Biden slammed for anti-Pollard comment

Former Democratic senator says he was "disappointed," surprised by US vice president's comments saying he opposes Israeli agent's release.

October 5, 2011 02:52
2 minute read.
US Vice President Joe Biden

US Vice President Joe Biden 311 (R). (photo credit: Toru Hanai/Reuters)


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US Vice President Joe Biden faced criticism on Tuesday for his comments ruling out the release of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.

Biden told a group of Florida rabbis last week that he had advised US President Barack Obama against commuting the life sentence of Pollard, who has served nearly 26 years in prison.

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“Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time,” Biden was quoted as saying by The New York Times. “If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.”

Biden’s comments upset current and former American officials who have been pushing for Pollard’s release. Former Democratic senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, who worked with Biden for years, said he was surprised by what Biden said.

“On the assumption that the report is correct, I am very disappointed that he would make such a statement particularly after he had been a supporter for the justification of clemency for Mr. Pollard,” DeConcini said. “Many of us support clemency based on the fact that Mr. Pollard has served a long term. It doesn’t exonerate him for the crime he committed but the term he served is adequate.”

DeConcini rejected the New York Times’s theory that Biden was “taking a punch meant for his boss” and deflecting attention from Obama, who has yet to respond to formal requests for Pollard’s release from President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“That theory is disingenuous,” DeConcini said. “I don’t believe the president would engage in that kind of behavior. He doesn’t have a reputation for doing those kind of shenanigans.”

Lawrence Korb, who was US assistant secretary of defense at the time of Pollard’s arrest, downplayed the impact of Biden’s statement and said it could have a boomerang effect.

“His comments were so over the top that there will be a renewed focus on the issue,” Korb said.

“[Former US president George W.] Bush overruled [his vice president] Dick Cheney on bombing Syria. It would have been nice had he supported the effort. Biden is one voice among many.”

Biden is expected to face more criticism when he hosts a post-Rosh Hashana party at his residence for Jewish leaders on Wednesday.

Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, who will attend the meeting, called upon Biden to reconsider his view on Pollard.

“This is today an issue that has a consensus among the American Jewish community,” Foxman told Ha’aretz. “It’s almost inhuman to keep him in prison – he served his time and there is no justification to keep him in prison.”

When asked to comment on Biden’s statement, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “I have already, in the past, sent letters to several presidents, and I hope that the present one, for purely humanitarian reasons, will allow Jonathan Pollard to go to Israel.”

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