Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky has called for the immediate release of Jonathan Pollard.
Sharansky made the comments in a speech he gave on Wednesday at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Washington, DC.
“As someone who has brought up the subject with White House and cabinet officials in Washington, I realize that this is a complex issue for the American Jewish community,” Sharansky said. “But today when there is growing consensus for Pollard’s release among former Pentagon and CIA officials, lawyers, community leaders, the Israeli government and Jewish-American leaders, it’s time to loudly demand his release.”
Sharansky added, “26 years is too much,” noting that Reform leader Alexander Schindler “visited Pollard in prison regularly and called on the president to pardon him. Schindler said that Pollard committed a crime but that the punishment was too severe and it was time to release him. If it was true 12 years ago, it is even truer today.”
Sharansky himself was imprisoned by the Soviet Union for espionage, though the real reason for his imprisonment was his struggle against human rights violations and his attempts to immigrate to Israel.
He spent nine years in jail, of which 400 days were spent in solitary confinement. He was imprisoned in a prison known as the Gulag, where torture and abuse were known to be widespread.
While he was in prison his wife, Avital, led international protests for his freedom. In February 1986, he was freed in an exchange of prisoners between Russia and the United States.
Most recently, a group of eighteen prominent former United States senators wrote to President Barack Obama and asked that he free Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for a single count of passing classified information to an ally - a crime which usually carries a maximum prison term of two to four years.
“We do not condone espionage, nor do we underestimate the gravity of Pollard’s crime,” the senators wrote in their letter to the President, dated October 26, 2011. “But it is patently clear that Mr. Pollard’s sentence is severely disproportionate and (as several federal judges have noted) a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Last week, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said that if he is elected President, he would consider freeing Pollard.
“I’m prepared to say my bias is towards clemency and I would like to review it,” Gingrich told CNN. “He’s been in [prison] a very long time, but we’re pretty tough about people spying in the United States, and I also have a study under way to compare his sentence with comparable people, who have been sentenced to very long sentences for comparable deeds.”
Other well-known individuals who have publicly called for Pollard’s release include former Vice President Dan Quayle, U.S. Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, former CIA director James Woolsey, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and even Senator John McCain (who was once vehemently opposed to the idea).
Obama, who has the final decision on whether or not to release Pollard, will address the same Reform conference on Friday.
President Joe Biden recently revealed that President Obama was set to release Pollard but that Biden thwarted the move and said, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.”