President Joe Biden denied he said spy Jonathan Pollard would be released “over his dead body,” telling U.S. Jewish leaders on Wednesday, however, that the sentiment expressed in his rejection was his own.
Referring to the convicted Israeli spy, Biden was quoted by the New York Times on Saturday as telling Florida rabbis that U.S. President Obama “was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.'”
However, U.S. Jewish leaders speaking with Haaretz on Monday said the U.S. vice president claimed that while the general thrust of the statement was correct, his exact phrasing was taken out of context.
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said he, along with other Jewish leaders, approached Biden on the issue during the U.S. vice president’s Rosh Hashanah reception in Washington, saying: “He did say that things were taken out of context, but he was ready to discuss it further.”
“We said it was an important issue for the community, and he agreed to have a meeting on it,” Hoenlein said.
Biden reportedly listened to the concerns raised by the leaders of U.S. Jewish organizations concerning Pollard, and asked his aides to schedule a meeting with Jewish community leaders to discuss this matter.
Pollard was mentioned only in private conversation, not in Biden’s opening remarks. His speech, as one left-leaning participant defined it, was “basically a campaign speech”.
“He spoke for about 10 minutes – it was a love poem to the Jewish people and the state of Israel”, said Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“He said how much he admires the Jewish people and its values, about Tikkun Olam, spoke about the close relationship between the US and Israel, and said that as long as he is around he’ll make sure it remains so. When he finished we approached him and said, we need to talk to you about Pollard issue. He listened carefully, and said, we’ll do it privately and we’ll do it soon. He told his people to schedule it. Those of us who raised it are satisfied that it will be discussed,” Foxman said.
President of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Eric Yoffie confirmed that Biden didn’t mention Pollard in his public remarks, but did talk about his commitment to Israel, delegitimization of Israel, and about 40 years of developing very close relationship with Israel and U.S. Jews.
“A number of people spoke to him about Pollard in their private conversations, and it was suggested that a meeting would be a good idea”, Rabbi Yoffie said.
“Biden has a huge credibility with the US Jewish community. There was concern about Pollard – and I am optimistic this will be addressed. Pollard issue at this stage is a consensus issue in Jewish community. We believe that he served enough time and it’s time to let him go. We don’t see him as a hero – he broke the law, but he served enough time, and there is an agreement across the spectrum,” he added.