewish community has been largely indifferent to the suffering of Jonathan Pollard, but it is "unspeakably evil" that we do not have pity on the Shechina which is Jonathan's prison mate.

Jonathan Pollard knows that the odds are stacked against him. He told us that to many in our community he is a "smell" that people would rather open the window and have leave. However, he notes, that he was an Israeli agent and is a Jewish prisoner who realizes he will remain in prison until he is freed by HaShem. He lives each day for the "hope of something good happening from HaShem". As I left the prison I wondered, if I would have Pollard's courage to go on and his emunah (faith) in HaShem were I in his shoes.

As duct tape and orange alerts are on all of our minds, we remember that in 1991 Israel was prepared for the Gulf War with gas masks and sealed rooms. The intelligence that enabled Israel to be prepared in 1991 and again now was in the documents provided by Jonathan Pollard which the US government withheld. For 18 years Jonathan Pollard has paid the price for sacrificing his freedom in an effort to save the lives of Jews in Israel. It is time that our community forcefully advocate for his immediate release.

J4JP Notes:

  1. Clarifications in brackets above were inserted by J4JP.

  2. Marc Rich - the billionaire fugitive from the law - as indicated above DID have the support of the American and Israeli Jewish leaders . Jonathan Pollard was the "throw away" they offered to President Clinton to gain a pardon for Marc Rich. It should be pointed out that Rich never stood trial and never spent a day in prison. The Jewish leaders "rescued" Rich at Pollard's expense from a life being lived in "exile" in a mansion in Switzerland. See Yediot Achronot Feature Article: Exposé: Using Pollard to Get Rich.

  3. J4JP points out that the average person has very little frame of reference for accurately assessing prison life, facilities or routines. For example: the NCYI visit described above received special clearance to meet with Jonathan on a non-visit day. The visit room therefore appeared "well-lit and spacious". On regular visit days, the room is overcrowded and noisy. Visits are often terminated early because of overcrowding.

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