U.S. intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985 for spying and providing classified information to Israel. However, he received a life sentence for his crimes, despite Israel being a U.S. ally. In fact, Mr. Pollard was the only American to receive a life sentence for passing classified documents to an ally. This is what set his case apart. To add to that indignation, though he was released from prison in 2015, he was sentenced to five years parole. That is until November 20, 2020 when his parole restrictions were removed and he was given permission to travel out of the country, a blessing from the Trump administration.
You’ve got to wonder, “Why did it take so long?” Pollard’s health greatly deteriorated all those years in prison. Years of appeals and protests to release him fell on deaf ears. The U.S. threw everything at him, ignoring Israel’s and the world’s pleas. No mercy. Then-President Obama added to the shame, which really caused further indignation. When Jonathan Pollard’s father was ill near his death in 2011 there was a tremendous outpouring of pleas by Israel and the public, for “compassionate release”. Unfortunately, his father passed away and the pleas turned to the urgency for him to attend his father’s funeral.
Israel had officially requested that the Obama administration let Pollard leave prison a brief compassionate release to pay his respects at the funeral. Pollard supporters had shut down the White House switchboard after flooding it with calls urging his release to attend the funeral. I’m proud to say I was part of that, I too called the white house! Pollard denied appeals to attend his father’s funeral, JTA
Tragically he was denied. I was shaken to the core. I couldn’t understand the injustice. The President of The United States had refused to release him to attend his father’s funeral? I am a proud American, always have been. We live in a magnificent country. The long years of Mr. Pollard’s mistreatment by our country were so egregious that my pride in America was shaken too.
What follows is my response to that memorable episode in American history (originally written on June 20, 2011, 18 Sivan, 5771). It should never be forgotten!
Pidyon Shvuyim – Freeing captives or prisoners, is one of the greatest Mitzvos (commandments) a Jew can do. There are countless stories about rabbis and whole communities of yore, risking their lives while suffering unimaginable hardships, for the sake of freeing/redeeming fellow Jews and rabbis. They may have been simple folk, but they understood and lived by a principle that many in this generation glaringly lack.
Governments are only as good as their leaders, their countries as good as their people. Are there any true leaders out there who act out of conviction for doing the right thing, because it must be that way, even if puts them at some risk? What leader is not afraid of world opinions or reactions that could arise? “Politics”*, political correctness, bureaucracy, call it whatever trendy nomenclature you prefer, there’s too much of it happening. Of course, officials face major issues daily which will have ramifications around the globe, and they must protect national security. But really, the sky isn’t going to fall, if… a single man is allowed to tend to his father’s deathbed, and later bury him.
When our own great U.S. of A. determinedly metes out a sentence as Jonathan Pollard’s, so disproportionate to his actions, and excessively so, in comparison to others’ who spied for our enemies, not our ally, as Pollard did, that’s an abomination. When our own great U.S. of A. then throws away the key and leaves him to rot in hell for 25 years, hoping he’ll be forgotten, using him as a pawn for political leverage when it suits the government, that is reprehensible. When our own great U.S. of A. lacks humanity and deprives him time to visit with his dying elderly father, that is a travesty. When our own great U.S. of A. denies this man who has spent most of his adult life in prison the most fundamental of human needs, burying his own father (and mother as well), that is akin to an act of terror.
Sadly, today our own great U.S. of A. doesn’t seem so great after all. Make no mistake about it, terrorism comes in many forms. And, it isn’t only committed by “others”.
History is replete with countries whose leaders compromised themselves and their countries’ integrity because they appeased others and aggrandized themselves rather than dutifully acting on behalf of their people. Numerous countries and governments have been toppled by “leaders” of uprisings, promising change and improvement. Yet, frequently the new ruling bodies turned out to be far more insidious, in addition to having no sense of how to run anything once they commandeered their predecessors. In truth, many were only seeking power and name, often destroying societies in the process. The individual certainly was lost.
No, not all governments go that route. But, it must be recognized that just because we are blessed to live in what many believe to be the most prominent democracy the world has ever known, that does not (automatically) mean that at times our country’s ways of doing things are any less savage!
This is one of those times.
People need to be held accountable for their crimes. I do not negate that, I embrace it. However, legal sentences must appropriately reflect the gravity of the (alleged) crime. Jonathan Pollard was put in “overtime” from day one. Countless legal battles were futile. Imagine the torture Jonathan Pollard has had to live with, “serving time” in an American jail since 1987 for actions he took to benefit his home country, the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” Imagine his never having had any chance to be with his dying parents, and the ultimate blow, not being able to bury either of them. Likewise, Jonathan Pollard’s father “lived” to 95. Imagine the anguish tormenting him daily, knowing his son’s pain. Then magnify that hurt, not seeing his son before passing on. Considering all the horrific treatment Jonathan Pollard has been enduring, one wonders and questions if there could still be something left, even if only a minuscule shred of individualism within him? Today he was stripped of his humanity altogether.
A father was buried today, without his son there to grieve for him. Hey, President Obama, Happy Father’s Day!
How is it that someone with such high stature, the leader of “the greatest country on earth”, could not do the right thing? How could he not hearken to the cries and pleas to free Mr. Pollard at least long enough to visit his father, and then to attend the funeral? Those voices came from concerned Americans and citizens of the world! How could he close his ears and his mind not only to them but to the Heads of State and dignitaries who beckoned him to stand and be a leader? (“More than 70 Knesset members last week sent a petition to Washington urging Obama to allow Pollard to visit his dying father. Activists and organizations from around the world, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had urged Obama to grant Pollard the compassionate leave, but the administration refused.”) Pollard, despite appeals not allowed to attend father’s funeral-JTA
I humbly submit: Somewhere, some time ago within many societies, the sense of total community and the unwavering commitment to community decayed and crumbled. That degeneration spread throughout the world.
Gone are the days of unity, when everyone accepted he was part of a greater whole, while still remaining an individual; when individuals were valued to the point that if even one in the community was held captive, the community shared the pain and together individuals worked tirelessly to redeem him, regardless of the serious threat of losing life or limb. They exhibited tremendous courage on many levels. Those people showed leadership of a remarkable kind. They protected and upheld the very foundation of society, the individual.
The President would not recognize Jonathan Pollard the individual. He deliberately chose not to restore even a remnant of Mr. Pollard’s dignity by allowing him a limited visit with his father before his death. Moreover, the President defied human nature, showing not a scrap of concern for him to attend his father’s funeral!
The President and the “leaders” working with him have failed this country’s design and debased the essence of our nation’s majesty.
America can never allow itself to even remotely appear as the despot countries which trample the individual and crush the human spirit. The President needed only put ink to paper and thereby halt the cruelty and end this very ugly chapter of American injustice. He could have shown the world that America is the democracy it should be, America is America for a reason. It is the country to admire. But No, because of the *“politics” involved, he chose to do nothing, in a sense retreating. Instead of making a commitment to the American way, he abrogated his responsibility as President. He sharpened the pain and suffering of a man who just wanted to bury his father. The travesty now continues on a new, higher plane of injustice. 25 unwarranted years of suffering dreadfully made worse. In my view, the President has brought our nation very close to the precipice.
I am ashamed of America today, my American pride has been fractured.
I grieve for Jonathan Pollard, not just his father. But, I mourn for America.
Those Americans, myself included, and individuals worldwide who flooded the White House phone lines until they were jammed, showed that Jonathan Pollard matters. While I can’t say if freeing Jonathan Pollard is considered the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim,
I know that we, Jews and non Jews alike, became a cohesive entity, a community, working to redeem a lone prisoner, an individual.
Caveat: There is a tendency to get involved in worthy endeavors, then as time passes, the interest or urgency fades away. We become self-absorbed in our own matters. My humble cry is, “keep the momentum going” from this day forward!
Call Washington daily! Keep bombarding the phone and email lines from morning until after hours, without letup! Every individual has the opportunity to have his/her voice heard. Make a difference! Use your own abilities and strengths to support Jonathan Pollard and advocate for his immediate freedom. Do not stop until he is released!
Same thing for Gilad Shalit!** There are others…
Don’t know why hasn’t happened already. Maybe this will be the rallying cry. Maybe this will be the catalyst to bring individuals together and stay together! Let’s unite to become a world community of people who appreciate the gift of the individual and the blessing of community, living by the principles of our predecessors. In that way, we all contribute to rebuilding society as it is meant to be and the true leaders will show themselves.
On the Jewish calendar, it is the 18th of the month of Sivan. Eighteen is the numerical equivalent to LIFE. Jonathan Pollard’s father was buried on 18 Sivan. It is a widely held belief that before one light is extinguished, another is lit. His father’s passing should bring the merit of blessing for his son and mankind. May Jonathan Pollard’s Life Sentence be terminated and turned into the beginning of his new LIFE!
It is long, long overdue.
(p.s. I’ve always had the utmost respect for our country and the office of the Presidency. When I wrote this it was not to be irreverent, rather as a sign of deep hurt and disappointment in our leadership, precisely because I love America and we are such a great country that we should expect the highest standards from our leaders.)
Fast forward to November 20, 2020!
American Redemption: At Long Last A Leader!
Tears of relief and hope wet my eyes, knowing Jonathan Pollard is now a free man, finally released from parole! Thank God those parole restrictions which prevented him from leaving the country were officially lifted, with the blessing of the Trump administration. Now, Mr. Pollard can go (home) to Israel with his wife Esther. I am thankful our President stood up as a real leader. Jonathan Pollard deserves a life of dignity and peace. He served exceptionally more than his fair share of time in prison and parole and suffered immeasurably for the crimes he committed. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu issued a statement that he had worked on Pollard’s release for many years, and pleased with his release welcomed Mr. Pollard and his wife to come to Israel.
America needs leadership we can all trust to henceforth lead our country and the world, with integrity and decency, ensuring that politics won’t interfere with America’s responsibility to lead humanely. America’s future depends on it.
G-d Bless America! Miriam Leah