Right before the New Year, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made Israel's first official request for Jonathan's release. I have to admit, I was caught off guard, thinking that Israel had consistently appealed for Jonathan's release over the past quarter of a decade. Still, the timing seemed to be right, and there were high hopes that the American President would respond favorably and have Jonathan leave his prison cell a free man. Netanyahu's appeal was joined by others, including notable members of Congress and past US Secretaries of State and Defense, all of whom did not choose to minimize the severity of Jonathan's crime, but rather focused on the injustice of Jonathan's life sentence. Why, they wanted to know, did similar offenders receive sentences of 5 or 10 years while Jonathan was in for life? Israel's Chief Rabbis sat with Jonathan's wife and heard her tearful and emotional plea for them to do all they could to free her fragile and ailing husband. They too joined the chorus, requesting freedom for Jonathan, reducing his life sentence to time served, reminding the President that there is no purpose to be served in Jonathan's continuing imprisonment, especially considering his ill health.This effort to release Jonathan is not new. When I served Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, I ran a group for singles who were aged 50 and above. One Friday night a month, for several years, 50 adults would gather for a delicious Shabbat meal, and hear a speaker on a Jewish topic. If memory serves me correctly, the only speaker that came more than once- who the group demanded to hear again- was Carol Pollard, Jonathan's supportive sister, who graciously came at her own expense to get us on board with appealing for her brother's release. That, my friends, was 20 years ago. During that time, the National Council of Young Israel's Executive Vice President Rabbi Pesach Lerner, as well as Riverdale activist Rabbi Avi Weiss, have distinguished themselves, among others, in their continuous visitations of Jonathan in prison, and their relentless pursuit of Jonathan's freedom. So much of that momentum seemed to peak right before the New Year, when so many high level appeals and personal letters were given to President Obama, practically begging for his humanitarian response. All was met with a chilling silence.
Even Lawrence Korb, assistant Secretary of Defense at the time of Pollard's indictment, made a statement that deserved some kind of reverb when he put himself out on a limb: he said that based on his first-hand knowledge he can say with confidence that the severity of Pollard's sentence is a result of an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies in our foreign policy on the part of his boss at the time, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. In simple words, Korb suspects it was anti-Semitism that slapped Jonathan with an indefensible sentence. Has Obama responded to that? What about Israeli President Shimon Peres' personal letter handed to Obama during their recent meeting in the Oval Office?
Any word from the White House? Chilling, apathetic silence.
Most recently, the White House phone banks were jammed with requests to have Jonathan released for a brief period, in order to visit his terminally ill father Morris, deep in his 90's and hardly guaranteed any tomorrows. These and other numerous calls went unheeded, and once Morris died, those who feel for Jonathan had one more request, that the President grant compassionate leave to Jonathan so that he may attend his father's funeral.
The Jewish community and others who have fought the good fight did not feel this was too much to ask for, this momentary release. And truly, when you think of the character and persona that Obama projected during his campaign, that of a compassionate listener and kind soul who will lift us and make us proud again to be Americans, he has, in this instance, been a huge and unforgivable disappointment. Even if one disagrees that Obama has thrown Israel under a bus, it's hard to escape the fact that with the stroke of a pen, Jonathan could have been on a bus, paying his final respects to his father, in a way he couldn't do when his mother died in 2001, as his request to attend his mother's funeral was also denied.
How inhumane, Mr. Obama, how insensitive and dismissive, if not downright cruel, to prevent a son from visiting his ailing father, and further holding him back from the funeral. And all of this, in silence, chilling, incomprehensible silence.
We may disagree on matters pertaining to Israel, but it's impossible to debate on simple menchlichkeit, and that's what releasing Jonathan, even for a day or two, is all about.
As an Israeli resident who feels Obama is not a friend of Israel, no matter how many times he says he is- and why does he have to work so hard to convince us?- I will not be voting in the next American election. But I do hope that whenever Obama speaks to Jewish groups to gain their support for re-election, they will, at the very least, remind him of this seemingly premeditated trespass on not only one human life, but two. I pray they will remind him of his accountability regarding his shameful silence in the face of global calls for compassion on behalf of Jonathan Pollard. Some President.