Come home, Jonathan Pollard

From the moment that Pollard was sentenced in March of 1987, he was subjected to what can only be described as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

‘FOR THE majority of the Jewish world, Jonathan Pollard (pictured in 2016 in New York) was toxic.’ (photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
‘FOR THE majority of the Jewish world, Jonathan Pollard (pictured in 2016 in New York) was toxic.’
(photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
Several days after we concluded the shiva for our son Ari z”l, the phone rang.
“Hello family Weiss,” the voice said. “I am truly sorry that I missed visiting you during the past week, but I was out of the country. I just now arrived at Ben-Gurion. Can I come see you?” That was Ehud Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem. He spent more than an hour with us and was gracious and sensitive – even offering to give us a personal tour of “his Jerusalem, as only he knew it.”
I am a great believer in the primary Jewish trait of hakarat hatov, which morally obligates us to recognize the kindness and good that is done for us and repay it in kind. And so, throughout the many accusations against Olmert, his subsequent conviction in the Holyland-Talansky case, and his eventual imprisonment – the only Israeli prime minister, at least so far, to have served time in jail – I refrained from ever writing anything critical about him. But, as we say in Hebrew, yesh g’vul (there is a limit). His recent comments regarding the release of Jonathan Pollard after an incarceration of 30 years – particularly his claim that Pollard was primarily motivated by “vast sums of money” given to him in return for spying for Israel, and his wish that Jonathan stay in New York and not come to Israel – cannot go unchallenged.
From the moment that Pollard was sentenced in March of 1987, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a friendly country and expressing remorse for his crime, he was subjected to what can only be described as “cruel and unusual punishment.” The plea-bargain agreement, by which his prosecutors recommended that he only serve “a substantial number of years” was overruled by Judge Aubrey Robinson, who sentenced Pollard to life in prison, becoming the only American who has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally of the US. The secret memorandum passed by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to the judge allegedly accused Pollard of compromising the identity of large numbers of intelligence members, resulting in the deaths of several of them; charges that were never confirmed. Pollard’s appeal against his sentence was rejected, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg casting the deciding vote against him.
Jonathan served much of his jail time in solitary confinement, as his health steadily deteriorated. His requests to attend the funerals of his father, and then his mother, were both cruelly denied. As his sentence dragged on through the years, an ever-increasing parade of high-level American officials called for his release. These included dozens of senators and congressmen, as well as former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former CIA director James Woolsey and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dennis DeConcini. In a 2012 letter to the Wall Street Journal, Woolsey pointed out that of the more than 50 convicted Soviet and Chinese spies, only two received life sentences, and both were given less time than Pollard had already served. He further stated that “Pollard has cooperated fully with the US government, pledged not to profit from his crime, and many times expressed remorse for what he did.”
Woolsey expressed his belief that Pollard was still imprisoned only because he is Jewish, saying, “anti-Semitism played a role in Pollard’s continued detention; for those hung up for some reason on the fact that he’s an American Jew, pretend he’s a Greek- or Korean- or Filipino-American and free him.” But the Justice Department would not budge. President after president refused to consider clemency. Former president Bill Clinton reneged on his promise to Benjamin Netanyahu to pardon Pollard as part of the Wye Agreement in 1998. It should be noted that former vice president Joe Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of Pollard’s arrest, told a group of rabbis in 2011, “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.’” Biden later denied having used those precise words, but acknowledged that the report characterized his position accurately.
FOR THE majority of the Jewish world, Jonathan Pollard was toxic. As I wrote in my Jerusalem Post column (“Pollard and the Jews,” December 31, 2010), with the specter of “dual-loyalty” charges hanging heavily in the air, the Jewish world recoiled in fear and trepidation. Positive that any outcry on Pollard’s behalf would call into question their allegiance to America, Jews backed off and suppressed their usual activism. The Israeli government, too, was fearful of losing US funding and support, and reacted in kind. It proclaimed – falsely, as they later admitted – that the Pollard affair was a “rogue, unauthorized” operation, downplaying the importance of the vital information it had requested and received from Pollard regarding details of Arab weapons of mass destruction. It would be 10 years before this country would finally take responsibility, first by granting Pollard citizenship in 1995, and then by admitting, in 1998, that he was a bona fide Israeli agent.
I personally experienced the paranoia of the Jewish community when, shortly after Jonathan’s imprisonment, I hosted his parents at our home in Dallas and gave his father Morris, a distinguished professor at Notre Dame University, a platform on which to speak about his son’s situation. I received death threats, and the Jewish leaders of the city refused to attend. Even then, it was clear that Jonathan Pollard would be fighting an uphill, lonely battle to eventually win his freedom.
No one, including Pollard, denies that he committed a crime, a serious crime. Even if it was done to help Israel in our ongoing struggle to be safe, it came at the expense of violating the laws of our primary patron, America, and had to be dealt with. But at some point, it became clear that Pollard was being treated unfairly and punished far beyond what he deserved. Justice delayed, after all, is justice denied. And it was then that the Jewish people, with our eternal sensitivity to right and wrong, embraced Jonathan’s cause and rightly rebelled against the torment he was being put through. Pollard slowly turned from convict to cause célèbre; his express refusal to be “traded” in return for the release of Palestinian terrorists earned my own undying respect.
Now he is finally free. Yet still there are those Jews who want to hide him in a closet. You would think that after 70% or more of American Jewry gave its support to Biden – as opposed to a president who is arguably the most pro-Israel in history – there would be no more concern over “dual loyalty” charges, but the insecurity remains. You would hope that our own country, in which a convicted felon is returned to the Knesset election after election – and controls much of the religious infrastructure, to boot – would welcome Jonathan with open arms, after his steadfast expression of a desire to live here for the rest of his days.
The Talmud, in many places, records that in situations when the rabbis are unsure as to what the definitive Halacha is, they advise watching the people in action. “Go see what the nation does,” they conclude, “and that is certainly the right decision and the proper way to act.” In the end, when Pollard comes here, I am certain he will be warmly received and given a huge, collective hug. Barring health restrictions, his arrival should be massively attended and cause for a national celebration, led by the prime minister who fought for him throughout his struggle.
Jonathan and Esther, we will be overjoyed to welcome you, and we’ll be delighted if you arrive in Israel in time for Hanukkah. If you do, we won’t need to receive the traditional holiday presents. Your presence alone will be all the gift we need.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]