Conference of Presidents steps up support for Pollard

"From the organizations that spoke at that meeting, there was more support for Jonathan than I have ever seen in the American Jewish community," said Seymour Reich, a past chairman of the group.

The executive vice chairman of the organization, Malcolm Hoenlein, said that by the end of last week, a letter would be sent to Clinton making the "strongest possible humanitarian plea on behalf of Jonathan Pollard."

There had been indications from the White House in the past that the president would not act unless there was the right "political climate." To help create it, said Hoenlein, the group's 55 member organizations were being asked to get their members and organizations to mount a letter-writing campaign to Clinton urging Pollard's release.

"Out of the meeting came the proposal for a broader effort because there has not been that kind of widespread public concern expressed lately," said Hoenlein. "Participants at the meeting said this would show the president the depth of the concern [in the community]."

But Pollard, in a phone interview with the Jewish Week from the federal prison in Butner, N.C., said that more than 1 million letters have been written to Clinton and that he had paid them no heed.

"The White House is not oriented toward the grass roots. It is very elitist-oriented and listens to the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League," said Pollard. "Those are the organizations that have been slandering me and undermining any inclination on the part of the administration to commute my sentence.

"I have been told the president will not take the Jewish community's sentiments seriously until those groups advocate in my behalf," he said.

Reminded that those groups are part of the Conference of Presidents, Pollard said the White House "wants to see the statement [of support] on their letterhead."

The Conference of Presidents has written to Clinton on Pollard's behalf in the past, and Hoenlein and then-chairman Lester Pollack visited him in prison in 1995.

The chairman of the Presidents' conference, Melvin Salberg, said the issue of Pollard was discussed at the request of several organizations. He noted that the conference was acting at a time when there has been heightened support in Israel for Pollard's release.

Last month, Israel's communications minister, Limor Livnat, visited Pollard in prison. Weeks earlier, Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein became the first Israeli minister to visit him. Livnat brought with her letters of support from two other ministers and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he hoped "our continued efforts on your behalf will bear fruit and that you will be a free man in the near future."