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Ragtag Team Supported Pollard Early On

When the U.S. Parole Commission announced last week its intention to release Jonathan J. Pollard, incarcerated since November 21, 1985 on the 30th anniversary of this date, a self-described four-person “rag-tag” group who made his release their priority took particular satisfaction.

As soon as I learned about Pollard’s impending parole, I contacted one of the four American operatives who were the primary movers in seeking clemency for Jonathan Pollard. Important explanations were provided to me.

Among the many people Pollard thanked, including his wife Esther, were National Council of Young Israel’s Rabbi Pesach Lerner and Farley Weiss, as well as David Nyer of Brooklyn and Kenneth Lasson, a law professor at the University of Baltimore.

Now these four look forward to sharing a L’Chayim with Jonathan and Esther Pollard one day in Israel. Although they are quite different in temperament and background, they share common feelings about the gross miscarriage of justice that was perpetrated against Pollard. Here are some points on which they have similar perspectives:

They learned not to allow themselves to become too optimistic, especially in view of the fact that there were plenty of powerful voices who saw Pollard as a traitor — someone who, as former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger once said, “should be shot for his crimes.”

The more they learned about the case the more they felt something wrong. They knew that the plea agreement he had entered – that he would fully cooperate with prosecutors in return for “something less than the harshest sentence” – was violated by the government, in particular U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova, who said publicly that he hoped Pollard “would never see the light of day again.” They also knew that he was being treated vindictively by being placed in solitary confinement for a long period of time at the beginning of his incarceration.

They saw Pollard as a compelling character, who was spying out of sincere ideology for Israel. They agreed that he had done wrong, but shared the conviction that his sentence was grossly disproportional to anything anyone else had gotten for the same offense. Pollard was not convicted of treason — he was not consorting with an enemy during war time. He was charged and convicted for passing classified information to a foreign government, an offense normally punished with 2-4 years in jail. Nor did any of his actions result in the loss of American lives, in their view.

They shared a concern that diGenova’s prediction of Pollard never being released would come true. So if it wasn’t treason, if other spies who had given over classified materials to foreign governments were serving relatively few years of incarceration, why was Pollard still in jail?

They ultimately agreed that Pollard’s long term of imprisonment was fueled by anti-Semitism or the new code words for bigotry, “anti-Zionism.”

They chose to deal with factual evidence, not innuendo or surmise. They realized early on that they were not going to change the minds of naysayers who insisted that Pollard was a traitor and an embarrassment.

They thought that they might achieve success in arguing for Pollard under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. They thought that they had won at Wye (the 1998 Wye (MD) River peace talks), where one of the conditions of Bibi Netanyahu’s coming over was that he’d be returning to Israel with Pollard. It was noted back then that even (Yasser) Arafat (Chairman of the Palestinian Authority) wouldn’t stand in the way of Pollard’s return as a bargaining chip for the Palestinians. So Clinton said he’d review the case, but he never did.

They thought they’d seen a hopeful sign when President Clinton implored the American public to see “Schindler’s List,” the quintessential horror film about the Holocaust. Perhaps the president, visibly moved by the film, would sympathize with the moral impulse that drove Pollard to give vital defense information to Israel. Perhaps he’d likewise equate Nazi Germany with demonic Iraq. Perhaps Mr. Clinton, currently compiling his own list of presidential pardons, would see to it that the horrendous life sentence handed Pollard in 1986 be commuted to time served.

They were wrong.

They were equally disappointed when President Bush failed to grant clemency to Pollard before he left office.

And most recently, they felt that President Obama was particularly nasty when he refused to permit Pollard to visit his dying father or attend his funeral in Indiana – even though by all accounts he has been a model prisoner.

And now that parole has been granted, they are concerned about the conditions attached. Pollard could be forced to remain in the United States instead of returning to Israel. He might not be able to say anything that would publicly support Israel.

They feel that such conditions would be continued punishment.

They do not feel that Pollard was a hero, but a victim. They are looking for parole without conditions.

They liken Pollard’s situation to the infamous Dreyfus case. Alfred Dreyfus was the Jewish and French military officer charged and convicted of treason in 1894. He was exonerated for the crime when it was learned that secret information given to the Germans came from another officer. Writers such as Emile Zola and Mark Twain supported Dreyfus, and the notion of anti-Semitism for his arrest was considered highly likely.

They feel that, just as the French prosecutors were found guilty of gross bias and injustice, so too the American judicial system, which works more often than not, failed miserably in the treatment of Jonathan Pollard.

Finally, they will not rest until Pollard is completely free.

By Phil Jacobs

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