Reform, Conservative, Orthodox unite against Biden

Leaders of the three movements convene to criticize US vice president at Rosh Hashana toast over his comments on Pollard.

US Vice President Joe Biden 311 (R) (photo credit: Toru Hanai/Reuters)
US Vice President Joe Biden 311 (R)
(photo credit: Toru Hanai/Reuters)
It’s not easy to get the leaders of three major American religious streams to agree, but US Vice President Joe Biden found a way to unite Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis – against him.
The leaders of the three movements were all expected to criticize Biden at a post-Rosh Hashana toast he hosted on Wednesday night after press time at his Washington residence. The party comes in the wake of a September 23 meeting with Florida rabbis in which Biden said Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard was a “traitor” and should be condemned to die in prison.
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Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman was expected to bring to the reception a long list of top American and Israeli leaders who have urged US President Barack Obama to commute Pollard’s life sentence to the nearly 26 years he has already served.
The New York Jewish Week published an article with quotes from the heads of the Jewish streams in the US supporting Pollard’s release and criticizing Biden.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and a political dove, told the newspaper that the subject of Pollard had been “taboo” for years, but now he was prepared to raise the issue with Biden.
“No major political figure would identify with a release-Pollard petition, but now there are people in the political system who – without justifying his actions – are saying [clemency] is something that should be done,” Yoffie said.
Rabbi Steven Wernick, president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, told the newspaper that Biden’s statements confused him because of the vice president’s many years of support for Israel.
“I can’t help but suspect there is more information at play than is available [to explain] why he would take a harsh stance on clemency,” he was quoted as saying.
Orthodox Union director of public policy Nathan Diament, who like Yoffie and Wernick intended to attend the reception, said he expected Biden to bring up Pollard during his welcoming remarks.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the Orthodox National Council of Young Israel, who is very close to Pollard, pointed out to the newspaper that Biden was incorrect in calling the Israeli agent a traitor.
“He was convicted of spying for a friendly country with no intent to harm the United States,” he said, adding that Pollard is the only American convicted of spying for a friendly country who received a life sentence.
Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and another political dove, expressed hope that Biden’s comments opened the door for Obama to consider releasing Pollard.
“I think the president can still do it if he wants to,” he told the Jewish Week.
“He can stand up to the intelligence community and do it.
“Pollard has served enough time and should be released on humanitarian grounds. It would certainly be propitious if he did it before Yom Kippur,” Reich said.