Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Pesach Lerner

 

Petition calls for equal justice for Rubashkin

Area Chabad and Young Israel synagogues are encouraging their members to sign a petition imploring the U.S. Justice Department to show evenhandedness with Sholom Rubashkin, the former CEO of the Agriprocessors plant in Iowa that was the site of a massive immigration raid two years ago.

The petition, hosted at www.justiceforsholom.org and addressed to U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose in the Northern District of Iowa, states that “Sholom Rubashkin has been treated harshly and vindictively in a prosecution that is likely to go down in history as a shameful permanent stain on American Justice. You have an opportunity today to correct the course that this case has taken by directing that Mr. Rubashkin be treated no differently in the Northern District of Iowa than similar defendants have been treated in other federal jurisdictions.”

The petition had garnered more than 24,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

Rubashkin was convicted in November on 86 out of 91 fraud charges and awaits sentencing. The petition, organized by a committee including members of Rubashkin’s family, alleges that Rubashkin has been singled out for unfair treatment that includes the denial of bail while awaiting sentencing and a harsher sentencing request from the prosecution than for those convicted of similar crimes.

Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence, according to Nathan Lewin, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing Rubashkin who is not connected to the petition. Agreeing with the petition’s claim, Lewin said his client is being treated differently from any other defendant in these circumstances.

“The prosecutors in Iowa see this as a high-profile case and they can make a career out of it,” Lewin said.

The petition has drawn support from a number of Jewish organizations, including Agudath Israel of America, National Council of Young Israel, Rabbinical Council of America, and Chabad.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, forwarded an e-mail to his membership during Pesach, shortly after receiving a request from Chabad’s main office in Brooklyn. Despite some misconceptions, Simon said, the petition does not argue Rubashkin’s innocence or plead for leniency or to have his conviction overturned.

“It’s saying he should be punished according to the law of the land,” Simon said. “Let him be punished but let him be punished the same as others have been punished.”

That Rubashkin has been denied bail because he’s considered a flight risk to Israel is disconcerting, according to Simon.

“To say that somebody should deserve a different standard of justice because he is a Jew is something we should be concerned about,” he said.

Rabbi Michel Gurkov of Chabad of Wayne said that his members’ response to the petition has been generally positive. A number of people are upset about the circumstances surrounding the case, he said.

“It’s beyond our understanding why the prosecution is demanding such stringent punishment,” he said.

Gurkov also expressed worry that this case could set a precedent for other high-profile Jewish individuals facing criminal charges.

“The thought itself is very disconcerting,” he said.

Repeated calls to the Justice Department’s Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison — which the petition directs people to call to voice their concern — were met with either a busy signal or a recording that the office is receiving a high volume of calls.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, cited a handful of immigration raids at Swift & Company meatpacking sites in Colorado that rounded up more than 1,300 illegal immigrants as evidence of the disparity in Rubashkin’s treatment. The leadership of Swift was not treated as harshly as Rubashkin, according to Lerner. None of the company’s leaders was charged and the one union representative convicted of harboring illegal immigrants received a sentence of one year and a day.

“The bottom line is something doesn’t make sense here,” Lerner said. “He committed a crime, we accept that. The issue is the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Federal authorities launched investigations into the Agriprocessors plant after a May 2008 immigration raid. After a month-long trial, a jury convicted Rubashkin last year on a range of fraud charges, money laundering, and failing to pay his suppliers. A week later, federal prosecutors dismissed all 72 immigration charges against Rubashkin because he had already been convicted of the more serious fraud charges.

“This is not a Madoff story. It’s not somebody who lined his pockets for wealth,” said Rabbi Neil Winkler of Young Israel of Fort Lee, who has not yet distributed the petition among his congregants but plans to speak about it soon. “It’s proper for every Jew to seek equal justice for Sholom Rubashkin, which is what we’re asking for.”

 
 

New Pollard clemency campaign

image
A new campaign to free Jonathan Pollard, shown with his wife Esther, is being seen as generating more momentum on the issue than any campaign on his behalf in recent years. JonathanPollard.com

NEW YORK – A new campaign for clemency for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has racked up a series of big name politicos in the last few weeks: former Vice President Dan Quayle, former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter and Chicago Rabbi Capers Funnye, a cousin of first lady Michelle Obama.

The recent successes can be traced not to Washington lobbyists or a New York boardroom, but to a small team of four activists whose doggedness, rather than political connections, has yielded results.

The four men, spread across America, have managed to generate more momentum on the Pollard issue — or at least more expressions of support for clemency from public figures — than any public campaign in recent years.

Foremost among the activists is David Nyer, a 25-year-old Orthodox social worker from Monsey, N.Y.

Nyer was the force behind a letter last November to President Obama from 39 congressional Democrats urging the president to grant clemency to Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy analyst who received a life sentence in 1987 for spying for Israel.

Over the past few months, Nyer successfully elicited letters calling for Pollard’s release from Quayle, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, and President Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz. Korb went so far as to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to formally call for Pollard’s release, which Nyer says is a key gain in the effort to free Pollard.

“It’s not really hard,” Nyer said of his ability to get powerful or once-powerful officials on the phone. “I myself was very surprised by all of this. I guess that’s the great thing about living in a democracy. The average citizen can reach a former vice president.”

Along with Nyer, the team includes University of Baltimore law Prof. Kenneth Lasson, Phoenix attorney Farley Weiss, and Rabbi Pesach Lerner, a longtime Pollard advocate and executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel. Weiss is a second vice president of the council and the president of a Young Israel synagogue in Arizona, as well as a national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America.

The four activists say they are in regular contact, bouncing around ideas and names of prominent individuals to solicit for support.

Lasson has a long track record of involvement with Pollard, having written more than a dozen articles in the past two decades calling for his release. Weiss, a trademark attorney, has a history of activism on issues related to Israel. Weiss was instrumental in reversing the views of former Arizona Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who long had opposed Pollard’s release.

Lerner has tended to Pollard’s spiritual needs, acting as his rabbi and paying him visits at the federal prison in Butner, N.C.

It is Nyer, however, who has done much of the legwork in recent months.

His start on the Pollard case came in graduate school, when Carlos Salinas, a former Amnesty International official, presented a lecture at the school and Nyer pushed Salinas to review the case. Salinas went on to join 500 signatories, most of them clergymen, in a separate letter to Obama on Pollard’s behalf.

Among the letter’s signatories were Pastor John Hagee, the Texas minister who founded Christians United for Israel, and Gary Bauer, a former Reagan administration official and now president of the conservative nonprofit American Values.

Nyer and company have been strategic in picking their targets.

They have recruited former officials who, like DeConcini, the former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had access to classified material and can speak authoritatively on the appropriateness of Pollard’s sentence. The biggest score on that front was James Woolsey, the former Central Intelligence Agency director, who called on Obama in January to release Pollard.

DeConcini was a longtime opponent of clemency for Pollard, but he told JTA that he changed his mind at the repeated urging of his finance chairman, the late Earl Katz. He wrote to both Obama and former President George W. Bush on Pollard’s behalf at the behest of Weiss, whose credibility Katz had vouched for.

“He has been on my case for a couple of years,” DeConcini said of Weiss.

The group also has targeted those with particular influence on Obama, such as Harvard law Prof. Charles Ogletree, a mentor to the president, who wrote to the White House in January. Several sources said the group is seeking support from others who are personally close to the president.

The activists hope that all the letter writing will give Obama the political cover he needs to take the potentially controversial step of freeing the spy. The fight for Pollard’s release typically has been spearheaded by the pro-Israel right wing in America, but the congressional letter was signed entirely by Democrats.

Nyer suggested that a pardon could boost Obama’s standing with American Jews and Israelis in advance of the 2012 election.

“The first thing we wanted to do was to create a political climate which would be easy to grant clemency,” Nyer said. “It would be very easy for Obama to do it. He has all the cover.”

Neither Nyer, Weiss, nor Lasson was eager to speak about his efforts on Pollard’s behalf. They each said that the injustice of the case speaks for itself.

Pollard has served 25 years of a life sentence for passing classified materials to Israel — a longer sentence than anyone else convicted of espionage on behalf of a U.S. ally.

While the activists would prefer that their names stay out of the media glare, they say their efforts have raised hopes that Pollard’s life sentence might soon be commuted.

“In 25 years,” Lasson told JTA, “I’ve never seen this degree of momentum or widespread support from both within and outside the Jewish community, both nationally and internationally.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
Page 1 of 1 pages
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30