Elie Wiesel has become the latest Jewish figure to speak out on behalf of Jonathan Pollard.
On April 7, the Nobel Peace Prize winner visited the former U.S. Navy analyst in his Marion, III., prison cell, where he is serving a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel.
And later that evening, Wiesel raised Pollard’s plight in his keynote address to the 600 people gathered in Washington to honor the 90th birthday of the Lubavitcher rebbe.
“Let’s be honest: What he did wasn’t right,” the Nobel laureate said.
“The thing was a mess. He shouldn’t have done it. But he was punished. And once he was punished, who am I to add to his punishment?” Wiesel said.
“The fact that this man is alone, is in solitary confinement 61/2 years already. I thought: ‘How is he going to celebrate Passover?’ “
Wiesel is raising the issue “only on humanitarian grounds,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “A Jew who is alone in solitary confinement, when the seder is approaching, he deserves that other Jews should comfort him.”
During his 21/2-hour visit with Pollard, Wiesel discussed the Passover seder and sang songs from the Haggadah. Pollard was “sad but strong,” said Wiesel. “Self-controlled. Aware of the tragic situation which is his. To visit him is to visit tragedy.”
Wiesel noted that “to visit a prisoner is one of the greatest mitzvot in the Jewish tradition.”
The writer had paid the visit at the request of New York activist Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of those leading the fight for Pollard’s pardon.
SENATORS SYMPATHETIC OR OFFENDED?
With them as well was Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose previous visit to Pollard last year made him the first figure from the mainstream Jewish community to take a public stand for Pollard’s release.
Pollard plans soon to appeal last month’s federal appellate court ruling denying his request for a new sentencing. He contends the government breached its plea-bargain agreement with him by asking for, and getting, the harshest possible sentence: life, with a recommendation against parole.
Both Weiss and Reich said that Wiesel’s remarks at the Washington ceremony brought sympathy from at least three of the attendant senators and a promise of aid from one of them.
But David Luchins, an aide to Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.), disagreed.
“The senators and congressmen were appalled by the inappropriateness of it. This was supposed to be devoted to the 90th birthday of the Lubavitcher rebbe,” said Luchins.
Another observer agreed with Luchins. “I don’t think it belonged,” said U.S. Ambassador Max Kampelman, who has been active in various Jewish causes. “I thought it was in bad judgment. But it’s not my business to make an issue – it’s not my dinner.”
In New York, Lubavitch officials said they were not bothered by Wiesel’s remarks.
(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.