Israeli Reform rabbis beg Obama to free Pollard

US counterparts feel the president is close to action.

March 2, 2012 11:10
2 minute read.
Israelis protest for Jonathan Pollard in Jerusalem

Israelis protest for Jonathan Pollard in Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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The Israeli Council of Progressive (Reform) Rabbis recently drafted an emotional letter to US President Barack Obama pleading with him to release Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.

The Pollard case was once seen as an issue that was primarily promoted by right-wing and Orthodox Jews. But lately Reform rabbis in America and now in Israel have adopted the case as a human rights issue at the top of their agenda.

The Israeli Reform rabbis drafted their letter amid increasing pressure on Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence to the more than 26 years of his life term he has already served. The pressure is expected to intensify ahead of Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday in Washington.

“We Jewish leaders primarily base our request to you on the humanitarian compassion that unites us all,” the rabbis wrote. “Mr. President, Pollard entered prison at age 30 and now he is close to 60.

The price that he paid for his actions was harsh, difficult and irreversible. His life has already been destroyed and his medical condition is bad and getting worse.” The rabbis noted that Pollard had expressed complete remorse for his actions personally and publicly many times.

“He and his wife already will not be able to bring children into this world as they had dreamed,” the rabbis wrote. “All they have left to ask for is to enable him to live the remainder of his life as a free man.”

The rabbis added that such a humanitarian step would reflect the values of justice, compassion and fairness that the United States was built on. In writing the letter, the Israelis joined their American rabbinical counterparts on the Pollard bandwagon.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past president of the Reform Movement, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform Religious Action Center, met with Obama privately after the president spoke at a Reform Conference in Washington in December.

Nearly half the meeting was devoted to the Pollard issue.

In their appeal to the president, the rabbis stressed that commuting Pollard’s sentence was a matter of consensus throughout the Jewish community. But Yoffie emphasized that while Pollard’s release was important to the Jewish community as a whole, “it is especially important to the Reform Jewish community.”

The rabbis said after the December meeting that they felt the president had listened to their appeal with a sympathetic ear. They told people they felt encouraged and that they were expecting movement on the Pollard issue “soon.”

“Hopefully we will see some progress in the not-too-distant future in terms of getting clemency for Jonathan Pollard,” Saperstein said in a video calling for Pollard’s release that has been circulating on YouTube.

American Jewish leaders expressed cautious optimism that the Obama-Netanyahu meeting could lead to Pollard’s release.

“The time is ripe now,” a prominent American Jewish leader said. “The upcoming summit with Netanyahu next week provides the president with the perfect opportunity to release Pollard – a gesture that would be appreciated by Jews around the world, especially the Reform movement, his greatest supporters.”

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