Jewish Leaders Visit Jonathan Pollard in Federal Prison
Last Thursday, on July 11th, leaders of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements visited Jonathan Pollard at Butner Federal Correction Complex in North Carolina, where he is serving a life sentence after being convicted of passing classified intelligence information to Israel while working as an intelligence analyst for the Navy. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), and Rabbi Alvin Berkun, past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, paid a visit to Pollard, who has been imprisoned on espionage charges since 1985, including seven years in solitary confinement at the beginning of his incarceration.
Together, the RA, RAC and URJ are renewing their call, as representatives of the largest streams in the American Jewish religious community, for President Obama to immediately commute Pollard’s sentence and release him from prison. Pollard has served 28 years – the longest sentence for any individual convicted of similar offense in the United States.
The leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements have been engaged in vigorous advocacy for years, passing resolutions, issuing public statements, advocating for Pollard’s clemency to four presidential administrations and to Congress, and working with the large number of their member rabbis across the nation who have regularly preached and written on the unfairness and inequities of Pollard’s sentence, so grossly disproportionate to any other American convicted of similar crimes involving an allied nation. These inequities have evinced broad support for clemency, not only from a wide swath of the Jewish community, (who were, and remain, condemnatory of his actions regarding the underlying offense), but also from a growing range of prominent officials and public figures, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres; past U.S. secretaries of state, a secretary of defense, a White House counsel, CIA director and attorney general; as well as former and current senators and members of Congress, many of whom have been privy to the classified material regarding Pollard’s activities.
In a meeting lasting two hours last Thursday, the rabbis found Pollard in frail health due to his long incarceration and to the range of physical ailments from which he suffers. The rabbis reassert, more strongly than ever, that his release is overdue. Hearing the painful narrative of his long years in prison renewed their determination to help secure his release.
The visit was arranged and led by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president emeritus of National Council of Young Israel, who has remained a tireless and effective advocate for the release of Jonathan Pollard.