NEW YORK, Dec. 6 (JTA) — Supporters of clemency for Jonathan Pollard are putting pressure on the first lady to take a stand on whether the convicted spy for Israel should be freed.
To a crowd of roughly 250 people in front of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Manhattan campaign headquarters, the answer is clear: “Free Pollard now.” That was the chant repeated by those who gathered Sunday to urge the unofficial U.S. Senate candidate to address the issue.
“We want to know where Hillary stands on the Jonathan Pollard issue. What does she feel in her heart?” asked Dov Hikind, a New York state assemblyman from Brooklyn, to approval from the crowd behind him.
Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was convicted of espionage in 1985 for passing secret U.S. military information to Israel. Pollard has served 14 years of a life sentence.
Critics have charged that Pollard’s sentence is harsher than those of other spies in similar cases.
“Hillary needs to make a decision. There is no reason Pollard should be in jail for so long,” said Batsheva Epstein, who organized a group of 20 students from Touro College’s Flatbush division to attend the rally.
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who will likely become Clinton’s Republican opponent for the Senate seat, has already said that Pollard’s life sentence is “way beyond the sentence served by other people that have been convicted of the same offense.”
Yet Hikind said Clinton’s support is more important than Giuliani’s because she is the president’s wife.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to take advantage of her” Senate “candidacy to do something that is just,” Hikind said. “This is going to be a big issue throughout her campaign. She can’t stand away from it much longer.”
Clinton’s campaign office did not return phone calls for comment.
Pollard’s wife, Esther, accused the first lady of “ducking” the issue.
“We’re not telling her what to do, but we feel that she should look at the facts and take a position, and let due process take its course” Esther Pollard said in a phone interview with JTA.
Esther Pollard has waited with increased exasperation since the Wye agreement talks in October 1998, when President Clinton promised to conduct a speedy review of her husband’s case.
“Both Clintons have a real credibility problem,” she said. “It would be to Mrs. Clinton’s credit and her husband’s for her to take a stand either way. Her Senate candidacy puts her in a unique position to pressure the president for my husband’s clemency, but if she chooses not to support his freedom, well, that will speak volumes to the voters in New York.”
At Hikind’s rally, a few local rabbis and representatives from various Jewish organizations also took turns at the microphone, while the crowd held cardboard posters stating “Hillary: Let Jonathan Go!” and yelled “Enough Is Enough!” between speakers.
In a similar event Aug. 29, some 50 people showed up to support the cause. “This time we have hundreds stretching to the corner,” Hikind said, and told the crowd, “You made Jonathan Pollard smile today. He feels better today because of what you have done.”
At the conclusion of the hour-long event, a group of around 25 young men — members of the Jewish Defense League — marched through the dispersing crowd in a procession, holding signs that showed fists within the Star of David, and chanting, “Freedom for Jonathan Pollard.”
Tourists above a stopped double-decker N.Y. Apple Tours bus crowded the bus’ edge to take pictures of the JDL protest.
Hikind smiled and told a nervous police officer, “We didn’t arrange this. This is unexpected.”