Grass-roots Campaign Building to Commute Pollard’s Sentence

A grass-roots campaign to have Jonathan Pollard’s life jail sentence commuted is building in the Jewish community.

The most recent manifestation of support for the former U.S. Navy analyst who passed secrets to Israel came in a full-page ad in the New York Times, signed by an unusually broad coalition of nearly 600 rabbis, which appeared Oct. 23.

The ad presented an open letter to President Bush on Pollard’s behalf.

Campaign insiders say there is little likelihood the president will make a decision on clemency before next week’s election.

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton has promised to review Pollard’s case if he takes office.

And Pollard supporters note that, traditionally, defeated presidents use their lame-duck periods to issue commutations and pardons.

Even before the Supreme Court recently turned down Pollard’s appeal for a review of his life sentence, his supporters had begun to shift the focus of their campaign from the injustice of his conviction, to the unfairness of his sentence and the harshness of his prison conditions.

The ad was sponsored by Citizens for Justice, a group working for Pollard, and Amcha – Coalition for Jewish Concerns, an organization headed by Rabbi Avi Weiss. It follows a series of resolutions in support of Pollard passed in recent months by numerous local community organizations and several national organizations, including B’nai Brith and the World Jewish Congress.

The ad called on the president to “recognize that the lifetime sentence imposed upon Jonathan Pollard is unduly harsh and grossly inconsistent with the punishment given to other Americans convicted of similar and even worse crimes.”

The co-signers asked the president for commutation of Pollard’s sentence to time served – now almost seven years – which they said was consistent with, if not longer, than typical sentences for similar offenses.

Prominent among the signatories were the heads of the rabbinical schools of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, and the executive directors and presidents of their four rabbinical organizations.

The rabbinical organizations, said Weiss, were instrumental in circulating the letter to their member rabbis and securing their signatures.

“It puts to rest the lie of some of the establishment Jewish organizations, that this is not a Jewish issue,” said Weiss. “This proves beyond a doubt that the grass roots views this as a Jewish issue, and believes the time has come to commute the sentence.”

Weiss said he believes Bush is aware of the ad.

But Dennis Ross, assistant to the president for policy planning, said that requests for commutation must be filed with the Justice Department, which reviews them and passes them on to the White House. To his knowledge, he said, the White House had yet to receive any such formal application.

Pollard’s lawyer and family have indicated they have plans to make such an application. But whether or not they have done so could not be confirmed at press time.

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