Letters and articles

By Elie Wiesel (November 21, 1996 ) The Jewish Week (New York)

Jonathan Pollard is still in jail. He has been there for more than 10 years. Isn't it time for compassion to prevail? His case is well known and needs not to be explained in detail. As a Navy analyst, he illegally communicated Arab-related American military secrets to Israel. In spite of leniency pledges by the Justice Department in exchange for his cooperation with the FBI, he received life imprisonment, an extremely harsh punishment for spying on behalf of a friendly nation. In sentencing him, the judge allegedly was influenced by a confidential and still not revealed letter from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

In the beginning, Pollard had few friends even in the American Jewish community. Many Jews resented his action. He had no business spying on a country that has been so good to Jews. All his statements that he meant no harm to America's security but felt compelled to help Israel left many people unconvinced. Jewish and general public opinion change only when, after long years, all pleas for parole, compassion and pardon were rejected first by the courts, then by the administration. Clearly, Pollard is still being considered in Washington as unworthy of clemency. Now there is a movement in his favor.

Most commentaries are pertinent, some are less so. Those who paint him as a hero and compare him to Alfred Dreyfus seem erroneous: the French Jewish captain, falsely accused of espionage, was innocent; Pollard is not. The question is: is he a victim? The answer is: yes. A victim first of his own immature and surely misplaced idealism, then of various intelligence agencies who are determined to see him die in his prison cell. The strongest argument given against reducing his life term is twofold: the first insists on his still being a security risk - which is absurd. What was confidential then has surely been changed since 1986.The second is linked to his apparent lack of remorse. This was often officially invoked as an answer to those who interceded on his behalf. Well, that argument is unfounded. I have read some of his letters written during the early years of his imprisonment.

He clearly admits his mistake and expresses regret for having committed it. Better yet: I have met him twice. First in his maximum security prison (in Marion, Ill.), then in his medium-security prison (in Butner, N.C.). Both time he impressed me with his deep feelings of remorse. He acknowledges he was wrong. He knows that were other ways, legal ways, for a devoted Jew like him to help Israel. At this point, it seems to me that he has suffered enough. Justice has been served. Now is the time for human compassion. A presidential decision to pardon him or reduce his unusually harsh punishment to time served would prove that our democratic system is rooted not only in justice but also in humanity.

Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel is a professor at Boston University.



By YOSEF BEGUN (September 2, 1996)

For decades in the Soviet Union there were Jews whose fate was the focus of the entire Jewish world. Prisoners of Zion were accused and imprisoned for their activity on behalf of Israel. Yes, on that point our prosecutors and judges were correct: Our "crimes, "aliya and the renaissance of Soviet Jews, were done for the sake of Israel, as well as for ourselves. And when we were sent to Soviet prisons, Jews allover the world did everything possible to liberate us. This fight for the freedom of "captive" Soviet Jewry will go down in history as a good example of Jewish solidarity and the reality of our moral imperative: Every Jew is responsible for every other Jew.

It would seem that there are no longer any Prisoners of Zion, but it is not true. There is Jonathan Pollard. A different case, yes... but still the same. Political intrigue surrounding the case influenced the decision of the jury, suggesting anti-Jewish influence. Much has been written about the disproportionate severity of Pollard's sentence compared with those of others who spied for the allies of the US. As The Jerusalem Post of July 29 stated, "Pollard has fallen victim to what can only be called an act of arbitrary injustice." The Americans' behavior in the Pollard case is a matter for their own consciences. But what is really difficult to understand is our own Jewish position. From the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment must come the initiative and the action to help Pollard.

From any point of view Pollard deserves his freedom after 11 years of imprisonment. Under public pressure, on the eve of the recent elections, the previous Israeli government granted him Israeli citizenship, and many representatives of competing parties expressed their commitment to securing his release. But the elections have passed and Pollard remains a prisoner, without any sign of his situation being alleviated. President Clinton, who is so fond of expressing his concern about Israel's security, is in no great hurry to grant Pollard his freedom, no doubt as a result of the low profile senior Israeli officials have kept regarding his case. There are said to be political reasons for this... perhaps. But there is no excuse for the lack of public outcry for the freedom of this imprisoned Jew. The fight for the freedom of Russian Jews witnessed a similar phenomenon in the 1960s, when the Israeli government kept a low profile on the complex issue because they were afraid to irritate the Soviet government. Moved to take action, a massive public struggle on behalf of Russian Jews spontaneously arose in the early 1970s. As a result of this grassroots activity the politicians became more active.

Some say that the Pollard case is very different from that of the former prisoners of Zion in the USSR. Is it? After all, who is Jonathan Pollard? He is a Jew who put aside his personal life and freedom in the interest of the Jewish state. He gave Israel information about treacherous Iraqi plans against the Jewish state. During the Gulf war it was clear that Saddam Hussein would stop at nothing to cause irreparable harm to Israel. Pollard, realizing that the Pentagon wanted to conceal this information, vital for Israel's security, gave it to our country. In other countries people like Pollard are hailed as heroes. Isn't a Jew who risks his life and freedom on behalf of the Jewish state a national hero? Former Prisoners of Zion seem to have a very passive attitude toward the Pollard case. As one of them, who received enormous support from American Jewry to obtain my freedom, I have a moral dilemma about not helping an American Jew in need. We have no right to be passive. Public activity on the part of former Prisoners of Zion would help a lot in the Pollard case. It is our moral obligation to aid Jonathan Pollard.  


David Twersky: Release Pollard on Humanitarian Grounds (January 15, 1997)

Editor - Metro West Jewish News.

Count Jonathan Pollard among those voicing a growing disappointment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not because Bibi is pushing ahead with the Hebron (and other Oslo-mandated) redeployments, but because the Israeli leader doesn't appear willing to include Pollard's release on the shopping list Jerusalem usually presents to Washington as part of any major diplomatic give-and-take. From his prison cell in North Carolina, Pollard, the ex-Navy analyst who illegally supplied Arab-related U.S. military secrets to Israel, sounds like a man who wants the Israel-Palestinian peace process to go forward. After all, his fate may be linked to the Hebron redeployment and the continuing unfolding of the peace process. The reason is that Pollard's Israeli lawyers and other allies have been lobbying Netanyahu and his top aides to link Pollard's release from prison in this country to the Hebron deal.

In statements relayed to the Jewish News via his wife, Esther Zeitz Pollard, Pollard says his lawyers met with David Bar-Illan, a senior aide to Netanyahu, to press their argument that Pollard's fate be linked to the impending agreement on a Hebron redeployment. The Jewish News has verified the authenticity of Pollard's remarks. In a medium-security prison in Butner, NC, serving out a life sentence,

Pollard says he is furious at Netanyahu's Justice Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, who this month proposed that Israel trade for Pollard, swapping an American in an Israeli prison for the convicted spy. According to this plan, Pollard would serve out his life sentence in an Israeli prison. A new Transfer of Prisoners Law would enable Hanegbi's proposed swap -- in theory. In practice, Washington would likely oppose it. Even more important, Pollard wants no part of it. Hanegbi's proposal is "half baked," says Kenneth Lasson, who is professor of law at the University of Baltimore. The prisoner exchange balloon was floated just a few months after reports of a "secret deal" between Netanyahu and President Bill Clinton that would free Pollard after the American elections.

Zeitz Pollard says that, like the "secret deal," Hanegbi's proposal (which she also compared to "the Rabin era spy swap") is intended to give the impression that something is happening. "If there is ever a deal to get Jonathan out, it will happen first and you'll read about it afterwards," she says.

But both Zeitz Pollard and her husband reject the Hanegbi proposal on its merits: "The Hanegbi deal is wrong because for Israel to legitimize the sentence is to legitimize what the sentence tried to do to American Jews and Israel." Says Jonathan Pollard: "I want to go home to Israel as a free citizen of the Jewish state." B'nai B'rith International president Tommy Baer is one of the Jewish leaders who maintains fairly regular contact with Pollard. Baer told the Jewish News that Pollard "is opposed to any arrangement to serve out his life term in Israel. He wants to go as a free citizen of the State of Israel. He continues to push for commutation and that's what the State of Israel should be pushing." The Pollards are also angry at Netanyahu's ambassador here, Eliyahu Ben-Ellisar.

In December, Pollard sent Ben-Ellisar two letters asking him to visit the North Carolina prison and take a letter expressing Pollard's remorse to Clinton in time for the Christmas pardon season. The ambassador never answered the letters. "Our level of confidence in the people with whom we are dealing is very low," Zeitz Pollard says of the Netanyahu government. To be fair, she has nothing good to say about the Peres government, either. Jonathan Pollard says that when it comes to freeing him, both parties behave as they do in the peace process -- "Labor can't and Likud won't." If the Pollards expected more of Netanyahu, it's in large part because the government's guidelines include a pledge that "The government of Israel will use all means at its disposal to bring home the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action and all those who worked for the security of the state, and will insist on this point during negotiations with all relevant parties." "All those who worked for the security of the state" was language designed to cover Pollard.

So why is Netanyahu not acting forcefully on Pollard's behalf? He is involved, says Baer; he just hasn't been successful. But the Pollards disagree. They think nothing's in the works and the various proposals are all designed as distractions. Rabbi Alexander Schindler, the recently retired president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, visited Pollard several weeks ago, along with Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress. Despite being "not overly involved" in Pollard's cause, Schindler told the Jewish News, he went to show his support for commutation and to under score the point that "not just the religious right is concerned," but also "left of center" types, like himself and Singer. Schindler backs commutation "on purely humanitarian grounds," because "12years of incarceration are enough." Some Pollard advocates argue that the convicted spy was right to act because Washington was withholding vital information from Israel about unconventional and terrorist threats. In contrast, Schindler doesn't excuse the espionage. "I hold no brief for what he did, but there comes a time when the punishment is enough." Significantly, Jonathan Pollard admits his guilt and expresses his remorse. If he didn't, people like Schindler, Rabbi Azriel Fellner of Livingston's Temple Beth Shalom and other "moderate" Pollard supporters, would be unable to champion his cause. Zeitz Pollard says Jonathan's "immune system is shot" and that he has served more than twice the time of anyone with a similar offense, a point also emphasized by Lasson, who believes the "gross miscarriage of justice" in the Pollard case starts with "the severity of the sentence." Like the Pollards -- but unlike Baer -- Schindler says "there is no move a foot to get him out."

Like the Pollards, Schindler suspects "both governments might be uncomfortable about having him out." Washington could oppose freeing Pollard for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he may have been used to cover up the consequences of espionage by others. Pollard supporters are wondering whether Netanyahu is reluctant to fight for Pollard because of his close links to Moshe Arens.

Pollard says he saw three signatures on his "tasking orders" -- Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres and Arens. Netanyahu was Arens' deputy; the older man was Bibi's party mentor. "Arens' fingerprints are all over my case," Pollard says. An alternative theory is that the Netanyahu government has enough problems with Clinton. "Bibi's people do not want to highlight differences with the Clinton administration," Pollard told us. Schindler says Pollard's "case puzzles me." Pollard's deal with the prosecutors was broken after the federal judge received a still-confidential letter from then Defense secretary Caspar Weinberger. Schindler says the Weinberger letter remains central because "every time a pardon comes up it is refuted by that letter." A tightly guarded "secrecy" surrounds the government's reasons for opposing efforts to let Pollard go. Schindler wonders: "What is in that letter?"

Curiously, opposition to a Pollard release has not relented even in the wake of the 1992 report that Weinberger had, during negotiations over the pardon he received from president George Bush, announced that he would not object if Pollard were freed. Letting Pollard go is "a difficult issue for this administration," Baer agrees. "Something in the record hasn't been disclosed," he says. Barring that, he can't figure out why the defense community is so hostile to Pollard. (Like Schindler, Elie Wiesel and others, B'nai B'rith supports commutation on humanitarian grounds.) According to Lasson, the U.S. government is finally set to release a victim impact statement that will either make the case for, or put the lie to, the alleged severity of the damage Pollard inflicted on U.S. interests. "They won't be able to show great damage," he predicts.

The difficulties Pollard faces in Washington are not new to him. What's getting to Pollard, though, is what he sees as the lack of effort to free him by the Israeli government. Zeitz Pollard says the American Jewish leadership's and successive Israeli governments' lack of protest to the repeated "humiliating" White House refusals to pardon or commute "sends a clear message to the White House." She says she understands Israel is preparing to release more Palestinian prisoners ("murderers") and that should serve as an opportunity to demand Pollard's release. "If they link Jonathan to Hebron, why give everything and get nothing in return?" But she fears the Israeli government "is taking a powder."


By Rechavam Ze'evi To: Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu

Mr. Prime Minister, Allow me to suggest that the release of Jonathan Pollard from American imprisonment be included on the agenda of your upcoming meeting in Washington with the President of the United States. Jonathan Pollard has languished in prison for some 12 years now, and both his morale and health have severely deteriorated. Pollard worked for the security of the State of Israel, and with the full knowledge of all the relevant government officials, but from the moment he was taken prisoner, they have forgotten him and abandoned him. In the collective history of all those imprisoned for espionage in the USA, you will not find another case where the sentence was as harsh, as merciless, or even as vengeful as the one meted out in the case of Jonathan Pollard. The close relations between the USA and Israel, as well as Israel's ongoing responsiveness to so many American demands, makes it only fair and reasonable to expect the Americans to make this simple return gesture to Israel and free Pollard, so that he may be returned to his people in Israel and live his life as an Israeli citizen. If you unequivocally insist upon this gesture from President Clinton, it can easily occur since the matter is within the President's authority to grant. We learned in Tzahal (the army) that we do not leave a wounded comrade in the field, and here Israel has abandoned one of her sons for 12 long harsh years. I strongly encourage you to do this deed, for it is important, both morally and nationally. With blessings, Rechavam Ze'evi Member of Knesset.

By MK Rehavam Ze'evi (Moledet). (August 7th, 1996)

WE MUST BANG ON THE TABLE FOR POLLARD! (On Jonathan Pollard celebrated his 42nd birthday in prison). An opinion piece aired on Arutz-7 by MK Rehavam Ze'evi (Moledet) July 31, 1996When Jonathan Pollard was originally convicted of spying for Israel, the Israeli government chose to distance itself from him, claiming that he had acted on his own. The State of Israel did not accept any responsibility for the actions of Pollard. Those who decided upon this policy did so in the hope that the damage to the relationship between Israel and the U.S. would be minimized. But things did not turn out that way. The Americans knew exactly who was behind Pollard, correctly assuming that a spy with such valuable information and sources was certainly familiar, if not more than that, to the leaders of the beneficiary nation. Israel's apathy to the plight of Pollard therefore angered them even more. The American intelligence departments saw themselves as the chief victim, fearing that they had been made fools of in front of the entire intelligence community. They therefore demanded that full justice be meted out to the spy - a demand which fell upon open ears in the Justice Department and in the White House. True, the American President is constitutionally entitled to reject the various recommendations that reach him, and to pardon or not as he sees fit. But why should he do so, if he does not hear a firm demand from the other side? With all due respect to all of our past and present Prime Ministers, not one of them has banged on the table and presented an absolute demand to release Pollard. Netanyahu, according to the White House, did not even raise the issue while speaking with Clinton earlier this month. It could be that the mentioned Pollard to one of Clinton's aides, or to a Cabinet Secretary; the Americans accordingly related to it as an "aside," a fulfillment of an obligation. This past visit would have been the best opportunity to raise the issue with Clinton: Clinton was looking to get his relationship with the new Prime Minister off to a positive start, and especially so now with the American elections approaching. He almost definitely would have attempted to come towards Netanyahu if the matter had been raised to him. Before the Prime Minister left for Washington, I wrote him a letter, suggesting that he demand Pollard's release. I saw this as an important Jewish value in general in our approach to our soldiers and secret agents. Jonathan Pollard committed a crime against his country, out of loyalty to his nation. He has paid dearly: 11 years in prison, including 7 in solitary confinement. This is more than enough according to any standard, and certainly according to the American standard, where most spies - even those who spied for enemy countries! - sit for maybe five or six years until they are released in an exchange of some sort. Pollard was not in the employ of America's enemies, but simply watched with increasing anxiety as information crucial to Israel's security was being concealed from her. He saw that Israel's existence was being jeopardized, despite all of the agreements between the two countries regarding information-exchange, and he did what he did. Israel must never forsake Jonathan Pollard and allow him to rot alone in prison somewhere out in North Carolina. He sacrificed for us and for our very well being, and he is worthy of our unceasing struggle on behalf of his quick release.

Letter to President Clinton

Dear Mr. President: It is with sadness that I must write and withdraw my support for you in the upcoming presidential election. I am making this choice because of the disrespectful manner in which your administration handled the July 28th meeting with 45 Jewish leaders, and the coincident announcement that the administration had refused to amend, modify or even consider modifications in the sentencing of Jonathan Pollard. The timing of the announcement was insulting. I am making this decision fully aware that my alternatives for President are very limited, almost nil, and I believe that because the electioneering process doesn't give me a choice I won't vote in the presidential election for the first time since I was eligible to do so. While I am aware of some of the reasons why Jonathan Pollard's sentence might be difficult to change, having worked in the defense industry for 17 years, I cannot understand why it could not be at least amended or, rather, why someone like Aldrich Ames received a sentence which was, after considering the damage caused, relatively light. In many respects it makes me relieved that I am no longer associated with those responsibilities and that process. It is arbitrary justice, based upon politics. Very truly yours,

Jan Theodore