Friday, April 18, 2008

An Empty Chair for Justice

This year, at many Pesach sedarim, there will be empty chairs. The empty chairs represent people who we wish we had with us, but are not able to come. We remember Ron Arad. We remember Udi Goldwasser, Elad Regev, and Gilad Shalit. We are angered that our government does not force the issue diplomatically and militarily. And yet, we recognize a certain amount of impotence: without clear knowledge of where they are or how to retrieve them, there is not much the military can do, and we understand the need to be strong diplomatically, and not trade terrorists for POW's, as painful as that decision is. The chairs for these heroes represent the work of terrorist groups that the free world denounces, however weakly.

There is one empty chair which represents another Jewish captive. His name is Jonathan Pollard. This chair is unique, however, because it represents not only the absence of Jonathan, but also the absence of justice; more, the trampling of that justice under the oppressive boot of anti-Semitism. This chair sits bereft of both Pollard himself, and the fairness he deserves, not because some declared enemy of the Jews has kidnapped them together one night in a cowardly attack. No, no. This chair sits in tragic vacancy partly because of our own antipathy. It embodies a debt of justice that has not been paid by a country we consider good, and our friend. And we do not demonstrate the fortitude and determination to free either Jonathan or our beloved ideal of justice and righteousness.

For more than twenty years, Jonathan has been imprisoned for turning treaty-promised intelligence over to Israel from the US. He acted to correct an illegal policy that withheld information promised to Israel by agreement. And yet, when discovered, he was traitorously turned over by Israel to the US, where he was treated as a spy to an enemy country, and given a sentence that astounded the world. While four years is the average prison term given to a person convicted of charges similar to his, Pollard received a life sentence. A plea bargain was breached by the government, after it had been signed. The life sentence was imposed based on documentation of alleged crimes that were not part of the trial, and were not aired and challanged in court.

Jews in America have the power to speak out against this injustice, until "judgment runs down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream". We can do more for Pollard than we can for the other captives. Let us use our position as citizens of the United States to right a wrong: to bring Jonathan back to the Pesach table, and the light of justice into the gloom of his small cell in North Carolina. Let us all keep a chair empty for them. Let us act, relentless, until Jonathan can thank God, as we will tomorrow night, "who took us from bondage to freedom, from the depths of sadness to the height of happiness, from mourning to celebration, and let us sing before Him a new song, הללוי-ה!"