WASHINGTON (JTA) — A congressional letter to President Obama urging clemency for Jonathan Pollard garnered 39 signatures, all Democrats.
In comments at a press conference Thursday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he initiated the letter, written in coordination with a broad array of Jewish groups, mostly out of humanitarian concerns for the convicted Israeli spy, imprisoned 25 years, but also as a spur in the peace process.
"My own hope is that if the president were to do this it would contribute to the political climate within the democracy of Israel to enhance the peace process," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past said that releasing Pollard would help secure support for concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians.
The letter’s emphasis is on what it says is the disproportionate length of Pollard’s sentence.
"We believe that there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served – or not served at all – by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations that, like Israel, are not adversarial to us," it says. "It is indisputable in our view that the nearly twenty-five years that Mr. Pollard has served stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence."
It also emphasizes that Pollard is guilty. "Such an exercise of the clemency power would not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted," it says.
Frank said he tried hard to solicit Republican signatories, but was turned down even by the most sympathetic GOP lawmakers for fear of political blowback from the Republican base.
"The current nature of the Republican party is that this is not the thing to do," he said.
Frank did not elaborate but Jewish officials speaking off the record confirmed his efforts and said that national security senisibilities among some Republican officials have hindered efforts to garner support.
David Nyer, a grassroots Jewish activist who helped organize the effort, said the letter had the support of Gary Bauer, a Christian evangelist leader and onetime vier for the Republican presidential candidacy.
Frank was joined at the press conference by Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who met with Pollard in 1998 at Butner, the federal facility in North Carolina where he is imprisoned.
Among the Jewish groups backing the effort were the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organzations, National Council of Young Israel, B’nai B’rith International, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Zionist Organization of America, Agudath Israel of America and the Rabbinic Council of America.
Also supporting the effort were several Reagan administration officials who were at the center of Pollard’s prosecution.