As rumors fly that the United States may offer the release of Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel’s extending the settlement freeze, four congressmen wrote to President Obama last week asking for clemency for the man.

Pollard has been serving a life sentence since 1986 for spying for Israel while he was a U.S. Navy analyst.

“When you compare it to other sentences in spying cases, there seems to be a great disparity,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

The timing of the letter in the midst of discussions on extending the freeze and a possible incentive deal is merely coincidental, said Pascrell, one of the four who signed the letter, dated Sept. 22. It will circulate for more signatures until the middle of this month, when it will be sent to the president.

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Clemency for Jonathan Pollard “is a fair thing,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.

“If (Pollard’s release is) going to be used as leverage, I don’t believe it’s going to be sufficient leverage,” Pascrell said. “I would hope it would not be used as leverage in that regard.”

The letter’s signers – Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), and Pascrell – are not arguing that Pollard’s conviction should be overturned, Pascrell said. They are, he continued, asking for fair treatment. He pointed to the group of Russian spies exposed this summer who were returned to Russia instead of a federal prison.

The congressmen argue in the letter that the almost 25 years Pollard has thus far served is sufficient as punishment for his crime or as a deterrent to other would-be spies.

“It is a fair thing; it would send out a positive note,” Pascrell said. “Those people who signed the letter are tough Americans and actually believe in dealing with anybody caught spying in a harsh fashion.”

Pascrell first became involved in the Pollard case a dozen years ago when, at the request of some of his constituents, he visited Pollard in federal prison. Since then, Pascrell said, he has made it a personal issue to see that Pollard receives equal justice.

“I’m here to say that his case is worth looking into,” Pascrell said. “I’m not pleading for Mr. Pollard that he was wrongly accused or wrongly found guilty.”

U.S. intelligence officials have said that Pollard’s espionage was too vast to merit clemency, and that he should not be released before 2015, when his life sentence is first subject to review under sentencing guidelines in place at the time of his conviction.

Excerpt from the congressional letter to President Obama on Jonathan Pollard
“We believe there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served – or not served at all – by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations adversarial to us, unlike Israel.”

To read the letter in full, visit Congressional letter to President Obama on Jonathan Pollard.