NEW YORK (Jun. 22)
Over 1,000 people gathered in the halls and on the streets outside a synagogue in Manhattan on Sunday to call on President Bush to commute the life sentence of Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst convicted of spying for Israel.
Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel addressed the rally at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, which marked the largest gathering on Pollard’s behalf since a group calling itself Citizens for Justice began a campaign for his release from prison in 1987.
The variety of speakers, according to Carol Pollard, Jonathan’s sister and founder of Citizens for Justice, indicated that “this is not a Jewish issue, it’s a fairness and human rights issue.”
Robertson, who made a “fervent call” to President Bush “to commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard,” said he was “outraged” at the severity of Pollard’s punishment and criticized former Attorney General Edwin Meese III for breaking a plea bargain agreement with Pollard.
Pollard was arrested in 1985 for passing top-secret documents to Israel for a period of 18 months in return for $45,000 in cash. Pollard said he acted because the United States was withholding important intelligence from Israel, including information about Iraqi chemical plants.
Wiesel, who was in Israel during the Persian Gulf War, said that while Scud missiles fell on Israel, he thought “if it had not been for Pollard, would Israel have known of the threat?”
Pollard was sentenced to life in prison after then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger wrote a confidential letter to the sentencing judge urging stiff punishment for Pollard.
In March, a U.S. Court of Appeals denied Pollard’s request for a new trial.
Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the issue at hand is not Pollard’s innocence or guilt but his punishment, which is exceptionally “cruel” and “excessive.”
He said Pollard had been “deceived and double-crossed” by Weinberger and the government.
Outside the synagogue, an overflow crowd of several hundred supporters congregated while members of Kahane Chai chanted “Kill Weinberger” and “Free Pollard.”