It is time for President Obama to commute Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence to time served for his guilty conviction of spying for Israel. Not only has Pollard now spent 26 years in prison, but he is in failing health. The latter would not be reason enough to commute the sentence if the punishment really did fit the crime, but the sentence from the beginning was grossly unfair.
Long ago it was revealed that Casper Weinberger, the then American Secretary of Defense, bore such animus against Pollard for his leaking American security documents to Israel that the Defense Secretary wanted to make a severe example of Pollard for his treachery. Weinberger had submitted a letter to the judge in Pollard’s case incorrectly alleging that information from Pollard had reached the former Soviet Union, and it was on this basis that the judge made the sentence so severe.
All this information was recently repeated to Vice President Joe Biden when he met with seven American Jewish leaders about the Pollard case. Included in this meeting was Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Dr. Simcha Katz of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, Rabbi Julie Schonfield of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Michael Adler, a Miami community leader.
The meeting was called because two months ago the Vice President publicly condemned Pollard in the harshest terms provoking a strong response from many in the American Jewish community. The good news is that VP Biden welcomed a meeting at all. To date he is the highest-ranking American official ever to hold a meeting about Pollard, as was reported by Rebecca Anna Stoil, the Washington Representative of The Jerusalem Post. However, the Jewish leaders agreed to strict confidentiality as to what Biden’s response was or what he would advise the President to do in this case.
Pollard’s sentence is extreme relative to the sentences of other guilty foreign spies and agents. The average sentence in an American court given to others convicted of the same crime of spying for an ally as Pollard received has been two to four years. People convicted of treason also served far less time than Pollard. The Jewish leadership delegation cited to Biden the case of Hasan Abu-Jihad, who received only a 10-year sentence for spying for al-Qaida. American spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen, convicted of spying for the former USSR, also were given less time. Other than Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed for passing top nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union in the early 50s (only Julius was likely guilty), no one has received a more harsh sentence than Jonathan Pollard – and again, his crime was passing secrets to an ally, Israel.
Reason and precedent dictate that Jonathan Pollard be released with a commutation of his sentence soon, perhaps before Hanukah. Humanitarian concerns also recommend his early release. Pollard has been hospitalized 4 times in the last year and suffers from a number of maladies including diabetes, nausea, dizziness, black-outs, problems with his gall bladder, kidneys, sinuses, eyes, and feet.
Finally, the Jewish leadership delegation told the Vice President that there is virtual consensus in the American Jewish community that President Obama should commute Pollard’s sentence to time served. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis both passed resolutions years ago calling for justice and commutation. I agree wholeheartedly.
There is a political consideration here for the President as well. Though his record is solidly pro-Israel (only the Republican Jewish coalition refutes this based on anti-Obama political enmity), his releasing Pollard would be well-received in Israel and would undercut the same Republican Jewish Coalition that loves to distort and lie about Obama’s pro-Israel credentials.
Mr. President – commute Pollard’s sentence now!