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Responses To Our Call to Free Jonathan Pollard

Jewish leaders weigh in on Tablet’s condemnation of Pollard’s imprisonment

The Editors
January 22, 2014
Israeli protesters call for the release of Jonathan Pollard on January 2, 2014.(GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli protesters call for the release of Jonathan Pollard on January 2, 2014.(GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, we published an editorial arguing that Jonathan Pollard’s continued imprisonment sends a chilling message to American Jews that they are all potential traitors to their country, evincing a distinct odor of political anti-Semitism. We called on Jewish leaders and organizations to recognize and combat this implicit prejudice. Most of the leaders we reached out to for comment refused to go on the record with any—an indication of the issue’s continued untouchability. But a few did.


Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, asked what more there is to be done:

Look at the record and tell me what we haven’t tried that would have been effective. We do things six, seven, or more times a year. We’ve gone to see every president on his case. We have visited Pollard in prison a couple of times. We’ve lined up experts, we’ve engaged in advocacy of every kind, we’ve done many public activities. We went to see the legal counsels at the White House and any official or expert we thought could help.

For example, I raised it with President Clinton before he left office and he indicated he would follow through on it, but he was not able to deliver. We met President Bush about it many times and we’ve been pressing President Obama on it. We press all the time. In December, we did an appeal to the President. Before Pesach and Rosh Hashana, we made public appeals to the President for Pollard’s release signed by almost all of the Conference’s member organizations, as we have done in former years. We pursued legal and other approaches, including letter writing campaigns.

Also, I can attest to the fact that Prime Ministers of Israel raised it in White House meetings, including Yitzchak Rabin, z”l, Ariel Sharon z”l, Ehud Olmert and Bibi. Our activities have been going on for decades. There nothing—literally nothing—that I know of that we haven’t tried. You can check—there’s a public record for much of this activity.

It is indeed frustrating and each day the injustice grows.

Rabbi Leonard Matanky, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, emphasized his organization’s commitment to freeing Pollard:

I [want to] reiterate the standing position of the RCA, first adopted more than two decades ago, that calls upon the President to grant Pollard clemency and to release him from prison. We believe that such action is not merely an expression of compassion, but also of justice, as we recognize the disproportionate prison sentence given to Pollard.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said he had come to conclude—after years of thinking otherwise—that Pollard’s continued imprisonment does imply prejudice at work:

When the Jonathan Pollard affair surfaced 28 years ago, there were claims by some that the sentencing of Pollard, life imprisonment, was tinged with anti-Semitism. We at the Anti-Defamation League took that charge seriously, made our own investigation, and concluded there was no basis for such an accusation.

I bring that up now because as the years pass and the world has changed many times over, and with more and more prominent Americans, including individuals from the intelligence community, saying “enough already,” Pollard remains in prison.

Pleas for his parole are raised on a regular basis, but go unheeded. The whole thing at this late date makes no sense. There surely is no information that Pollard possesses after all these years that can be harmful to American interests. The fact that Pollard shared information with an ally—Israel—was no reason for him not to be punished. But after this long imprisonment, the fact that it was such a close ally who received his information should have influenced a positive response when the subject of parole arose.

I am not one to equate what Pollard did, to betray his country, to the recent revelations that the United States has been spying on top Israeli leaders. Here too, however, these revelations add further context to the absurdity of the ongoing vendetta against this one man.

Yes, I use that word because that’s what it seems like at this point. If it were only a vendetta against one individual it would be bad enough. But it has now become one against the American Jewish community.

In effect, the continuing imprisonment of this person long after he should have been paroled on humanitarian grounds can only be read as an effort to intimidate American Jews. And, it is an intimidation that can only be based on an anti-Semitic stereotype about the Jewish community, one that we have seen confirmed in our public opinion polls over the years, the belief that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country, the United States.

In other words, the underlying concept which fuels the ongoing Pollard incarceration is the notion that he is only the tip of the iceberg in the community. So Pollard stays in prison as a message to American Jews: don’t even think about doing what he did.

I come to this conclusion with much sorrow and, as noted, as someone who resisted efforts early on to connect the Pollard affair to anti-Semitism. It is harder and harder to do so any longer.

From the editors of Tablet Magazine.