Supporters of Jonathan Pollard are urging American Jewish leaders to press Vice President Joe Biden to set a date for his promised meeting with them to discuss clemency for Pollard, who is now completing his 26th year in prison for spying for Israel.
The group Justice for Jonathan Pollard said it is “critical that this promised meeting … take place before the General Assembly of Jewish Federations on Nov. 6, which will be attended by President [Barack] Obama.”
One prominent Jewish leader said it would be “embarrassing and damage the relationship between the Jewish community and the administration” if such a meeting was not held by that time. The leader, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of exacerbating tensions between the Jewish community and the White House, pointed out that Pollard formally requested a White House commutation a year ago and has yet to receive a reply.
A spokesman for the Jewish Federations of North America said that although an invitation had been sent to Obama, the president has not yet replied. The spokesman noted that a similar invitation had been sent to the president for last year’s GA and that Biden attended instead.
Biden stunned a group of about 15 rabbis in South Florida late last month when he told them he was the one counseling Obama not to consider clemency for Pollard.
“The president is not your problem on Pollard, I am,” he is said to have told them. “I’m Irish and to me loyalty is the most important thing, and Jonathan Pollard is a traitor who deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Jewish leaders were equally shocked when they were told not only of Biden’s words but the strident tones of his voice. He had told Shalom TV in a 2007 interview:
“Now there is a rationale in my view why Pollard should be given leniency. There’s a rationale for that. But there is not a rationale to say, ‘No, what happened did not happen and he should be pardoned.’ … If I were president, to go and pardon Pollard would make a lie out of the notion that there are certain rules, period. You cannot give classified information, period. Even to a friend. If this were Great Britain it would be the same thing. So the standard has to be maintained.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to attend this year’s GA in Denver. On Jan. 4, he sent a formal request to Obama requesting Pollard’s release. Pollard, 57, was granted Israeli citizenship after his arrest and incarceration and Israel’s acknowledgement that he was passing it classified documents. At the time of his arrest in 1985, Pollard was a civilian naval intelligence analyst.
Obama has not yet replied to that request nor to similar requests from such former administration officials as former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz and former Central Intelligence Agency Director Jim Woolsey, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and 40 members of Congress.
Meanwhile, U.S.-born novelist and journalist Naomi Ragen has started a Free Jonathan Pollard petition on a White House website. In an e-mail to 10,000 friends, Ragen wrote that Obama has promised to “consider all petitions that get 25,000 signatures by Nov. 8.”
“This is an injustice that cries out to heaven,” Ragen said by phone from Jerusalem, where she has lived since 1971. “One doesn’t have to like him or agree with what he did, but [his lengthy imprisonment] is a terrible miscarriage of justice. The average sentence for what he did is two years, and he has been sitting in jail 26 years.”
But in a statement, Justice for Pollard called the petition “counterproductive” and said it only “acts as a lightening rod to diffuse concern and disperse it without achieving any tangible or effective goal. It trivializes the issue and deflects public attention from the real efforts to secure Pollard’s release without further delay.”
The group pointed out that several other petitions for Pollard on the White House website were taken down at its request and it said Ragen’s initiative “does not have the support of the Pollards.”
Ragen said her efforts “go beyond the human suffering” of Jonathan Pollard and his wife, Esther. “If this was a person who was black who had been given a life sentence for giving confidential American documents a friendly African country, everyone would [be asked to] sign the petition.”
She pointed out that the White House “set up this website Sept. 22 to permit Americans to promote any kind of initiative they would like.”
Ragen said her first petition requested a pardon for Pollard, which she said was a mistake. Her second website just calls for Pollard’s freedom — http://wh.gov/2Xr.
“I’m asking people to resign the corrected petition,” she said. “We’re just looking for a way to see justice done. You don’t have to be Jewish … to be outraged by this miscarriage of justice. It is a human rights issue.”