In a display of unity, representatives of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform
Jewish movements all renewed their calls over the weekend for US President
Barack Obama to release Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence to the 26
and a half years he has already served.
In their appeals to Obama, the
Jewish leaders threw their weight behind an official request from President
Shimon Peres to Obama in which he formally asked that Pollard be immediately
released. Peres is scheduled to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from
Obama on June 13. Some 47,000 people have signed a petition urging Peres to use
his influence and standing in Washington to ensure that Pollard is released
before the medal ceremony.
The calls for Pollard’s release came from the
Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the
National Council of Young Israel, Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox
Union. In addition, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations, which is the central coordinating body representing 51 Jewish
organizations on issues of national and international concern, also contacted
Obama and renewed its clemency call for Pollard.
In his letter to Obama,
Rabbi David Zweibel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, expressed deep
dismay at the White House taking its time in responding to the numerous clemency
requests that have been made for Pollard’s release. The letter noted that
Pollard’s failing health injects a note of urgency into the situation that
requires a swift response to his own formal clemency request that was filed
nearly two years ago.
“Whatever the ordinary protocol and timetable for
the processing of commutation of sentence applications, humanitarian
considerations dictate that Mr. Pollard’s dire health status should prompt an
expedited review of his application,” Zweibel said.
condition is serious and has been deteriorating for some time, as many people
who have visited him recently have testified. Under these circumstances,
allowing the review process on his commutation application to stretch on
indeterminately seems particularly cruel.”
The Union for Reform Judaism,
which represents more than 900 congregations and an estimated 1.5 million Jews
and has built up a close relationship with Obama, found itself in the rare
situation of agreeing with Agudath Israel, though its president, Rabbi Rick
Jacobs, used more cautious language in his letter.
request that the Obama Administration heed Israeli President Peres’ request that
President Obama grant Jonathan Pollard clemency on humanitarian grounds,” Jacobs
“We urge immediate clemency so that he may be surrounded by his
loved ones while trying to recover from a grave illness that put him in the
hospital over the Passover holiday. Clemency is both the just and compassionate
response in this situation.”
Conference of Presidents leaders Richard
Stone and Malcolm Hoenlein wrote Obama about their recent visit to Pollard and
the impression his poor health made on them.
“President Peres is a
cautious and judicious person and his letter comes only after much
deliberation,” Stone and Hoenlein wrote.
“We appreciate your kind
consideration of his request which we strongly support.”
request to Obama two weeks ago came days after Pollard became extremely ill and
was rushed from his North Carolina prison cell to an outside hospital for
emergency medical treatment.
Esther Pollard, Jonathan’s wife, met with
Peres and issued an impassioned plea for his assistance in ensuring that her
husband would be released, rather than being returned to prison, following his
hospitalization. But Pollard returned to the prison days later and Obama has
issued no formal response to Peres’s request.