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Let Pollard's Critics
kook Into His Eyes
Do Him A Disservice
JAMES BESSER WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
AI3BI AVI WEISS SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
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tiary. This most recent visit was the most difficult since I began visiting
him in August, 1988. I had to bring him the news that the National Jew-
h Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC) had voted not to send a
tter to President Clinton asking for a review of Pollard's case with an eye to-
ard communication. I knew Jonathan would be disappointed, deeply disap-
- ointed, and I didn't want him to suffer alone.
We embraced and sat opposite each other. I reached out to hold his hand as I
ways do throughout my visits, in order to provide the simple human connec-
'on that Jonathan's solitary confinement denies him, as it is intended to do.
Within minutes I told him: "Jonathan, we were turned down by NCJRAC."
His head dropped; his eyes glistened; we sat
n I silence. My thoughts wandered to the delegate
r' om Miami who had risen in the NJCRAC debate
, declare about Jonathan: "I feel absolutely no
moral or legal obligation to help a common crim-
inal." Sitting in silence near Jonathan, I thought
of the callousness of that remark and the absence
'of any mercy toward a fellow Jew that it shame-
Gradually Jonathan began to share his pain. "I
feel punch drunk. I've been in battle for eight years,
every day is a battle. Every day I rise is a victo-
ry. Sometimes the depression is so deep I can't get
up, I don't feel like going on. I make it only because
of determination; I know the consequences of sur-
"I've survived by not personalizing the case. If
I took this personally I would have ground up a
long time ago," Jonathan declared. "This is not
just a case of Jonathan Pollard but one of Jew-
Soon Jonathan's words began to flow. His im-
mediate reaction, one of emotional despondency,
gave way to fury at NJCRAC's action. The theme
he returned to over and over was that of empow-
erment, specifically, who speaks for the Jewish
"I'm proud and deeply thankful for all the support I did receive from various
NJCRAC delegates. I know it's difficult to stand up and speak truth to power.
The vote established the fact that even in an organization whose leadership has
been so civil toward me, the membership is making its views felt. This can only
be for the good as far as the Jewish community is concerned.
"What should be kept in mind is that the grass-roots Jewish community is not
divided on this issue," Jonathan explained. "The vote, which revealed a badly di-
vided NJCRAC, clearly suggests that the organization does not reflect the Jew-
ish community's consensus toward me. The propriety of my low opinion of many
in NJCRAC leadership has been reconfirmed."
He said that "in the final analysis this vote did more to discredit NJCRAC than
Rabbi Avi Weiss is national president of The Coalition for Jewish Concerns —
Amcha — and senior rabbi of The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, N.Y.
have a confession to make: I have spent six years covering Jewish politics, but
I have tried my best to avoid writing on the subject of Jonathan Jay Pollard,
the American defense analyst convicted of spying for Israel and now serv-
ing a life term for his confessed misdeed.
From the beginning, the Pollard case has been a snare for journalists. There
are real issues here, legal and humanitarian — but it is increasingly difficult
to get at them because of the raw emotionalism and the occasional demagoguery
hovering around the edges of the movement that has evolved to support Mr. Pol-
The most straightforward articles about the Pollard case provoke angry let-
ters and vitriolic calls; the mere suggestion that this is a complex issue and not
an open and shut case of blatant official anti-Semitism generates accusations of
betrayal and that old canard, self-hate.
This is not to slander all of the people involved
in the movement to win Mr. Pollard's release.
Many are genuinely driven by their sympathy
for Mr. Pollard's suffering, if not for his crime. At
its best, that movement reflects the rich hu-
manitarian impulse at the heart of Jewish life.
But it's the "worst" that makes me reluctant
to write about the Pollard case — the manipula-
tion of visceral Jewish fears, the cynical-seeming
use of Mr. Pollard's unfortunate situation as a
cover for other, less compassionate agendas, the
use of political litmus tests.
In a land where Jews continue to enjoy un-
precedented liberty and affluence, Mr. Pollard's
imprisonment can be twisted into "proof' that
Jews are no better off now than a half century
To Jews who subscribe to the "things never
change" philosophy of Jewish life, the fate of
Jonathan Pollard seems like the ultimate answer
to the assimilationists and the liberals; it is the
irrefutable confirmation of a peculiar kind of ghet-
Objectivity and sober analysis, to these people,
represent a kind of treason.
Last week's plenum of the National Jewish
Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC) provided a fascinating il-
lustration of these dynamics. After a contentious formal debate and hours of
behind- the-scenes maneuvering, NJCRAC delegates voted by secret ballot not
to change longstanding agency policy and not to send a letter to President Clin-
ton calling for a review of the case with a view towards commutation.
But the vote was close — and the debate, which became the overwhelming fo-
cus of the plenum, left a residue of anger that is unlikely to go away for a long
time. Many participants said that although they support commutation of Mr.
Pollard's sentence on humanitarian grounds, they resented the pressure tactics
of the pro-Pollard camp and the amount of time spent at the conference on this
In a way, the movement to free Mr. Pollard has become self-defeating because
James Besse' is Washington correspondent.