[Freemanlist2] Kenneth Lasson - PASSOVER AND JONATHAN POLLARD

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PASSOVER AND JONATHAN POLLARD
By Kenneth Lasson

            Perhaps the most symbolic of all Jewish holidays, Passover above 
all celebrates redemption. This is the time to remember deliverance from 
Egypt, to appreciate the renewal of spring, to contemplate the meaning of 
freedom.

            For Jonathan Pollard, the American found guilty over two decades 
ago of passing classified information to Israel, Passover is even more 
poignant.  For the past twenty-two years he has been confined to a federal 
penitentiary, having been sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation 
that he never be paroled.

            No one, not even Pollard himself, argues his innocence - only 
about the severity and disparity of his punishment.   The average term given 
to those convicted of spying for hostile foreign countries is 12 years; for 
given secret data to friendly nations as Jonathan did, four.

            Fifteen years ago,   the United States Court of Appeals for the 
District of Columbia rejected Pollard's petition to have his term reduced. 
The two judges in the majority ruled against him wholly through an analysis 
of procedural technicalities that even law professors found hard to fathom. 
"The issue before us," they added, "is not whether a life sentence was 
appropriate punishment for Pollard's crime, still less whether we ourselves 
would have imposed such a sentence. Unfortunately for Pollard, their cold 
dissection of legalistic niceties simply missed the forest for the trees.

            Not so their brother, Judge Stephen Williams, who perceived with 
crystal clarity the plain injustice of Pollard's plight. His sharply was 
that the government reneged on each of the explicit promises it had made to 
Pollard in return for his co-operation -  in particular, that the 
prosecutors broke their promise to ask the court for something less than the 
maximum sentence. The government engaged in "a flagrant violation of the 
agreement's spirit" when it presented highly prejudicial and inflammatory 
memoranda from then-Secretary of Caspar Weinberger - documents that 
Pollard's attorneys have never been permitted to challenge.

                As in the Book of Exodus (part of which is read during this 
week's holiday), the biases and fallibility of human judges are bound up in 
dramatic paradoxes. It is ironic that the two majority judges (Ruth Bader 
Ginsburg and Charles Silverman) were Jewish and that Williams was not, and 
that Pollard's appeal was heard on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

            It is no less incongruous that Israel, the prime beneficiary of 
Pollard's classified data about Iraq's chemical and nuclear capability, 
refused him the asylum of its embassy -   nor, for that matter, that the 
Jewish people, whose latest incarnation as a state can be dated to the 
liberation of Buchenwald some 60 years ago, are still seeking a secure place 
in the community of nations some 3,000 years after their deliverance from 
Egypt.


            Who wants to hear anything more about passing over Jonathan 
Pollard?

            Not the government of the United States, or its criminal justice 
system, which is based on Judeo-Christian principles of fairness but is not 
always able to correct its errors.

            Not the government of Israel, whose prime ministers have had 
numerous opportunities to raise their voices in Washington on behalf of its 
acknowledged agent, but not one of whom - with the notable (and failed) 
exception of Binyamin Netanyahu - has ever done so.
            Not the American Jewish establishment, which early on in the 
Pollard saga saw fit to muffle itself - out of both high embarrassment and 
fear that to protest Pollard's mistreatment would subject it to the 
traditional anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty.

            Not the average American, who is (perhaps understandably) 
preoccupied with the excesses of and plummeting confidence in the Bush 
Administration - its conduct of the war in Iraq, its failed immigration 
policies, its political high-handedness.

            No, the only people who seem to care about Pollard nowadays are 
those who always have, but with virtually no power to do anything for his 
release: his wife, a few scattered activists - and the rank- and-file of 
American and Israeli Jews.

            Many law professors and libertarians have also taken up the 
cudgels for Pollard because they truly believe that American justice 
requires them to make things right when the system goes wrong. They agree 
with the assessment of Judge Williams, who characterized his plight as "a 
gross miscarriage of justice." That Pollard is Jewish and his goal was to 
help Israel are beside the point: anyone subjected to the same unfair 
treatment deserves redress.

            Why is Pollard still in prison?

            Few Americans, Jewish or otherwise, would liken Pollard to 
Macbeth, but Judge Williams did. The case reminded him "of Macbeth's curse 
against the witches whose promises - and their sophisticated interpretations 
of them - led him to doom: "And be these juggling fiends no more believ'd / 
That palter with us in a double sense: / That keep the word of promise to 
our ear, / And break it to our hope."

                The sadder, more demonstrable irony is that Jonathan Pollard 
must celebrate this season of hope still gazing out upon the flowers of 
spring through the iron bars of a sweltering prison cell -   just as he has 
for the past 22 years of his life.


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Kenneth Lasson is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
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