As Jonathan Pollard nears his first parole hearing, most of the organized American Jewish community is now calling for his release.
This week, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council called on the U.S. Parole Commission to parole Pollard.
Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst, was arrested in November 1985 for passing classified information to Israel. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison.
Pollard will first be eligible for parole in November. The parole hearing is scheduled for May, according to Pollard lawyer Nancy Luque.
Luque called the NJCRAC letter “a critical piece of support for Pollard’s parole, signaling an across-the-board belief that he’s paid for his crime.”
NJCRAC is an umbrella group for 13 national and 117 local community relations agencies.
NJCRAC’s support at this juncture, said Luque, has added weight because of NJCRAC’s reluctance to support Pollard’s quest for clemency.
“It isn’t like this is just a bunch of Jews getting together and saying he should be given a break. These were some of his harshest critics in some ways,” she said.
NJCRAC’s long-standing refusal to engage in advocacy for Pollard made it the focus of some of the Jewish community’s most heated debates over Pollard.
In the 1980s, a NJCRAC committee decided that Pollard’s fate was not a matter of Jewish communal concern, because there was no evidence that anti-Semitism motivated the life sentence imposed on Pollard.
But after Pollard’s legal appeals were exhausted, his time in prison lengthened and his staunch supporters attracted increasing numbers of people to the campaign for his freedom, the mainstream Jewish organizations began shifting their stance.
As an umbrella group, however, NJCRAC was one of the slowest to change course.
In 1993, delegates to the organization’s annual plenum voted down a proposal to ask President Clinton to review Pollard’s sentence with an eye toward clemency.
The next year, NJCRAC approved sending a letter to the president saying that some in the Jewish community believed that the former Navy analyst was unjustly sentenced. The letter fell short of recommending clemency.
But only hours after the letter was mailed to the White House, Clinton turned down Pollard’s clemency request.
The letter signed this week by NJCRAC Chair Lynn Lyss and Executive Vice Chairman Lawrence Rubin did not elaborate on its simple request for the parole board “to act favorably on Mr. Pollard’s parole application.”
Joining in the letter were 10 of NJCRAC’s national member agencies: the American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith, Hadassah, Jewish Labor Committee, National Council of Jewish Women and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The agencies also included the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and Women’s American ORT.
Not among the signatories were the American Jewish Committee, the Anti- Defamation League and the Jewish War Veterans of America.
“The more groups that come on board for him, the better it will be. Things like this will be very helpful,” said Carol Pollard, Jonathan’s sister, who had been leading efforts for his release.
“I’m hoping for the best,” she said, referring to the outcome of the parole hearing. “But anything could happen.”