Saturday, November 13, 2010

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Rabbi Yisrael Rosen published the following in this week's issue of the popular parsha sheet, Shabat BeShabato:

To: The Honorable President of the United States, Barack Obama:

I assume that this is a moment for self reckoning after the significant losses of the Democratic Party in the United States Congress, in relation to the opposing Republican Party. It can be assumed that you are surrounded now on all sides by strategic advisors, perhaps trying to draw you into various aspects of the discussion about "What happened?" – And all this in an effort to improve your situation and your status, and perhaps also your image.

From my miniscule position, as a Jew born in Israel who lives not far from Jerusalem, I am allowing myself to presume to write you with typical Israeli "chutzpah" and in a straight manner to give you a small piece of advice. Perhaps this will not help your situation, your status, or your image, but it stems from a basic point of truth, both humanitarian and moral, and in my opinion it also corresponds to the democratic principles which you so proudly uphold.

My advice is this: Do what you can to give a pardon to Jonathan Pollard and to set him free! This month marks a full twenty-five years that he has been kept in prison (starting in November, 1985)!

I can imagine your reply to this request. Such a move will not add to your political credits on a global scale, and certainly not within the Middle East. Granting a pardon might even force you to give up a "card" in the hand which you are using to pressure Israel into making various political moves. I am aware of the advice that your predecessor Bill Clinton received from his Jewish advisor Dennis Ross - to keep the "card" Jonathan Pollard close to home and take advantage of having him under your control, making use of this factor in very small doses. Anybody familiar with Jewish history realizes that in giving this advice Ross was acting in the role of those "little Jews" who gave advice to their Gentile governments which was against the best interests of the Jews, evidently in order to avoid being accused of collaborating with their own people. Such people have been objects of total disgrace within the Jewish nation, which has a very long memory, for good and bad.

In any case, you are a man who rose to the presidency on a platform promising to improve the lot of the weaker people in society, to uphold human rights, and to be fair and open, all based on a deep religious faith (perhaps you should consult the compassionate preacher from the Trinity United Church who has had such an influence on you in the past). As far as I am concerned the time has come for you to make what is a very small move on your part, but one that is very significant in practical terms. I read your autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," and I was quite impressed by the humanitarian approach that you demonstrated in the book. You managed to convince your readers that among everything else you are a man with humanitarian values. This feeling instills in me some hope that you might not just throw this letter of mine away.

For the record, here are some relevant details, which I assume you already know: Twenty-five years ago Jonathan Pollard was put in prison for the crime of spying for a friendly country, the State of Israel, without any intention on his part to cause harm to the United States. In his trial (twenty-three years ago), no claim was made that he gave any indirect help to the Soviet Union, through Israel, although as years have gone by this was one of the suggestions that appeared in various speculations by the press. A secret declaration by the Secretary of Defense at the time, Caspar Weinberger, which was seen only by the judges and not by Pollard's defense lawyers, seems to have been the main reason for the punishment meted out to him – life imprisonment, with no chance of parole or a reduced sentence. Your great nation has never given such a harsh sentence to any person who spied for a friendly country. Just last month those who ask for leniency for Pollard were joined by Lawrence J. Korb, the deputy of Secretary of Defense Weinberger, who gave this important declaration to the court. Korb stated that Caspar Weinberger himself felt that the case and the punishment have been blown out of all proportion.

Even if you feel that Pollard's motives were as low as possible (in the interests pf financial gain and for the "adventure" involved), and that the security interests of the United States were harmed, take into account the spy-prisoner exchange that took place this year between the United States and Russia. Remember too how many murderous terrorists Israel had set free as a result of pressure by the United States, in return for dead bodies. Where is the proportionate character of justice?

Mr. President, I will end on the same note that I started this letter: In a moment of reckoning, it is good to rack up a few merits in the eyes of the Almighty and of humanity.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, Alon Shevut, Israel 90433.

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