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October 24, 2010
Jewish leaders in shameful betrayal of Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985 for spying for Israel, even though his defense team had obtained agreement from the prosecution that he would serve a much shorter sentence.
The judge overturned the deal after then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger intervened and pushed for a life sentence.
Twenty-five years have passed since then, and Pollard, physically weakened, still sits in an American prison.
Efforts to release him have been bolstered recently by Lawrence J. Korb, who served under Weinberger as Assistant Secretary of Defense. Korb sent a letter to President Obama requesting clemency for Pollard on the basis that there had been a gross miscarriage of justice. Korb accused his former boss of having been motivated by a "visceral dislike of Israel" in pushing for what Korb described as a "grossly disproportionate" sentence.
At the same time, Rafi Eitan, who was Pollard's Israeli handler, disclosed that Weinberger's intervention scrapped a deal with the U.S. government that Pollard would be freed after serving 10 years in prison.
The Korb-Eitan disclosures have prompted widespread pleas to President Obama to grant clemency to Pollard and release him for time served. Among those pressing Obama to grant clemency are former CIA Director James Woolsey; former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dennis DeConcini, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations . Pollard's lawyers have sent a formal clemency request to the president.
On Capitol Hill, a letter advocating clemency is being circulated among lawmakers by Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Bill Pascell, D-N.J., Edeolphus Towns, D-NY, and Anthony Weiner, D-NY.
Two of the three main branches of U.S. Judaism -- the Reform Movement and the Orthodox Union -- have added their voices and support of clemency for Pollard.
But not the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism -- the national umbrella group of the Conservative Movement -- which callously has turned its back on Pollard in a gross betrayal of Jewish values, including the responsibility not to remain silent in the face of a patent perversion of basic justice. Pollard's kind of offense, involving an agent of a U.S. ally, normally would result in a sentence of less than 10 years.
Alexandra Cyngiser, international vice president for Israel Affairs at USCJ, disclosed in a letter of inquiry to members of a Conservative synagogue in Chevy Chase, MD, that clemency for Pollard has been "under discussion in our Public Policy and Social Action committee, and at this time they have decided to take no action and let each Synagogue discuss it, and decide a course of action for themselves."
What a profile in lack of courage! What a gross lapse of leadership! USCJ's inaction is nothing short of scandalous. It should be promptly overturned by a massive grassroots backlash from Conservative rabbis and congregants..
This is a time to stand up and be counted, not to bury heads in the sand.
What compounds the refusal of USCJ -- supposedly the keeper of Conservative Jewish values -- to try and help erase a blot on American justice is that in December, 2008, its directors and executive committee asked then-President George W. Bush to commute Pollard's sentence -- the very stance it now refuses to take with Barack Obama in the White House.
Executive clemency, it should be noted, would not grant Pollard a pardon for his crime of betraying U.S. secrets. His conviction would remain unaltered. But there finally would be an end to a grossly disproportionate prison term, which given the nature of his offense ordinarily would result in a sentence of less than 10 years.