Op-Ed: Livni and Pollard
Farley WeissFarley Weiss is Second Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, National Vice President of the Zionist Organization of America and President of Young Israel of Phoenix.
Jonathan Pollard is right to blame Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni especially for the failure to obtain his release from prison after over 22 years in prison. Tzipi Livni has been foreign minister for three years and there has not been any indication during that time that she made any progress in obtaining the approval of the United States
If there were indeed quiet efforts made to secure Pollard's release, then they were too quiet.
president to release Pollard, despite the obvious argument that the average sentence for crimes similar to Pollard's is between two and four years. Furthermore, whatever quiet diplomacy she claims she used quite clearly failed, something she needs to be able to readily acknowledge.
Of course, Livni is not solely to blame. Defense Minister Ehud Barak apparently took no action to help Pollard - a fact that is particularly disturbing some eight years after he helped get President Bill Clinton to pardon the very controversial Mark Rich. You would think he would try to correct his record right before the coming Israeli elections, but he did not do so.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was also part of this failed policy when he publicly told Eli Yishai not to raise the Pollard issue with President George Bush when he visited Israel, ostensibly because Olmert had already raised it and the president in turn said no. It is also public knowledge that Israel's President Shimon Peres was asked repeatedly to make a request to President Bush to free Pollard, and Peres refused to raise the concern.
This much is certain: if there were indeed quiet efforts made to secure Pollard's release, then they were too quiet. In any case, these efforts did not work, and one must wonder why Livni apparently made clear that she and this Israeli government will continue the same failed policies with the Obama Administration. One can only hope that there exists a better chance to obtain approval with the Obama Administration, in part because Vice-President Joe Biden stated in a 2007 interview on Shalom television that "there's a rationale in my view why Pollard should be given leniency. But there is not a rationale to say what happened did not happen and he should be pardoned." In other words, it sounds like Biden supports clemency for Pollard. It is clear from her comments on Pollard that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be an impediment to his release and President Barack Obama, being a former law professor and one concerned about civil rights, should be an easy sell on the matter. To paraphrase the Obama campaign mantra, it is time for a change in the Israeli government's approach to the Pollard affair.
I worked under the leadership of Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel, the leading figure in the effort to try to obtain the commutation of Pollard's sentence to time served. This effort included obtaining the support, in a public interview, of former CIA Director James Woolsey for Pollard's release, a fact that helped refute the well-publicized opposition from the intelligence community. We also obtained a letter from the former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, former Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini, in favor of Pollard's release. We approached some of President Bush's closest and wealthiest friends in the Jewish community and asked them to lend their support; some agreed and apparently raised the issue with the president directly. We even got some of the closest people in the Jewish community to two of the three Attorney Generals for President Bush (people who were so close to the AGs that they had their home phone numbers), and they raised the Pollard issue with them. We worked with the Conference of Presidents to get a letter from them in support of Jonathan's release; additional letters came from the Reform and Conservative Jewish community as well. We even worked with those formerly connected to the President's Administration - non-Jews and great friends of the Jewish people who understood the injustice - who kindly helped press the case. Finally, we also solicited support for Pollard's release from the likes of Pastor John Hagee of the evangelical Christian community.
Remarkably, what we did not get was any assistance from the government of Israel, nor any sense of a joint effort to help get Jonathan Pollard out.
There is a famous story in American Jewish history when a friend of Harry Truman, Eddie Jacobson, was approached by Chaim Weizmann and the soon-to-be government of Israel to obtain a meeting with the president. Jacobson acquiesced and the meeting helped lead to Truman's support for the State of Israel. Today, while undertaking all of these actions for Pollard we were only aware of assistance from Natan Sharansky in Israel. We heard nothing from the government of Israel. It is not surprising that Sharansky helped, considering his personal experiences and the fact that he himself visited Pollard. It is not surprising that Binyamin Netanyahu was the last prime minister to make a serious effort for Pollard, and is the only one running for office who has actually visited Pollard in prison. Neither Livni, Olmert nor Barak ever took the time to visit Pollard on their many trips to the US, and therefore it is not surprising that they failed in their efforts, if in fact there were any, to obtain his release.
One would have hoped, on the last weekend of Bush's presidency, that Livni would have asked, as part of a face-saving agreement to leave Gaza without Gilad Shalit, to at least have Pollard released. But, truth be told, there is no indication that she even raised the issue, despite others working tirelessly the last week to try to get the president to commute Pollard's sentence.
I am writing this not to place blame, but rather to request a change of policy. Fact: the policy followed by the government of Israel has failed. Pollard must now be made a major issue of discussion by both the government of Israel and the American Jewish community. I met once with the Jewish liaison to President Bush and he expressed surprise that I was raising the Pollard issue. He asked why, if the matter was so important, it is not being raised by American Jewish leaders. I happen to know that not only was it not being raised, but those going to the White House were specifically told not to raise the Pollard issue.
Remarkably, what we did not get was any assistance from the government of Israel.
Clearly, this policy of not letting people raise the issue only furthered the view of the White House that it was not important to the Jewish community. It was not sufficient to try to change this view in the last two months of an eight-year Bush presidency. The Obama Administration needs to hear from the Jewish community at every meeting that this is a major issue for the Jewish community. Former Prime Minister Netanyahu showed at the Wye summit that Pollard's release could be secured at any time by the president, if only the matter is pressed by Israel.
Albert Einstein once famously said that one who thinks that they can follow the same actions and obtain a differ ent result defines the essence of insanity. For Livni to continue the same failed policy is insanity, because it has not and will not achieve the desired result. The Pollard case must become an imperative for the Israeli government and the entire US Jewish community; and its leaders must reflect that urgency beginning right now.
There has been a joint effort to try and prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and there needs to be a joint effort on Jonathan Pollard as well. After all, even "now" is two decades too long.