‘Jonathan Pollard is dead. He died at the age of 59 in Butner prison in North Carolina, after 29 years of incarceration. Although many top US security officials joined Israeli efforts for the release of the Israeli operative, Pollard’s health had deteriorated markedly in the last few years, resulting finally in his death.”
The above is not true yet, but it may be weeks, days or hours away from being true.
With the recent news of yet another hospitalization and emergency surgery on Jonathan Pollard's kidneys, intestines and gall bladder, we can’t avoid the thought of his possible death. We must look it squarely in the face, and imagine how we will feel when we hear the news.
We are used to thinking of the Pollard case as something outside of us, not too personal. But if Pollard dies in prison, then our whole generation will die just a little. We will all bear the stain of failing a man who risked his life to protect Israel. When our children will ask us: “Were you around when Jonathan Pollard was alive?” the shameful answer will be: “Yes, I was around, and I did not do enough to help him…” To remind you: Pollard was a US Naval intelligence analyst who passed information to Israel, an American ally, about its own self-defense. He was caught and agreed to a plea bargain, but instead of getting two to four years like other agents who spied on the US for enemy states, Pollard got life in prison.
This harsh sentence came about as a result of afﬁdavits written to the court by then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger has since been discredited by people like Robert “Bud” McFarlane, Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser at the time, who wrote to President Barack Obama on behalf of Pollard, saying that Weinberger had a history of “unbalanced reasoning” when it came to Israel.
McFarlane is not the only ofﬁcial to stand up for Pollard. Lawrence Korb also wrote Obama to plead for clemency: “Dear Mr. President: As assistant secretary of defense at the time of Jonathan Pollard’s arrest, I respectfully request that you exercise your power of clemency on behalf of Mr. Pollard, who has now been in prison for 25 years. Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for passing classiﬁed information to an American ally. 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 occupies in our foreign policy on the part of my boss at the time, secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger.”
In an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, Korb wrote: “Most of the major decision-makers who were intimately involved in the case have issued public calls for clemency. They include former secretary of state George Shultz, former senator David Durenberger (who served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at the time of Pollard’s conviction), and former congressman Lee Hamilton (chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time of Pollard’s sentencing)… Key ﬁgures who viewed the classiﬁed damage assessment years later also favor Pollard’s release. They include former head of Senate Intelligence Dennis DeConcini, deputy attorney-general Philip Heymann, attorney-general Michael Mukasey, White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, as well as James Woolsey, former director of the CIA.”
Woolsey even published a letter in The Wall Street Journal titled “It’s time to commute Jonathan Pollard’s sentence.”
And there are even more top-level people who have written Obama seeking clemency for Pollard, including Henry Kissinger, Arlen Specter, Allen West, Dan Quayle and Prof. Angelo Codevilla, along with hundreds of American legislators and spiritual leaders who have signed petitions.
So why is Pollard still in prison, even though so many have taken a brave public stand, he has served more than enough time, and he suffers from dangerously failing health? Maybe Weinberger, whose father was of Jewish descent, is the not the only anti-Semite out there. Maybe there are people in the halls of American power that want American Jews and Israelis to keep their heads down, and not get out of line. Pollard’s imprisonment is a form of collective punishment – “Jews, know your place.”
Now, I am calling on the American people, so many of whom are friends of Israel: This is the hour of your test – will you let this man, who is serving an immoral life sentence for defending Israel, die? It is your time to stand up, and use the democracy of which America is so proud. Pull out all the stops. You already have top brass behind the cause, but now the voice of the people must be heard. Make sure your congressmen, senators and president know that this will not stand, because without justice and liberty, what is America? That being said, we Jews and Israelis mustn’t pass the buck. We can blame intransigent US administrations all we want, but have we made it clear that we demand Pollard’s freedom? Sure, we said a prayer, sent a boilerplate email, and even attended a rally for Jonathan. But so far, most of us did not disrupt our lives nor have we taken steps to disrupt our government’s life, and the life of Jewish organizations who represent us.
Throughout our history, we Jews have known the pain of captives and this is reﬂected in our literature, where the Talmud calls the redemption of captives a mitzva raba, a great mitzva, for captivity is viewed as even worse than starvation and death. Maimonides writes: “The redeeming of captives takes precedence over supporting the poor or clothing them.
There is no greater mitzva than redeeming captives... Ignoring the need to redeem captives desecrates [the verses], “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Lev. 19:16) and… “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).”
The Shulhan Aruch, the codex of Jewish law, adds: “Every moment that one delays in freeing captives, in cases where it is possible to expedite their freedom, is considered to be tantamount to murder.” Ouch.
Recently, after news of Pollard’s hospitalization, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was on Channel 10, and stated: “Pollard does not need to be in the hospital nor in a prison – he needs to be released.”
Netanyahu continued: “There isn’t a single conversation in the White House that goes by without bringing [Pollard] up,” and “I hope that we can ﬁnally succeed to bring him home.”
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu: If you keep “conversing” for his release, Pollard will soon be dead. There is no time for ﬁnessing, cajoling or games.
For your own sake as much as Pollard’s, and for the sake of this generation, you need to place the weight of Israel behind this issue: Call in friends, make some threats, throw some muscle around.
Mr. Prime Minister: Just as you made the release of Gilad Schalit a priority, so too make Pollard’s release a priority, so that this Passover, the holiday of freedom, Pollard can sit at a Seder table in Jerusalem.
Indeed, we all want Jonathan Pollard to come home. We hope he sees the sunset on the Mediterranean, feels the desert breeze on his face, and says the thankful prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Yes, we all want him to have health and happy days, but unless something changes, Jonathan Pollard, our brother, will soon die in Butner prison – and we will all bear the bloodstain of his death for the rest of our lives. ■
The writer is a Jerusalem-based FM radio show host, the director of Kumah, a pro-Israel NGO, and a graduate of the Cardozo School of Law.