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Daily Israel Report

Voices Lifted in Prayer for Jonathan Pollard

Two events took place in New York in support of Jonathan Pollard, just prior to President Shimon Peres' acceptance of the Freedom Medal.
By Fern Sidman & Elad Benari
First Publish: 6/14/2012, 1:04 AM

Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan Pollard
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Two major events recently took place in New York in support of the release of Jonathan Pollard. They were held just prior to President Shimon Peres' acceptance of the Freedom Medal from President Obama.

On Monday evening June 4th, over 500 people gathered for an evening of "prayer and chizuk (strengthening)" at the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, as their collective voices were lifted to G-d for the redemption of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the US Navy intelligence analyst who has been imprisoned for 27 years on charges stemming from the passage of classified information to Israel.

Sponsored by Young Israel of Jamaica Estates members Jacques Rothschild and Dr. Joseph Frager, the evening served as precursor for the upcoming presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres by President Barack Obama. The publicity flyer for the event stated, “Let us seize the moment to join in prayer to beseech the Almighty to strengthen the hands of President Peres in pursuing justice for Jonathan Pollard.”

Mr. Rothschild told the gathering that “Mr. Peres had asked President Obama for the commutation of Pollard's sentence but has received no answer.The information given to the Israeli government by Jonathan Pollard was part of an intelligence sharing agreement and would have been presented to the Israelis in any case."

Mr. Rothschild said, “The government of Israel worked in conjunction with the American government against its own agent.” He added that “The US forced Pollard into a plea agreement and then reneged.”

Leading the congregation in prayer and the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) were the mellifluous voices of Cantor Netanel Hershtik and the Hampton Synagogue choir, which was conducted by Itzchak Haimov. In unison, and in one clear voice that pierced the heavens, the attendees called on “Avinu SheBaShamayim” (our Father in Heaven) for mercy and compassion, and beseeched the Almighty for the swift redemption of Yonatan Ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard).

Having visited Jonathan Pollard over 20 times in the last years, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, said that his last visit only several weeks ago with Jonathan Pollard was the most difficult.

“When you speak with Jonathan you can tell how he is within the first minute or two of the conversation,” he said. Referencing Mr. Pollard's rapidly deteriorating state of health, Rabbi Lerner ruefully observed, “He is now quite sick and his illness is getting to him." 

Nonetheless, Rabbi Lerner described a man who is a great source of "chizuk" (strength). “Jonathan keeps Shabbat and keeps Kosher, and beyond that he's a genuine believer in G-d.”

Rabbi Lerner told of Jonathan being prescribed a certain medication for a kidney ailment. Others visiting Jonathan at the time remarked to him that in order for that particular medication to be effective it had to be taken with an excessively large amount of water. Rabbi Lerner said that Jonathan's response to this was, “I am so very happy that I have to drink all that water, just so I can have the chance to make a blessing to G-d.”

He noted the fact that many prominent US government officials who had previously favored the sentence handed down to Pollard had now reversed their positions and are publicly calling for clemency to be granted him. Speaking of former CIA director R. James Woolsey, Rabbi Lerner said, "He is now behind Pollard." In January of 2011, Mr. Woolsey went on record stating that Pollard should have been released from prison five years ago.

In a voice reverberating with anger and indignation, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, the recent recipient of the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, queried, “Did Jonathan Pollard kill someone? Why 27 years in prison? Did anyone else get this kind of punishment?”

He called upon the entire Jewish nation to pray for Pollard's release from prison and called for a massive demonstration on Pollard's behalf in Washington, DC, prior to the presidential election in November. Admonishing the US government for “cruelty” in allowing Pollard to languish in prison for such a protracted amount of time, Rabbi Druckman said, “Now, it is impossible to remain quiet. Doesn't the president of the United States have a heart? Are they trying to kill Pollard?”

It was also noted throughout the course of the evening that Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, called Pollard's sentence a “travesty of justice” and that during his tenure, former President Bill Clinton had wanted to commute Pollard's sentence but was dissuaded from doing so by certain Jewish senators who wrote to him and campaigned against Pollard's release.

In a private interview following at the evening's conclusion, Mr. Rothschild assigned the blame for Pollard's life sentence squarely on the shoulders of former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

“It was he who threw Pollard under the bus,” said Mr. Rotschild. Adding that he was gravely disappointment in the Israeli government, Mr. Rothschild said that he had invited Ido Aharoni, the Israeli Consul General in New York to speak at the evening's event but was told that he could not make it.

“It is clear to me that no Israeli officials endorsed this event because they don't want to make waves with the US administration. They don't want to upset the apple cart right before Peres is to be presented with the Medal of Freedom award. Israeli participation in such an event could embarrass Washington and that's the last thing they want to do," said audience member Hannah Milstein of Forest Hills, New York.

A second major event for Pollard was a press conference held on Sunday, June 10, 2012 on the steps of the newly renovated City Hall of New York City, calling for his immediate release.

The press conference was organized by New York State Assemblyman David Weprin and the World Committee for the Land of Israel (WCLI), represented by Chairman of the Board Dr. Joseph Frager, Vice President Dr. Paul Brody and Odeleya Jacobs, VP for Media Relations. The next generation of political activists was represented by Stephanie Weprin and Liat Brody. Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz joined the group.

Given the fact that Peres is receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, the group said it feels that it is incumbent for the President of the United States to finally grant Jonathan Pollard his freedom, as well. The assemblage ended the press conference on a note of optimism and hope regarding Pollard's future.