Biden meets top Jewish leaders on Pollard

US Vice president becomes highest ranking American official to hold meeting about fate of Israeli agent; Jewish leaders hail meeting as "meaningful, productive."

November 22, 2011 19:20
3 minute read.
Jonathan Pollard

Jonathan Pollard 311 (R). (photo credit: Courtesy of Justice for Jonathan Pollard)


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US Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking American official ever to hold a meeting about the fate of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard when he met with top Jewish leaders in Washington on Monday, the 26th anniversary of Pollard’s arrest.

The Jerusalem Post’s Washington correspondent Rebecca Anna Stoil broke the story about the meeting exclusively on the Post’s website Monday after press time for the newspaper’s print edition.

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Biden’s office confirmed the hour-and-a-half meeting with Jewish leaders, calling it productive but declining to elaborate on its contents.

Jewish leaders who participated described the meeting as “meaningful and productive.”

Those in attendance included Anti- Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman; Michael Adler, a community leader from Miami; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive-vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Dr. Simcha Katz, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Senior American Jewish leaders aware of the contents of the conversation said the main arguments raised for Pollard’s release included his failing health and the justice of his case.

Pollard has been taken from his prison cell to the hospital four times in the past year and recently had surgery.

He suffers from diabetes, nausea, dizziness, blackouts and ongoing issues with his gall bladder, kidneys, sinuses, eyes and feet. He also has Meniere’s disease, which causes him to lose consciousness and fall without warning.

The American Jewish leaders told Biden that the average sentence given to Americans convicted of Pollard’s crime of spying for an ally has been two to four years and that people convicted of treason had also served much less time than Pollard. They brought up the case of Hasan Abu-Jihad, who received a 10-year sentence for spying for al-Qaida.

Another argument reportedly raised by the Jewish leaders was that ahead of Pollard’s sentencing, then-US defense secretary Caspar Weinberger submitted a letter to the judge incorrectly alleging that information from Pollard had reached the former Soviet Union. They pointed out that Weinberger’s deputy at the time of Pollard’s arrest, Lawrence Korb, has confirmed that his late boss’s allegations were false.

American spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen were later convicted of spying for the USSR, and CIA director James Woolsey conducted an investigation that found that no information from Pollard reached any country other than Israel. Woolsey, who initially opposed releasing Pollard, now supports commuting his sentence.

The last argument made in the meeting was that while most American Jewish leaders were initially hesitant to stick out their neck for Pollard, the entire American Jewish community was now united in support of US President Barack Obama commuting his sentence.

“The meeting was an important opportunity to share with the vice president the fact that there is a consensus on this issue in the American Jewish community,” Foxman said. “We shared our feelings, he shared his, and that’s constructive and important. I don’t know what the next step is, but whatever happens, the vice president is better informed about where the American Jewish community is on this issue.”

Hoenlein added “I can’t say that this a breakthrough, because it’s part of a process.”

Pollard’s wife Esther left on Tuesday for the US, where she is expected to meet Jewish leaders who will brief her on the meeting.

The meeting was initiated after an outcry in the Jewish community over statements Biden made two months ago condemning Pollard.

“President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time,’” Biden said, according to The New York Times. “If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.”

Thousands of Americans and Israelis called the White House switchboard to request Pollard’s release on Monday to mark the anniversary of his arrest. Efforts to persuade Obama to grant Pollard clemency have intensified in recent days, because American presidents traditionally grant pardons and clemency to a select group of prisoners as an act of goodwill between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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