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Religious streams join in appeal to release Pollard
By GIL HOFFMAN
04/22/2012
In their appeals to Obama, the Jewish leaders threw their weight behind an official request from President Shimon Peres.
 
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.

“His medical 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.

“We respectfully request that the Obama Administration heed Israeli President Peres’ request that President Obama grant Jonathan Pollard clemency on humanitarian grounds,” Jacobs wrote.

“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.”

Peres’s formal 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.
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